TRIGGER WARNING: corny moment of self-reflection
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about conflict and how to deal with aggression. Part of it is just reflecting on my behaviour in past relationships and what I’ve learned through that. But I also recently wrote an It Happened to Me for xoJane that hit a nerve with some commenters. I thought it was important to respond to them (and also I am contractually required to).
These comments were only borderline snarky and not really looking for a fight, but it still stung to be criticized, whether I deserved it or not. But I went through each comment and clarified what they didn’t understand, or gently suggest that they read the entire article (because COME ON).
It was really validating to read the (many more! Thank you!) positive responses to my writing — nice for the ego! — but what really moved me were the comments that mentioned how impressed they were of how I was conducting myself in the conversation. I guess I’m pretty good at keeping the peace. Middle child thing, maybe?
I’ve figured out that the best way to handle anger/hostility/aggression is in a way that allows both parties to walk away unscathed, with dignities intact. It’s sort of like emotional aikido. I’m not counting physical aggression — I haven’t had to deal with that ever, and I hope I never have to. But when someone comes after me verbally with rage or aggression, I want to stop it. It’s not good if I just do whatever it takes to appease someone (LIFE LESSON), but I’ve learned to redirect those feelings towards the problem, not a person (and especially not me. Unless it’s my fault. Then sorry.). It’s usually anger masking fear or hurt. Dig for the real reasons and deal with those needs.
I’m also pretty lucky that I’ve been able to create a life for myself that gives me room for a lot of self-care so I can have the energy to cope with stress. When I’m stressed (like when I was teaching), I’m a disaster. It’s way easier to deal with conflict calmly and patiently if you’re actually calm and patient. Life is hard, and everyone struggles. We need to ask the question: how do we find the strength and generosity to let each other co-exist?
And you know what? I need to do this for my self-loathing — I can be so cruel to myself. For a few years now I’ve been living in reaction to my feelings instead of listening to what they really have to say and figuring out what I actually need. So instead of risking angering someone, I diminished myself and became a boiling volcano of resentment. I’ve been so scared of opening up discussions because I knew that the outcome might/will hurt a little in the short term, but would be wise in the long term.
AND IT FUCKING SUCKS.
Doing the right thing feels like shit. Tell me I’m going to be OK.