Managing Conflict

The following is a short story that I use often in my counselling sessions.  It is excellent for anyone who struggles with anger or anyone who is around negative, critical or even emotionally abusive individuals.

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

– See more at: http://truecenterpublishing.com/zenstory/insults.html#sthash.LklMLPWX.dpuf

 

Often if people upset us deliberately, they do so with the sole aim to upset us, they want you upset, they want you reacting, they want to capture that reaction; they want to use your reaction to discredit you to others or at least hurt you and take something from you. People may totally ignore you to let you know they do not care (see discard stage of abuse), or they may discredit you to others, criticise you, attack you, abuse you then deny or minimise or justify their abuse (see gas lighting or smear campaign).  So people can attack us directly or indirectly in more manipulative ways.  There are many ways a person will use to try to hurt you if that is their aim, your reaction to that is your responsibility. Responsibility is your ability to respond.

It is important to pause before you react and think about this.  As it may be a reaction they want.  Would you want to give to someone who deliberately wants to upset you in some way, exactly what they want?

In cases of reported extreme psychological abuse, narcissism for example; apparently it is common to hear how they may feign concern about their victim, and show compassion and love for the victim to their audiences.  Whilst behind the curtain of illusion, they treat their victim in despicable ways.  Then if the victim is to retaliate and tries to defend themselves, the abuser can then often use that as evidence that the victim is unstable and this allows the abuser to gain support, whilst isolating their victim.  There are lots of people sharing their experiences of what they perceive to be narcissistic abuse on the internet and sharing such examples.

If someone is deliberate in trying to hurt you in a more abusive way, do you want to give them your power, or do you want to try to keep your power?

If someone hurts you, observe it.  Assess is this deliberate, or is this an off day.  Either way it is not yours to carry really is it?  If the harm is physical, then it is at crisis stage and in need of professional support and intervention as pointed out by a reader recently.  My focus in this blog is on prevention and ways to tackle emotional abuse.

Establishing if your relationship is dysfunctional or abusive is another topic.  You could be in a relationship that is very damaging, but not be aware.  Gas lighting, smear campaigns, devalue and discard are more ‘carbon monoxide’ forms of emotional abuse.  Even if you do identify it, it can feel ‘normal’ if you have been brought up around dysfunction possibly?

If you have a gut feeling about someone, if something just doesn’t feel right, but you can’t really put your finger on it, if you often feel you are bad and that is why someone or certain groups criticise you,  if you sometimes feel people are ‘acting’ nice in a fake way, if you find yourself having to make an effort to please them, or feel that it is very easy for them to reject and get upset, attack or criticise, then my advice is read up on signs of abuse.  If you are faced with groups of people attacking you, it could be the smear campaign and gas lighting of one individual playing victim, or slandering?  Many report such experiences. Advice from experienced domestic abuse services may help.

This blog highlights a simple tool to disarm negative behaviours in general or emotional abuse, so will only be effective to a certain point, but it may help people identify early stages of abuse?

I have at times worked with prolific offenders (PPO) over a number of years.  Some had a real resistance to any support and could be mistrusting, lacking in motivation and had steel like ‘fronts’ of negative attitudes as some kind of shield it seemed?  They may have had a good reason for this to some extent, as they seemed genuine when they spoke of workers in the criminal justice system being negative towards them and condescending. Some workers have a position of power, that can at times change a person’s personality and lead to authoritarian attitudes, hopefully this is rare and I have had the fortune of working with some excellent professionals.  Some workers may be passive which may not always be a good approach?  So it seemed that some would test me, to see if I was I authoritarian, or passive and a pushover? I like to think I was in between.  It was healthy of them to test and see if I can be trusted, rather than trust blindly.

Eventually, by treating this group as the equal adults they were, challenging their negative behaviours in a respectful yet assertive way and listening to what they were saying, we often seemed to get somewhere.  Working through the victim attitudes of blame and lack of responsibility, we got some really good work done eventually.  I will not deny it did take patience as a professional that is for sure, which actually made me warm to these peers all the more.

Many PPO’s realised that if they do come across a worker or anyone for that matter; who will abuse their power at some point, that their reaction was their choice and could bring on positive or negative consequences.

Moving on from that example, if someone was to attack you in some way, either belittle or humiliate by whatever means, then what is the best outcome?  Would the best outcome be for you to be faced with punishment, character assassination because of your reaction, whilst the abuser smiles with all the power they have just sucked out of you?  Or would you like to see an abuser squirm with frustration that they can not take your power and are the ones who are left visibly holding their own dysfunction?

