I Hate Conflict

I know that probably strikes people who know me casually as a weird statement.  I love to fight with people.  I work in politics, which is about as adversarial as you can get.  I’ve been sworn at and threatened more than a few times, and I just laugh it off.  I have a strong background in martial arts, even though I’m no longer physically able to practice.

What I can’t deal with is interpersonal conflict.  I hate upsetting people and/or feeling like they’re angry at me.

There was a situation on Facebook earlier today.  It’s been several hours, and my heart is still racing.  I can’t calm myself down.

I have these two friends.  Sam and I have known each other for probably twelve years, maybe longer.  She has a mental illness and MS that causes difficulties typing (among other things), so she often types in shorthand.  Holly is a friend from college who also struggles with mental illness, and she often comments on my posts about invisible illness, since mental illness is also invisible and people struggling with it are often discriminated against.  Sam and Holly don’t know each other, but I would’ve assumed they could relate on the basis of those shared experiences, although to be fair I don’t know if Holly is aware of Sam’s MS.  But Sam has talked about it in comments on my posts that Holly has also commented on, so I vaguely assumed she knew.

Sam commented on one of my posts (unrelated to any physical or mental illness), and her comment was in shorthand; e.g., “4” instead of “for,” no capitalization.  Several hours later, Holly commented in response, saying postmodern English should be classified as a new language.  I read it as kind of bitchy–it was unrelated to the post or Sam’s comment, and in my reading sounded like it was mocking Sam. 

I said, “Sam uses shorthand because she has a disability that often makes it difficult to type.”

Holly’s response: “Okay, but I had to read it three times to understand it.”

“At the risk of sounding like an asshole…if you don’t like it, no one’s forcing you to read it.”

At that point, Holly private messaged me and said I did come off sounding like an asshole.  Fair enough–I’m pretty talented at that.  I told her I couldn’t find a more diplomatic way of saying it that still conveyed the point, and I repeated that Sam physically cannot type well most of the time.  Holly said she’d been trying to be humorous, and I said I was sorry, I had misinterpreted the tone, which is easy to do in text.  She said something to the effect of, “I won’t make you put up with me anymore,” which felt kind of passive-aggressive, but I tried to cut her some slack because I know what it’s like to genuinely feel like people don’t want to have to put up with me.  I said I had overreacted and didn’t mean to sound like I liked Sam better than her.  She said she’d lay off commenting for a few days, and I said I understood and left it at that.

But now I’m feeling a whole mess of tangled emotions.  I’m still angry because I feel like once I pointed out to Holly that Sam types the way she does because of a disability, she should’ve apologized, or at least stopped arguing the point.  Her original comment felt snide and judgmental to me.  I can accept that it was an attempt at humor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still judgmental.  There’s this sort of educated elitism I see happening, and I’m not exempt from it–I’ll admit that I judge some people based on their [lack of] grammar, particularly if they’re habitual offenders.  But I’m also aware that there are a number of disabilities that can cause it.  People with dyslexia can struggle a lot with spelling and grammar.  People with various physical disabilities like MS or rheumatoid arthritis can have difficulty with the physical act of typing.  Dictation programs used by visually impaired people often switch homonyms homophone like you’re/your and there/their/they’re.  Hell, even iPhone’s Siri can come up with some weird transliterations–at a political even, my RFD dictated a text saying “All of the parking lot,” but what Siri came up with was, “I love the parking lot,” which confused the hell out of the guy he was texting.  (We joked that we should adopt that as a social media hashtag for the two western/central Mass regions.)  So it made me angry that Holly, who struggles with her own experience of invisible illness, would continue to argue the point after I told her that Sam’s way of typing was due to an illness rather than willful ignorance.

But it’s very possible that I overreacted.  I can see how “If you don’t like it, no one’s making you read it” could be hurtful, even though that wasn’t my intent.  I feel guilty for hurting Holly’s feelings and making her feel like I don’t like her.

Then I feel frustrated because I feel like I can’t tell Holly what my thoughts/feelings were or what I was trying to communicate.  I saw that I’d hurt her, and I figured that trying to defend or even explain my point of view would seem defensive and make her feel more hurt.  But how do I express my feelings?  Where can I say that it felt like she was mocking my friend for bending grammar to accommodate her disability?  When do I get to say that even though she was trying to be funny, it didn’t come across that way, and I jumped in because I didn’t want Sam to be hurt by her comment?  How do I explain that I felt defensive because I’ve been judged and had snide comments made about my disability?

