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Poker Faces Lie: I Don’t Know How To Deal With Conflict

May 2, 2012

Confrontations give me heart palpitations. When faced with something that upsets me, I shut down. To some people the statement “I don’t know how to deal with conflict” won’t ring true. It’s not like I’m shy when it comes to expressing my opinion, disagreeing with people or even being argumentative, but given a certain set of circumstance, when faced with conflict, I can feel myself growing cold and hard… pulling back from myself, from the person who upset me and the situation itself.

I haven’t had a drink or touched drugs in over a decade, but in those moments where my body turns cold, I remember what it was like to use “mind-altering” substances to shut out the world around me or at least experience it in a different way. I don’t miss it per se, but part of me would like to fall back into old habits and addictions just so I could enjoy that familiar numbness, but it didn’t really work that way back then and it wouldn’t work that way now.

When my best friend of fifteen years and I had a falling out a few years ago, I reacted in much the same way. Her “accusations” made me defensive, but mostly I stopped registering any emotions and my reaction can only be described as “checking out.” I didn’t handle it well. Had I exploded in anger maybe things would have blown over and we’d still be friends today, but I shut off. I retreated within myself and wrapped myself in an invisible blanket of hard cold steel.

I have a great poker face. If only I knew how to play poker. Instead, that particular skill turns me into a  roadside attraction where passersby can stop and gawk at the incredible woman who can withstand a sucker punched to the gut without even blinking. There might be internal damage, but you would be none the wiser.

There’s no need to look very far to figure out when and where I developed my stellar conflict resolution skills. Blah, blah, blah, child of a messy and explosive divorce, blah, blah, blah, alcoholic father prone to bouts of occasional meanness. The ability to shut down and weather the storm might have served me when I was  kid, but what now? My 31st birthday is fast approaching and I don’t want to turn into a rock every time someone I love treats me in a way I deem undeserving.

Loosing my temper isn’t a better alternative, and there’s just something about telling someone I’m pissed off in the midst of the situation that scares me. Yup, that’s right, scares me. What if my reaction only causes more conflict? What if they don’t want to talk to me anymore, because I tell them the way they’re treating me is pretty damn shitty?

Can anyone say fear of abandonment? All together now, once more with feeling.

Of course, you can’t just hang on to feelings of anger, because that shit will make you bitter or, gasp, passive aggressive. A long back and forth of “you did this” and “you did this” and “this is why I’m right” and “this is why you’re wrong” doesn’t appeal to me either. And once I’ve cooled down, I always wonder whether I’m being too sensitive or whether I’m overreacting. Shouldn’t I be able to take things less personally? Shouldn’t I be able to let go? Live and let live and whatnot.

But  then, you’re stuck in the same situation where you’re not being treated in a way that sits well with you; stuck in a situation that makes you unhappy or worst of all filled with anxiety. I suppose, the answer isn’t that complicated. There’s a way to express your feelings and your expectations in a calm and direct way. It’s not that hard really, but in that moment where my body and my mind turn to ice, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out what my feelings and my expectations are, let alone find the words to express them.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2012 2:28 pm

    Interesting. I’m the total opposite…emotional hair trigger, open book, and tend to over-confront. Meet you in the middle!

  2. Janvanize permalink
    May 2, 2012 3:33 pm

    The key is to learn to act as opposed to react. Oh yes, easier said than done. I was the first to turn around and say all kinds of things out of anger and almost craved confrontation. I was very good at it. Some things I would utter are not even real, just any hateful thing that came to mind. Over the years (with therapy), I was able to learn to recongnize, control and get to the root of my anger. Now, I’d like to think anyway, that I can handle myself because I’m no longer reacting to things like I did, and as a result I can clearly rationalize situations.
    I can relate to loosing a close friend because of stupidness, but realize now that was just time to move on. As much as that can suck big dirty cock, one day you will know exactly what door opened for you while that one was closing.

  3. May 2, 2012 7:11 pm

    I am so much like you. I am the ice king baby.

  4. Gillian Colbert permalink
    May 3, 2012 9:33 am

    I’m much the same way, however, recently I’ve begun to push through it because shutting down is never healthy. For me, personally, I’ve learned that I was “protecting” myself in those situations. Now, I know I can handle whatever happens and am better able to work through the situation by embracing the other person’s discord.

  5. June 20, 2012 6:40 pm

    @Brian: The Ice Queen was (is) one of my favorite fairy tales. Ice king and queens, unite.

  6. June 20, 2012 7:20 pm

    @Ladyyaga: Meet you there.

    @Javanize: You were pretty good at it, if memory serves. Lol. But you make a good point about acting as opposed to reacting. Therapy seems to be doing you wonders. Thanks for the advice.

    @Gillian: Yes, I see that I use shutting down as a mechanism to protect myself, and it might have been useful when I was a kid and the adults around me were fighting and whatnot, but I think that defense mechanism has outlived its usefulness.

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