Confrontation Anxiety: How Do I Feel About That?

Someone on Twitter asked me a question.

She read my blog post where I talked about a dude speaking inappropriately to me on Twitter. She asked me how sticking up for myself made me feel.

That is a complicated goddamn question. And I didn’t even know the question was complicated until someone asked.

My initial reaction was to respond standing up for myself felt good. Which is true.

I did feel good about standing up for myself, but that certainly isn’t all I felt. Not by a damn sight.

One thing that triggers a severe anxiety spike is confrontation.

Doesn’t matter what kind of confrontation. Confrontations make me want to run away, scream and hide, andconfrontation anxiety perhaps vomit.

For five years, I was a boss with a staff of 14 people. Confrontations were going to goddamn happen. I hated the being boss confrontations.

For any single work confrontation I’ve ever had, if I had been given the choice to avoid the confrontation by having a finger chopped off, I would be typing this post with my nose.

If I am in a position to defend myself, then logic dictates I am in a confrontation.

So, I am anxious as fuck which feels terrible. I can say defending myself feels good, which is true, but it’s also one of my worst case scenarios.

I thought about why I immediately gravitated toward giving a voice to “it feels really good to stick up for myself” feelings and wanted to push aside the “I want to crawl into a hole and die” feelings. I mean other than the obvious. Don’t we all want a happy ending? Not in the hand job way. Not that there is anything wrong with hand jobs.

I shoved aside the negative feelings because I feel angry that I can’t just will anxiety away.

Then, I reminded myself I’ve never been able to will away anxiety.

I can try to mitigate the anxiety as best I can with deep breathing exercises, constant self talk, and sometimes bourbon, but I can’t make it go away.

I know this about me. I reminded myself I have accepted this. I don’t particularly like examining those physically painful episodes, but it’s not horrible to have the reminder I’m working on self acceptance. Part of that means letting go of self directed anger because I can’t force my brain to stop being a dick.

Also, I am never going to be able to definitively answer any sort of  “how do you feel” question, because I”m not sure how I feel.

My ability to form opinions or express normal emotions was stunted due to being raised by a malignant narcissist.

The only feeling I trust completely is my love for my people. Other than that? Most of my feelings are sort of wispy and not all the way there. Sort of. They are there, I can feel them, but it’s like they’ve been worn down and stuck in a plastic bag or something. So, any time anyone asks me how I feel about anything, it makes me all sweaty because I don’t fucking know. Not for sure.

I’m really working on this feelings thing.

I’m not trying to find a way to access some of the feelings I know I miss out on. Not any more.

I’m working on forgiving myself for not being able access them. It’s exhausting and I don’t want to do it anymore.

So, how do I feel about sticking up for myself?

That’s such a hard question.

Now, I’m going back to binging season seven of Buffy.

 

Photo courtesy of Oscar Montero.

 

 

 

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Add your comments below. Profanity is encouraged, but not required. ;)
  1. Monique says:

    Next time, when somebody ask you such a question say this:
    I am so happy to be free to not have to feel anything about this at the moment! It always helps me.

    Reply
  2. Donna says:

    In a confrontation, I feel EVERYTHING – tempestuous fear, panic, rage, insecurity, security, etc., etc. – ALL at once. Exhausting shit.

    I think Amanda was my favorite Slayerette.

    Reply
  3. It’s hard to say how you feel and defend it when you can’t always trust your own feelings. This is my struggle. I can invent terrible scenarios that don’t exist outside my mind…then I have to remind myself that feelings aren’t facts. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, clicking my red shiny shoes…feelings aren’t facts, feelings aren’t facts, feelings aren’t facts.

    Reply
  4. Eleanor says:

    I totally distrust my feelings, all the time. One of my best friends likes to say, “But, that is just your interpretation,” which does not make me feel better. I understand what she’s trying to do, though…When I think about standing up for myself, I automatically think of all the ways I could be wrong.

    Reply
  5. KK says:

    After yesterday’s horrible Dragon’s Den type panel interview, I so relate to this. I spent the rest of the evening binge watching Due South and I shall probably do more of the same tonight, after I’ve done some work, but it’s knocked me for six. It really shouldn’t have but I can’t bear confrontation, it makes me feel ill and defenceless and now utterly depressed and defeated.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Oh sweetness, I wish I could give you a hug even though we would both probably hate it and then go have drinks until you felt better.

