I’ve written before about the benefits of conflict, especially in our relationships.
But that’s the wisdom we can relish in once the fight is over. Once we’ve been able to talk things through and repair what’s broken and choose to move forward.
What’s challenging for me is remembering all of these benefits when I’m in the middle of conflict.
When I can feel the heat building in my body. When I feel the walls closing in around me. When I can feel the angry words bubbling up inside, threatening to tumble out.
I was talking to my therapist a few days ago about how I react to conflict when I casually expressed a truth that I hadn’t verbalized before, even to myself:
“If I don’t stop myself, I can be really mean.”
I consider myself a fairly patient person. I’m the one my friends and family go to when they need to talk through an issue or get some level-headed but honest advice. I also like to think of myself as kind. And while that’s all true, I also have the ability to be exceptionally cruel sometimes. To hit below the belt with my words. To be passive aggressive and sarcastic and unwilling to budge emotionally. To be detached and pointed and foul-mouthed on purpose when I’m hurt or triggered or disappointed with how I feel someone is treating me.
Sometimes, I can be really mean.
I thought saying it out loud would make me feel bad, but it was actually freeing to own up to this part of myself. To recognize it without drowning in shame. To understand that mean happens sometimes—but that mean doesn’t have to be an inevitability.
While trapped inside this weekend during a 48-hour bought of rain, I came across a short Instagram Reel from therapist Patricia Lamas that poked a bit of fun at my exact dilemma, but also offered up a thoughtful question for those potentially mean moments:
View this post on Instagram
“When you get the urge to be right during an argument, ask yourself: Would you rather unleash the ‘demons’ or prioritize your relational safety?”
When we’re focused on being right during conflict, it often means we’re focused on ourselves. On our opinions. On our wants and needs. On our hurt feelings or pushed buttons. And, at least for me, that’s usually when my demons start itching to come out. I want to defend myself, sometimes at any cost.
But when I think about myself and my partner, I find that I usually start to soften a bit. That doesn’t mean I don’t express what I want and need, but I try to make room in my head and heart for his wants and needs too (even if both our demons are throwing a tantrum). I try to remember that ultimately, I’d like for us to come out of this more connected.
And when I’m focused on connection, it’s a hell of a lot harder to be mean.