The art of confrontation: defending yourself without feeling guilty

I suck at facing other people. I find it so, so hard to defend myself without feeling guilty afterwards. I convince myself that I overreacted, that they didn’t want it that way, that it wasn’t that bad. These excuses have long fueled my fear of confrontation. For anyone with the same fear of confrontation, this is for you: a guide to the complicated art of confronting someone without feeling guilty (as told by someone who has learned many ways to cheat his overthinking brain).

1. Don’t confront others when you’re too emotional to think straight

While you shouldn’t put off confronting someone else for too long, it’s a bad idea to do so when you’re feeling very emotional. Obviously, you might be pissed off at the end of your conversation anyway, but it’s never good to start an argument because you’re too angry to have a real conversation. It’s much more likely that you’ll start pulling accusations that may be true but do nothing to solve the problem at hand and probably make it much worse. And, as I can tell from first-hand experience, getting into a full-on screaming fight will only make you feel guiltier after you’ve had time to think about it.

2. Write down the reasons why you feel upset

If you’re like me, starting a difficult conversation with someone is terrifying. You may immediately lose track of the things you want to say, which then gives you the impression that you may have got it wrong, so you give up on the discussion altogether. I myself have been through so many cycles trying to start a conversation and then I feel like I’m the one doing too much with everything but then I feel mad at myself for having backed off so easily. It’s a vicious circle.

To avoid this, start writing bullet points about why you were upset before talking to the person involved. List them as reasonably as possible and think about them first. If you take the time to organize your thoughts before confronting someone, you’ll be less likely to believe you’re wrong in the middle of a conversation. It works amazingly well, so give it a try!

3. Hold yourself accountable

One problem I always had was postponing a confrontation over and over again until it was too late to say anything. Do not do that. Of course, as in number one, don’t rush to have a conversation immediately, but don’t put it off for weeks or months either.

To keep you from just giving up on confronting someone once the anger has cooled down a bit – which is what I go through every time I’m angry at someone – hold yourself accountable. There are many ways to do this. Write notes to your future self explaining why you shouldn’t just give up on the conversation, ask someone else to force you into having the conversation – it all works! It might sound crazy, but that’s the hardest part of confronting someone: forcing yourself to go do it.

4. Tell them what you want to change instead of complaining about what they’ve already done

Everyone gives a damn. You can’t do anything about it. And as corny as it sounds, the only thing you can do is stop it from continuing. Telling someone what they did wrong is fine, but continuing about it over and over again doesn’t solve anything and will probably annoy them. Instead, tell them what you want to change in the future. If you think there’s a lack of boundaries in your relationship, tell them you want them to respect your personal space more from now on. If you think they were insensitive to something important to you, tell them why you felt hurt and why it’s important that they don’t do it again. Focusing on the future and what they can change is much better and often much more effective than talking about what they have done in the past.

What if you can’t resolve the argument?

If you’re trying to have a legitimate, mature conversation and it’s not going anywhere, you may just need to stop. While most confrontations are about solving problems and restoring normal relationships, sometimes things don’t go the way you planned. If you’re being as honest and calm as possible and they just don’t get it, understand that this friendship or relationship is probably going nowhere and move on. And who knows, maybe they’ll think about it after the fact and realize you were right – and they’ll be fine.

Confrontation isn’t as scary as it seems

It may sound terrifying. And I can’t lie to you and say that it’s gotten easier and easier to sit down and have this awkward, rather hostile conversation with someone. But you get better with time. And what I’ve realized by forcing myself to stand up for myself and speak up is that nothing ever goes as badly as it seems.

You might be afraid that confronting a close friend will completely ruin your relationship. But sometimes taking the time to have a serious conversation will do wonders for your relationship. Keeping things pent up might feel less awkward and difficult at first, but it all adds up in the end, and it’s much better to choose when you want to let it out rather than waiting for it to explode on you.

So yes, it’s scary, but no, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Just think about your thoughts and feelings ahead of time, stay calm during your conversation, and do it!