      Reply
      • KK says:

        Ha, yes. I’m not hug averse, unless it’s weird strangers but the drinks bit definitely sounds good. It’s affected me really badly but I’ll shake it off. I hate that things like that still trigger me. I’ve been doing so well but my councillor did tell me that it would probably be with me for life, and it seems that he may be right.

        Reply
  6. Cecilia Leon says:

    I can relate to everything so much. It’s a lifelong challenge but good for you for working through it. I’m inspired.

    Reply
  7. Shani says:

    I like Monique’s answer. I’m too much of a wimp to use it though
    I am a big shrugger—if I don’t know how something makes me feel or there are no feelings or just too many to name I literally will shrug. This is me 95% of the time.
    Confrontation is one of those things I feel all of in the moment and I know what I am feeling. I think that’s why or one of many reasons I will pick arguments with my sweetie. I do it a lot less than I used to but I still will do it. But only in relationships have I done that because I don’t like confrontation in general.
    I’m sure it’s a test or something. I have issues

    Reply
  8. I have a strange relationship with confrontation. I would say about 90% of the time, I’m with you hiding in a corner hoping I don’t have to deal with it. But, that other 10% of the time, I embrace it fully and go off. And the strangest things set me off. Not in an overreactive/pushed-over-the-edge/straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back sort of way. I try to keep a level head (unless I’m arguing with my ex about politics, but that category is an outlier and shouldn’t be counted). I present my arguments with logical evidence. It’s just weird things that I feel the need to stick up for/about. I’m not sure why my brain decides this is the thing I’m going to be vocal about, but it does.

    Probably because it’s broken, so it just picks things at random.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I have lost my shit on people a few times and it’s always had something to do with my kids. Someone upsets my kid? I’m not scared of confrontation, I am more afraid of how far I will go. Good thing they’re all grown ups now. Hahahah…like that makes a difference to a mama bear.

      Reply
  9. Rena says:

    So powerful Sister! You manage to put my feelings into words better than I ever could. Anxiety is a bitch!

    Reply
  10. AmberLynn says:

    Lately I have found that, while normally a great decision maker, in a confrontational situation I can’t decide whether to stick my head in the sand, run through the window, scream like Eleven, or fight to the death…..they all seem like good options.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      My first thought is ALWAYS run and hide.

      Wait. No. There are the rare occasion that I come out swinging, but those occasions have been very rare. I have to be extremely angry..and then it is a sight to behold.

      Reply
  11. Doug in Oakland says:

    I don’t like conflict, either. Especially live, in-your-face conflict. I don’t really mind whacking trolls on the internet, but it requires judgements about them that I’m not really comfortable with. Of course they know that and use it against me, which sort of backs me into a rhetorical corner, but I know what I’m talking about, so I have a little bit of confidence there, and there’s always Google if my insecurities get too loud, and five minutes later I’m sure of what I’m talking about and in greater detail.
    I have to really want my piece to be said in a particular situation to do so, though, as there are way more trolls than there are hours in my day.
    I was a warehouse manager for a while, and I hated it. I liked the business, and I liked most of the job, but the conflict aspect of it drove me nuts. First, there was the philosophical wrongness of it: I’m labor, damn it, not management. Then there was the “how did this happen” part of it: it took about three of the four years I did it to accept the fact that I was the one who should be doing it. That only finally registered when the founders of the company, who had retired, came in for a visit and straight up told me I was the one, and there was no arguing with that.
    I responded to the conflicts that come with low-level management by taking more responsibility on myself, which while a somewhat common response, is neither good management practice, or conducive to my health or sanity.
    There were two times in that job that I actually said fuck it and stood up for myself, and they had very different results, so I didn’t get any real confirmation or direction out of the experience:
    The first was when I just told the new owners that I needed more staff and things were not going to get done if I didn’t get them.
    That sort blew up in my face, as the deliveries we took just piled up in the aisles of the warehouse without being stocked until there were about ninety pallets in the aisles, and to keep from disrupting our output, I just stayed late and stocked them myself. By then the inventory numbers wouldn’t add up and it was a mess. But it was mostly at time and a half, so I just did it.
    The other time was later, when the business was obviously on its last legs, and I was pulling 90 and 100 hour weeks to try to keep it afloat for a while longer. The former operating manager had warned me before he left that he had noticed errors in the payroll, and always in the company’s favor, so I started writing down my hours every day so I could check up on them, and sure enough, they were cheating me almost every check.
    Now this has to do with conflict avoidance because I could have just showed them the first time I caught them and made them straighten it out for the $80 they shorted me, but instead, because I was making more money than I was used to and didn’t need it to make it to the next paycheck, I just took meticulous notes on it and carried them around like a weapon to be deployed when I finally felt they had gone too far.
    That day came one Friday when I was up to my neck in orders and inventories and alone in the warehouse, and the new owner told me to take a wheel off of one of the delivery trucks so he could take it down and get the tire fixed.
    I said “No.”
    He said “What do you mean no?”
    I said “You don’t pay me enough to be a mechanic. And I’m busy running your goddamn warehouse. No.”
    It was one of those so-tense-you’re-vibrating moments, and I was just as much responsible for it as he was, but this time I was called into the office (later) to answer for it, and I whipped out my clipboard and confronted the bastard with what he had been doing to me, the other employees, and the business.
    Long story short (ha!), I went home that night with $600 in an envelope (he decided that he could afford to give me vacation pay as a compromise) that I used to replace my recently stolen ’67 SG with the cheap-ass Les Paul that is my main electric guitar right now.

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Hahaha…that is amazing!! I am so glad you stuck up for yourself. I AM better at it than I used to be. It used to be debilitating, now it’s just horrifying and nearly debilitating.

      Reply
  12. sha says:

    I can relate to that anxiety. In most of my childhood, my family (13 in one house) would constantly fight and then you’d be “talking back” or someone would remember something you never said and take it for fact (I’m preeeetty sure I’d know if I said I hated someone. Hate is a very personal word to me). No one knew how to feel or stop arguing. It was a mess. And my mother is kind of narcissist? Forgets birthdays, hates it when she’s deemed wrong, looks at worldwide tragedies and makes it about her somehow, lashes out randomly? Idk. In any case, confrontation was never my strong suit since I still didn’t want to “hurt” anybody even then (if only I could go to the past tho…)

    It just feels like a breath of fresh air to know I’m not the only who feels like this. Where certain people in my area are concerned, if you didn’t automatically know how to stand up for yourself or turned down a fight or didn’t lash out or have an opinion no matter how irrational or tried to please ANYBODY, you were deemed weak or slow or cold, evil or an idiot. Not meant for the streets. UGH. Standards. Didn’t allow myself to “feel” for most of my life because “the way I feel must be wrong.” or something.

    Anyway, thank you. And sorry for the vent. I need to re-watch Buffy.

    Reply
  13. Harry says:

    I’m not a fan of confrontation, which can be a problem, sometimes, since I’m an attorney. I feel almost guilty when I win.

    On those occasions when I am cross-examining someone in court (rare – I’m not that kind of attorney), if I get the witness where I want them, I never go in for the kill. Others tell me, “You were there! You had her! Why didn’t you go in for the kill?” and I say, “Everyone knew I had her where I wanted her. I didn’t need to spike the ball.”

    You’ve worked out childhood issues as to why you dislike confrontation. I haven’t figured my issues out. Maybe someday…

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      Oh man, that would be hard when confrontation is part of the job. I don’t know that understanding why has helped me much. I mean, over all, it’s been very helpful, but I’m not much better at confrontation.

      Reply
  14. Lisa K says:

    I started the email to my boss yesterday with the actual words, “OK. *deep breath*”
    And I ended the email with, “I promise I’m not trying to overthink/underthink/outthink you… I just want to know what your goals are so I can help make the transition smoother for you/us.”
    I’m still breathing funny and she hasn’t answered yet, so…
    All this over the email/internet provider switch 🙁
    *pops another Prozac*

    Reply
  15. Mary-Anne says:

    You had me at “confrontational anxiety” . Yes, I have it too. mostly in the family arena. It can tie me up in knots and I am still a pretzel from some avoided confrontations and hugely from some real ones.