I don’t know how to balance it all.  I hurt Holly because I was trying to keep Sam from feeling hurt, and I set my own feelings aside because I wanted to make Holly feel heard and mitigate the hurt I caused her.  I knew that an argument with Holly probably wouldn’t get her to see my point because who can see clearly when they’re already hurt?  That’s not Holly’s fault.  But how do I meet my own emotional needs?  I want to feel like my point of view is heard too.  I want Holly not to make comments that might hurt Sam, or anyone else with a disability.  I want to stop feeling like a terrible person for hurting Holly.  I want to feel like I’m not being a crazy, fucked-up drama queen for feeling upset by the whole situation.  And I do not know how to do any of that.

So now I’m struggling with urges to self-harm and to binge and purge.  Partly to punish myself/ease my guilt, but mostly to deaden the storm of uncomfortable feelings.  I know they’re not actually intolerable, but it sure as hell feels that way right now.  I’m trying to breathe normally and slow down my racing heart, with very limited success.  I really, really hate this.



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11 responses to “I Hate Conflict

  1. Actually, you are totally fine. Her initial comment was ignorant and oblivious, besides being inappropriate. It’s easy to get a little short over text, and forget how it comes out, but don’t beat yourself up for hurting Holly’s feelings. She didn’t even apologize for her comment, and it was nice of you to get involved in what could have been an invisible but devastating issue for Sam. Say what you need to as assertively as you can, and you aren’t responsible for how people react. Read that last line a few more times until it clicks, ’cause it’s important. xoxo

    • Yeah, it does bother me that Holly never apologized. To be fair, though, I never came right out and said that I felt her comment to/about Sam was hurtful. I just repeated the explanation that Sam was compensating for her disability.

      I guess the thing that I’m struggling with is how I can effectively communicate this to Holly. She’s normally a very considerate person, and I truly believe she didn’t intend to be hurtful. And I know no one can really listen when they feel like they’re being accused. I just can’t figure out how to communicate my point of view without making her feel attacked, but I also don’t feel like I can just drop the issue.

      • I understand, and I hear you. Can you simply say that you felt her comment was hurtful? I think that’s a healthy way to put it, since you are saying how you feel and not attacking her. I struggle with issues like this one all the time- healthy communication isn’t as easy as it seems like it should be, and not everyone is trying to be healthy in return. Maybe you could write it all out first, and then edit down to what you want to say?

  2. I can totally understand your upset. I do have my two cents worth of opinion, kind of based on a book I’m reading. If it doesn’t apply, simply ignore of course.

    I think you get your emotional needs met by expressing your emotions, and owning them. You’re obviously upset, but all this stuff is not so much your feelings as your justifications for your feelings. Which is totally what I’d do too, but it’s not very functional, I’m learning.

    Instead of getting inside your friend’s head about her motivations, especially in a conflict where feelings are running high, it’s really good to step back and share your own feelings, without a lot of justification – e.g., I feel upset by this comment. I see this comment and I feel uncomfortable. You get to show your emotions by owning them, without a lot of explanations as to why you think you have them. At least to start. Then you wait and see what response you get. In this way, you are at least making real contact.

    It’s usually not that productive to get into complex explanations when feelings are running high. And especially bad to do by email – I’ve been guilty of this and have wrecked a friendship this way.

    As to the whole thing about disabilities – why would it be OK to make fun of anyone for bad grammar, disability or not? The person would not be a bad writer on purpose. But there are all kinds of arguments. I think the important and more vulnerable aspect to communicate are the actual feelings.

    Whew. It’s not easy. I have tried this out a few times in not too turbulent situations, and it has worked fairly well.

    You’re not a drama queen for feeling upset. I hope you feel calmer soon. We all have these situations from time to time.

    • I’m feeling calmer now, at least partially thanks to an extra dose of gabapentin. Whatever works, right? I knew I needed to get out of the crazy anxiety before I could get a clearer look at what was going on, and it just wasn’t happening without a pharmacological intervention.

      I’m not sure I understand quite what you mean when you say it’s my justifications for my feelings. Can you explain this a little more?