If you react angrily to mistreatment then the person mistreating you could point out your anger and their mistreatment could remain hidden.  If you react calmy by pointing out their behaviour, then who is left holding the ‘gift of insults’?

Our response to certain situations can either fuel or ease circumstances.  Sometimes abusive individuals will deliberately provoke a response and then try to use the response to discredit their target, this is why our response to dysfunction can be very important.

We learn it is good to fight back or defend ourselves and it is.  It is just that when facing some form of attack or criticism or challenge you have to be thoughtful about the best way to overcome what you are needing to face for the best solution.  Is self-reflection needed?  Is defence needed, or challenge?  That is strength of spirit.  For me, I am luckily getting older and wiser and learning that if someone wants conflict, the quickest way to stop them from crossing a boundary, is to not give them what they want and avoid them if necessary.

Often people hurt us and feel they are right to do so, they feel they have good reason for behaving as they do.  The same principle applies, if someone hurts you and is not capable of compassion, and the communication skills to discuss what has hurt you or them, then you may need to think about what kind of standards do you allow from others?

When I practised Wing Chun Kung Fu, it really taught me about strength of spirit.  It was devised by a female, and was made famous by Bruce Lee mastering the style.  It is a very effective style of kung fu and takes years to master.  Basically you are trained to defend and use your opponents weight and strength against them.  For example, if a large man came to attack a small woman, if she had mastered Wing Chun, his arm would be grabbed forward if he went to hit her, using his force and her elbow, fist, knee etc would be waiting for one of his pressure points, to take him down swiftly, using no strength, just skill and the energy of his strength.  If a woman needs to defend herself physically against the strength of a man, then it takes some skill and discipline to master effective ways.

Anyone can ‘fight’, but strength of spirit can keep you going if you would prefer to avoid conflict.  If we participate in every conflict we come across, it could be exhausting and rather manic for some.  Conflict can often be futile, it certainly is if it is not necessary. Sometimes it is better to have distance than to face conflicts. It has taken me a long time to learn that.  If however you have no choice and do have to deal with someone who is determined to have conflict, or hurt you then remember this story and think about this, do you want to give them what they want and let that hurt you?  Or do you want to turn your back and leave them carrying their own issues?  Nothing frustrates an abuser more. Nothing feels better than a clear conscience and the power to remain toxic free around toxic individuals.  That is their ‘gift’ that they choose, leave it with them.

If you do react to conflict, then are you any better and will you give power to others to discredit your character (the lowest form of attack in my mind).

We all consist of energy, do you want to give it up to every confrontation, or do you want to save it for all those special people in your life?

Exhaust those who try to break your spirit by keeping your power; so they can learn to take responsibility for their own issues, rather than keep dumping their issues on others.  Help them and help yourself by avoiding those dynamics at all costs.  Abusive people are often hurt people, we can not allow any damage to spread.  People can get help and change their negative behaviours, but unless they have already done that, my advice is stay well away, do not walk on their path of destruction with them, if people are hurting themselves, will they have control over the possibility of hurting others?  If you are drawn to help or tolerate that type of dynamic in a personal capacity, I strongly advise you to research co dependency.

 

Conflict-Resolution.png

Thoughts and opinions are my own, to offer a general sense of personal development topics and insights into available support.  

Angela Neild

Manchester Counselling

http://www.counsellormanchester.uk/

For support in the Uk:

http://www.mind.org.uk/

http://www.samaritans.org/

If you feel in crisis, please contact the Police

http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/

https://www.womensaid.org.uk/

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Managing Conflict

  1. Your advice seems incredibly naive, Angela. I’m sorry. It’s an excellent strategy in situations where the aggressor is testing your weaknesses – say a competitive colleague or an awkward customer – but, as most people who’ve been targets for actual abuse know, it’s insufficient.

    When someone wants to hurt you and doesn’t care what tit takes to gain control, they’re likely to take your impassivity as a challenge. They will escalate until you’re forced to react (or are dead, depending on the escalation.) As children, my siblings and I used to intensely discuss the point in a beating at which it was advisable to start crying: too early, and he’d know you were faking so would be punished for that. But if you maintained impassivity for too long, he’d raise the level. This had nothing to do with how we felt: it was all about anticipating *his* feelings. With abusers, it always is.