    I still am in fear of my father’s anger (he has been dead for 48 years) and my mother’s anger (she has been dead for 14 years)

    I am afraid confrontation will cause those I love to leave me either physically or emotionally and both have happened with close family members.

    If I wake up at night and hear people talking to each other in the living room I panic and listen closely for signs of anger or disagreement. It is paralyzing.

    I have no solution – inertia sets in big time – and I have been called an ostrich, but I am doing the best I can. We all are. And taking on the world one little tweet at a time is a good start for you, and a good learning experience for me. thanks, Michelle!

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I am very attuned to people’s voice and demeanor and I am shaken when I perceive anger or annoyance, directed at me or not. I am ALWAYS looking for verbal or facial signs of disapproval. It’s complete bullshit. BUT…I am where I am. I have to accept that.

      Reply
  16. For a while I was sort of a supervisor and I fucking hated it, especially since there was a person with whom I sometimes had to get confrontational, and she would lie right to my face. They were really stupidly obvious lies too and I had trouble handling that. I’d get angry and say, “Don’t tell me you don’t have that thing WHEN IT’S SITTING ON YOUR DESK RIGHT NEXT TO YOU.” I didn’t need to take that shit personally but I did anyway.
    Having someone else take over that responsibility has helped a lot, but, since you brought up Buffy, you know what I really love about Spike?
    Yeah, how he dresses, but aside from that it’s the fact that he’s never going to let anything interfere with enjoying himself even if, at the moment anyway, he can’t feed.
    He sees the whole vampire versus slayer battle as a big game and never takes it personally.
    I realize that may seem contrary to your goal of being sure of your feelings, but maybe in a perverse way taking a step back will help you better understand how you feel.

    Reply
  17. Jaye says:

    I don’t know exactly how or when it happened but I have gradually over the years become more and more fearful of confrontation. My hands and voice shake and – although I hate myself for it (“DOORMAT! WUSS!”) I do not have it in me to take a stand. I wonder why? Does anyone have any ideas where this comes from? Glad to know I am not alone….

    Reply
    • Michelle says:

      I couldn’t guess where yours comes from. I do know there are a lot of us who deal with this so we are not alone. I am going to try to talk yourself out of hating yourself for being a wuss or a doormat. We are all where we are and it’s okay. If someone else were struggling would you hate them for their struggles? I am going to guess you would not…so try giving yourself the same break. I am pulling for you!

      Reply
  18. Ernie says:

    I saw that you responded to somebody about confronting people when it comes to your children. Oh brother. Don’t get me started. I am the only one in my family who manages to confront people. I think it stems from being the middle child and always being overlooked. I had to fight for everything/stick up for myself or just give up. Anyway, I just blogged a few weeks ago about an incident that happened at Christmas (link attached). My Dad hurt my oldest son’s feelings at Christmas. He didn’t mean to, but that’s not the point. My 19 yr old left my folks’ house in tears. On Christmas. He still has yet to apologize but has made passive aggressive remarks to my other kids saying that my oldest probably hates him now. It’s mind blowing. But I haven’t confronted my Dad. My therapist said not to – thinking my Dad will probably just try to justify what happened, which will make it worse.

    Reply
  19. emelle says:

    That question (“how did you feel?”) only SOUNDS innocent/positive, but in truth, to me (at least), it’s a passive-aggressive confrontation in and of itself. Which means the only correct answer is a lashing out: “I dunno! How do YOU fucking feel about asking me that dumb-ass question?”
    .
    Sorry. Or not, maybe. It sounds like a dick move. You don’t owe anyone (other than a therapist that you PAY GOOD MONEY to) an answer to that question.
    .
    I’m not sure there’s a living non-narcissistic/sociopathic soul on the planet who feels 100% GOOD about standing up for oneself, considering the other half of standing up is confrontation.
    .
    I’m not anxious. I have no fear of confrontation. I don’t enjoy it, though. And if you corner me, watch the fuck out. I will cut a bitch.

    Reply