Subject A does something that makes you really mad. After some time of being passive-aggressive, you finally duke it out. She says her piece, you say yours. Your feelings are hurt, her feelings are hurt. Solutions may or may not have been found, but you discover you have talked about the issue ad nauseum, and there really is nothing left to say, and it’s time to resume life again.
So, now what?
Moving forward from a confrontation is always really awkward. An analysis of post-confrontation always reveals some things that you said that you probably should not have, and if you were to do it over again, you would probably phrase them differently, or not have said them at all. We are emotional creatures, we say things out of emotional reactions, and especially when we are put in these potentially damaging-to-our-ego situations, we say things out of vulnerability. Post-confrontation, we retract, because we realize we revealed a piece of ourselves that is often hidden and locked away. And, we don’t know how to deal, because, accidentally, we revealed our insecurities to Subject A that we try so hard to keep incognito. So, now it’s really awkward. We bow our heads, put our tails between our legs, hoping that those boundaries we broke down with Subject A can be reversed, but being fully aware that things will now forever be different.
Our natural tendency is to just repress the situation: ignore Subject A, pretend the confrontation never even happened, and dump Subject A’s friendship. In college, I once lived with three other girls. As we all know, girls can be vicious. Things got really contentious in our household. I remember being suspicious about someone stealing my stuff, so I began locking my door. I remember coming home one day to a really nasty letter taped to that door, saying something along the lines of, “You don’t need to lock your door. You can trust us”. My natural reaction was to ignore, move on, and repress. I would work extra hours, go away on the weekends, and wake up extra early just so that I didn’t have to face them. I was offended, my feelings were hurt, and I felt betrayed by their attacks towards me. Nevertheless, that was the end of those friendships.
But, the problem with this post-confrontation strategy is we never quite deal with the insecurities and vulnerabilities that were brought up during the confrontation. In that situation, I played my own faults: I was passive aggressive, I never talked to them about my feelings of being offended and betrayed, I never owned up to my own faults of ignoring them, and I never confronted the real issue at hand: my own insecurities.
A couple years ago, I moved in with my at-the-time boyfriend’s parents. My at-the-time boyfriend’s mom got mad about a few things: she didn’t like that I never offered to pay for dinner when we went out post-game, she didn’t like that I didn’t drive up to see her son enough and had to skip a couple of his games for work, and she especially didn’t like that I mentioned I saw a mouse in the basement. Because of my situation with my room mates, I cannot stand passive aggressiveness, so my rule is always, if you have a problem with me, I am happy to talk about it, but until then, I will just pretend that it doesn’t exist (mainly because I don’t necessarily have time to be putting out fires all the time). I could feel that there was tension between us (mostly because I would walk in the house and she would be talking about me to my at-the-time boyfriend on the phone), but I didn’t want to ask unless she wanted to tell. This tension went on for a couple of months, until finally, she pulled me into the home office, and laid into me. She told me she was “afraid I was turning out like my mom”, that I was ungrateful and selfish, that I needed to get on some medicine to regulate my emotions. I remember sitting in that office, feeling completely helpless and betrayed. This woman, of whom I put a lot of trust and admiration into, was now ripping apart everything that I worked so hard to accomplish in my life, and that despite what I thought were good, and innocent intentions, she saw me as flawed, malicious, and selfish.
I remember leaving that office, anticipating that very heavy post-confrontation awkwardness that would soon roll in.
Of course, there is no denying that things will be different between you and Subject A, post-confrontation. In this situation, I knew I had to move out immediately. But, I also knew that I could not shy away, and I had to eventually confront her. I had to re-train myself how to interact with her, and the most available way to do that would be to assume business as usual: I still had to go to my at-the-time boyfriend’s games, and sit next to his parents. I still had to call them, and find out what time we were leaving. I still had to text his mom about his brother’s ACT testing, and go over to their house for Thanksgiving, like originally planned. Of course, the first interactions were incredibly awkward, and I had to call my dad in the parking lot for a pep talk, but as each game passed, enduring his mom became a little easier, and the interaction (for me, at least) became a little less awkward, and I became a little less offended in the immediate time, which helped me deal with feelings of betrayal. It’s a “let’s pretend that never happened”….”until we are ready to pretend it happened”.
I carry this strategy into my work life as well. Of course, being a teacher and a coach, I often am presented with confrontations (especially at parent-teacher conferences) where, I think had Subject A been a little less emotional and a little more rational, they would not have divulged that information to me. But, at the end of the day, what is said is said, and we must all learn to get over the offended, betray feelings, and go back to business as usual. I use this strategy in my personal relationships as well. I think, sometimes where we go wrong in post-confrontations is needing to talk about the issue too much; there comes a time when everything is said, and we must just move on. For example, my older sister and I got into a huge fight a few weeks ago (as siblings usually do). Of course, we duked it out in the car. And, we needed to give each other some space. But, when the time came for us to see each other again, we had to re-train ourselves to interact with each other, and probably just not talk about the confrontation.
Because the train of life is going to keep on chugging, whether you are on it or not…