How do Codependents handle conflict? Generally, not well. When dealing with topics, or individuals that push their emotional buttons, a codependent’s process takes on one of two forms. It’s either reactionary, or total avoidance. This stems from growing up in an environment where free expression was not welcomed, but punished or demeaned, important issues were never discussed and where boundaries were non-existent.
A reactive response, as opposed to a proactive response, is one of defense. Its reacting upon something someone has said or done that causes us distress. It often includes words or behaviors that are over the top and out of character for the individual, that are meant to strike back at the person responsible for our hurt feelings.
The problem with fighting fire with fire is that everything is burning. When both people are thrashing about, looking for the best place to drop the bomb, is that no one is listening and there are feelings of upset, anger and intense frustration on both sides. Each party is so concerned about being right and striking back that the issue isn’t being resolved and both sides look crazy.
With avoidance, unlike reactivity, you take no action. In fact, even the slightest notion of responding to an adversarial individual or situation, in anyway, has you feeling like you just want to crawl under the covers and curl up into the fetal position and forget about the world. Intense anxiety and fear are by-products of this coping mechanism. Avoidance of the negative stimuli tends to neutralize the feelings to a manageable degree. This is a highly conditioned response, learned in childhood. The problem with this method is that if you ignore everybody that has any type of issue with you, you’ll eventually end up depressed and alone. As well, it’s not empowering and nothing ever gets resolved.
Dealing with Conflict
Everybody, even healthy people have to deal with conflict sometimes. Knowing how to handle it is a skill all of us have to master if we want to live happy, healthy lives.
In order to know how to respond effectively you have to first discern something about your antagonist. Is this person someone I care to deal with, or do I need to cut them loose? Sometimes people just aren’t worth the effort. If everything is a struggle and you have no idea what’s going to set them off next, don’t bother. Remove them from your front row. You don’t need that kind of drama and stress in your life and in this scenario, no response would be the correct one.
Take 24 hours before you respond: Sometimes this isn’t possible, but in the culture of text messages and easy communication, waiting to respond has become common place. It’s better not to react when you are at the height of your upset. If you do respond while in a rage, or a frustrated state of mind, you might just escalate the situation more and chances are you’re acting from triggers and emotions. If you get a text that upsets you and you are able – take some time, calm down, take the emotions out of it and respond from a place of logic not one of outrage.
Just the facts ma’am, just the facts: When you’re having a disagreement with someone stick to the topic at hand. Don’t bring up things from the past and don’t allow the other party to either. Get down to the nitty-gritty of it. Figure out what the conflict is about. Often times it’s not what you’re arguing about at all.
Life handed me just such a conflict this week. A friend and I were supposed to get together before the holidays for dinner. She lives downtown and doesn’t drive, while I live out in the boonies. For the last few months we’ve been meeting at different restaurants outside of a mall and a subway, for her convenience. For days leading up to our planned get-together, I started getting texts from her like, “If you’re too busy to meet up this weekend we can try for another day.” I told her I was good to go, then I started getting long texts about how she is making all of the effort and doing all of the travelling and how much she hates the Christmas atmosphere around the mall.
That really pissed me off. I have 4 jobs. I have very little free time and in the past, I did all of the traveling and here she is accusing me of not putting in any effort. I Google searched the distances both of us were traveling and found that I was traveling almost twice the distance she was travelling and I sent that info to her via text along with the question – how do we get to a place where we are nickel and diming the distance we travel? She responded with “That’s fine, all I was saying was that it’s Christmas and it’s going to be so busy….” Wait a minute – that’s not “all you were saying.” All you were saying was there was no reciprocity between us and that you were doing all the work and making all the sacrifices and I was the bad friend – when I pointed out that her facts were wrong, she switched topics to the real one – she didn’t want to be around a mall at Christmas. That’s all she had to say – no need to attack my character. Sometimes you have to weed out the dandelions to get to the spinach.
Facts are a difficult thing for an emotional manipulator. When you’re dealing with one you’ll find out pretty quickly that they have no interest in facts and will start attacking you, or deflecting away from your point. If this happens, stop the argument. They will never acknowledge the truth, if it doesn’t benefit them in some way. Save your breath.
Don’t look for supporters: You don’t need to take your argument to a 3rd party. You don’t need people on your side, who agree with you. The truth is the same person could hear your side and offer you support and then a few minutes later hear the other person’s side and offer them support. People tend to agree with whomever is right in front of them at the time, so don’t look to someone else for validation. If you’ve got your facts straight, be ok with knowing you’re right, without the need for anybody else to acknowledge it. When you add a phrase like Rachel agrees with me, it sounds weak, like you weren’t sure, so you needed somebody else to back you. Back yourself.
I’m not responsible for your triggers and you are not responsible for mine: If someone comes at you with a, “How can you say that? You know that X,Y,Z happened to me when I was little.” – Stop them right then and there and use the phrase, “I’m talking about here and now. I’m not responsible for your past, your triggers, your feelings or your behavior. I’m responsible for my intent – not how it lands with you or how you react to it.” Don’t deal with a person’s hysterics. If they are being unreasonable or histrionic, walk away.
I don’t care: This is one powerful sentence. People say things all the time that have nothing to do with you or the facts. Sometimes they’re looking for a reaction, or just want to make you feel as miserable as they do. While you are not responsible for what others say and do, you are responsible for how you react to it. When someone comes at you with a large dose of negativity if you react you’re giving validity to their statement. If you don’t react, that sends the message that what you say has no baring on me what-so-ever. No one’s opinion should carry more weight than your own. If someone calls you names or makes false statements and they are not someone you care to have in your life, don’t bother, repeat in your head over and over again, “I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care.” And carry on your merry little way knowing that Wayne Dyers quote, “What other people think of you is none of your business,” couldn’t be more true.
Make actual contact in person or telephone: People are a lot braver when they can hide behind an email or a text message. When you’re live with someone, you tend to be more congenial and open to compromise. This is hard for a lot of Codependents, just psyche yourself up and be brave for 15 seconds and make the call. The more you repeat the process of doing things that are uncomfortable for you, the easier they will get. Dealing with it head on is not only more direct and mature, it’s more results oriented and tends to show the other person that you value them and would like to move past this.
When faced with a conflict first decide if this is a relationship you wish to continue. If you’re emotional, give yourself a time out, until you’re able to approach it logically, stick to the facts and make sure that what you’re disagreeing about is actually what you’re disagreeing about. Don’t take ownership of other people’s feelings or actions – know what you’re responsible for and what you’re not. In the end remember that the only opinion of you that really matters is your own. If someone thinks you’re a bad person – let them think it and let it roll off your back. Not everyone has to like you and you don’t have to like everyone. If you’re struggling with this, think of this holiday jingle er, at least my version of it:
I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care what you say.
Oh what fun indifference is
When you try to get me to react, hey