      In trying to decide if and how to address the issue with her, I’m trying to remember some of the class I took last year on nonviolent communication. Are you familiar with it? I’m not a complete devotee (sometimes, “Fuck you” is a completely legitimate response, in my opinion), but a lot of it makes good sense. One of the things NVC teaches about addressing interpersonal conflict is to describe the situation neutrally–kind of like the DBT observe skill, actually–and to say how the situation makes you feel without using blame-y or critical language. I really struggle with that. It’s not that I want to blame her, but how do I say, “Your comment seemed really hurtful to Sam and lots of other people with disabilities” without seeming blame-y? Then, in NVC, you state what your emotional need is. That’s easier for me–I need communication and to understand and be understood.

      I think really I’m less interested in sharing my feelings with Holly than I am in explaining how comments like the one she made can be really hurtful. I want her to be aware of it. I know I can’t be the ableism police, but I want people to understand how ableist comments hurt people with disabilities and contribute to widespread stigma. It’s less about the actual comment to me and more about the general context, if that makes sense. Maybe that’s not fair to her–I’m not sure. I mean, I don’t want to make her feel like she’s responsible for all ableism, but I want her to see that what may seem like a harmless joke can actually contribute to a greater climate of discrimination and othering. Maybe I need to let go of that; maybe I need to stop thinking I can make her see anything. I honestly don’t know at this point.

      What I do know is that even though I’m not having an anxious meltdown about it anymore, I still feel really sad. I can’t let go of it, and I’m not sure why. I’ve spent the past several hours blinking back tears. There’s clearly something going on internally, but I can’t untangle it. I don’t want to unload all that on Holly…but I also want to at least communicate my reaction to what she said. I feel like I’m just thinking/feeling/writing in circles here.

      • Trying to decide whether to continue this – I don’t want to seem like I’m telling you what to do. Yet I see it differently, plus this topic interests me and I also want to improve how I deal with conflict.

        You said: but how do I say, “Your comment seemed really hurtful to Sam and lots of other people with disabilities” without seeming blame-y?

        IMO, there is no way. You are blaming her. If you want to move the relationship forward, you would need to stick with expressing your own feelings and needs. Not sure what you want to accomplish? Will it really make you feel better to moralize to your friend? I assume you like her – is it likely she would need a lecture on how to be respectful to people with disabilities?

        I was wondering if you feel that your own disabilities are not being respected, either by her or by others, and that’s why this is so important to you? If so, that might be a discussion worth having.

        Your question: I’m not sure I understand quite what you mean when you say it’s my justifications for my feelings. Can you explain this a little more?

        Your feelings are hurt, anger, fear, etc etc. Justifications are for instance – you did this, therefore I am now angry, hurt, afraid. Justifications completely without your feelings are You did this, you are a bad person, change. Simplified of course. I have been guilty of all of these BTW. Especially in my marriage. Sigh.

        Glad you took the med and it helped. Sometimes that’s the best way through. I wish you calmness and good luck however you decide to tackle this. Just an alternative view.

      • I like alternative views, and I don’t feel like you’re telling me what to do. So no worries. 🙂

        I think I’ve decided to let it go, especially because I talked to Sam and she wasn’t upset about it. I think you’re right–I’m having a hard time adjusting to my own disability, so I’m sometimes a little too sensitive about it. This is why I didn’t do anything about the situation last night. I know I sometimes lose the ability to think rationally when my emotions are running high, and I didn’t want to make things worse.

  3. Sleep on it, regroup, and then trust your gut. Just my two cents worth. Thanks for continuing to follow our blog.

    • I’m definitely not going to do anything until my emotional chaos settles down. I know what I feel I need to say; the challenge is crafting it in a way that doesn’t sound blame-y and make Holly feel worse. (Well, and there’s the other challenge of not chickening out and ignoring my needs by not saying anything. I do have that tendency.)

      I appreciate your blog greatly. It’s well-written, and a lot of Robin’s experience resonate with my own experiences. It’s also interesting to see a clinician’s POV–that’s rare. I like other perspectives.

  4. makersdozn

    Hi Hope,
    I too dislike conflict. I can identify with what you wrote. I agree with the folks who’ve commented, and I hope you find the resolution that’s best for you.


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