Here are some thoughts about the underlying mechanism of conflict, along with some tips for using the compassionate mind to deal with challenging behaviours.
- Know that when someone shows up in anger, the intensity is not something you can fix in the moment. Deal with the facts. Stay neutral. Avoid arguing because when they are highly emotional, they’re not thinking or reasoning clearly.
- What are you telling yourself that the person’s anger is saying about you? Get to know your triggers and pitfalls. This will give you a greater chance of responding rather than reacting to someone’s behaviour. It’s your thoughts you are reacting to; the other person is just there, being “them”. You can change your thoughts; you can’t change someone else’s behaviour.
- Strong emotion is often paired with memories, making the moment turbo-charged for both of you in the interaction. Feelings are powerful and how we respond to a perceived threat has a lot to do with our past experiences – how we have learnt to get our needs met and feel safe. This emotional baggage is not always useful.
- Avoid rescuing. When someone adopts the role of persecutor, you could become the victim or the rescuer. If they choose to be the victim, you can choose between persecutor or rescuer. It’s a dysfunctional triangle! But there is a space within for you to be centred. Anchor yourself into that place of mindful compassion – use your skills and courage to stay grounded and remember “this too shall pass”!
- Find resilience. One of our strongest sources of resilience is being able to recognise what is within our circle of influence, and what is a concern but not something we can control. Remember that life is not going to plan for the other person in that moment so they are alert to “tigers in the grass”, ready to fight at the slightest provocation. Remember, you are not the tiger!
- Be aware that strong negative reactions can come from fear, for example, feeling that our needs don’t matter, that we are unworthy or unlovable. Sometimes people in uncertainty, emotional distress or internal chaos decide to “flatten the grass around them” to make themselves feel taller. That doesn’t make it okay, but it can help you understand that you are not the problem.
Last Word: People who are always oppositional typically perceive their world as very psychologically unsafe. They respond to that uncertainty and trepidation by becoming over-functioning (controlling).
You yourself may have grabbed at a sense of control when life felt uncertain, chaotic or difficult. This does not excuse the behaviour when it becomes toxic, but it may help you to understand the other person’s suffering.
Finally, this angry interaction is only a moment in time for you. On the other hand, the other person’s adversarial style is their modus operandi. Without developing insight into the splash they make, they are likely to always feel disconnected from others. What a lonely and difficult space to inhabit. You, however, get to move on with your day!
If you would like to know more about understanding and dealing with conflict, consider arranging a mentoring session with me to start designing your action plan: email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
All the best, Rebekah Doley | Clinical & Forensic Psychologist
BA(Hons) GradDipPsyPrac MSc(InvPsy) MJur(Law) MPsy(Clin)/PhD
Registered Psychologist (AHPRA) | Chartered Psychologist (BPS)
Accredited Mediator | Accredited Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (NMAS AUS