    I realised my marriage was abusive thanks to a counsellor I’d started seeing due to my “emotional instability” (!) One evening, when my husband was ranting & shouting, I took her advice. I kindly, gently, calmly … asked him what the matter was; how was he feeling? There was a momentary pause, so I knew something had worked. A couple of seconds later he became physically violent for the first time.

    Useful strategies do exist. The assertiveness primer on h2g2 contains great tips. But the mistake you’ve made here is to assume it’s possible to win – in some way, somehow – against an abuser. It is not. You can deflect, delay, divert: but you cannot win. Whether at work or home, such a relationship is not a battleground; it’s a dysfunctional power imbalance and you are the fly to your aggressor’s spider. Spider doesn’t dislike the fly. It’s just doing what it’s built to do!

    The fantasy of “winning” is what keeps so many targets in their dysfunctional traps. It kept me in them. The competition’s all in your head – there is none, so you can’t win it. Just quit, with pride.

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    1. Thank you for sharing that. Your description of your experience is powerful to say the least. I am open to learning, as it is my only aim to help. My main aim is to try and come from a preventative approach, to help men and women see any early warning signs, as many of the initial warning signs are easily missed, or can feel ‘normal’ if a person has experienced dysfunction throughout their lives. Once the threat becomes as serious as you describe, then obviously then it is a serious safeguarding issue and I would never advise anyone to use this approach in that situation. Thank you for your comment and I hope it can help people. I hope you can see the angle I aim to come from, which is preventative and how building awareness of self esteem, healthy boundaries and dynamics, might help some see the early ‘carbon monoxide’ type warning signs. If someone is being isolated by an abuser, then hopefully they can understand the signs and feel it is ok to start to talk about this to someone. If it helps one person avoid the horror you went through, then that is a start surely?

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  2. Oh, my goodness, yes! It’s all about the warning signs – and having the confidence to go “No, I don’t like this, I’m out.” As you’ve spotted, I was totally conditioned as a ‘good’ target and, with hindsight, only knew how to conduct relationships in this framework. Once I’d started waking up, I actually had to buy books on how normal people do stuff!! One of the many things I love about Lundy Bancroft is the way he contrasts the abusive scenario with a functional one.

    So pleased you’re working with this. Awareness is essential – and it’s never too late to regain your balance (I’m old, and I’m *almost* balanced …)

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  3. Sorry, I promise not to spam your page 😉 Have you seen the shark cage analogy? It’s a great depiction of how we can polish up our internal alarm systems to build better ‘shark cages’ for ourselves. It was put together by an Australian equivalent of Women’s Aid. The download doesn’t go into how we strengthen our cages, it’s just an explanation of what needs doing. An answer to the question about a flashing sign on your forehead! (We don’t attract abusers. We just don’t get rid of them fast enough.) If you haven’t seen it, I thought it might be useful in your work 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the links. Many people will have slightly differing theories. Your input is valued and welcomed here. This is a topic that evokes strong emotions for some, understandably. As you pointed out, there are serious risks to anyone who is already experiencing physical violence, those risks are escalated when it comes to to a person trying to escape the abuse, professional support is needed at that point from specific domestic abuse services and police.
      As a counsellor, I worked mainly with substance misuse issues. That has led me to realise that often, substances are a symptom of other issues, a way to self medicate in many circumstances, for various reasons including domestic abuse. Addiction led to victims being more vulnerable and at risk of being discredited, if they did eventually speak up. For example there could be some professionals that would see the substances as the problem, rather than a symptom of the problem.
      So my angle is mostly underlying causes and recovery, as other agencies are better equipped to help someone in a crisis.
      What about the support needed before crisis and after? Is there as much support available before and after a crisis? Should we focus more on prevention?
      Recovery from abuse is another area of interest for me. How many struggle with the emotions of the abuse throughout their lives? If trauma bonding occurs, how do individuals recover? Will their experiences affect new relationships? When they have been treated like ‘they are not good enough’ will they continue with those beliefs about themselves? Will they develop negative beliefs about the world and people. Will victims display negative behaviours as a result of their abuse and attract more hostility, rejection, judgement, or even more abuse, will it increase risks of substance misuse, isolation and serious self esteem issues and negative self beliefs? Do services help people recover from abuse?
      Naturally victims will have a strong reaction to abuse, and that response is fuelled by a natural array of emotions. That could make it very difficult for victims to articulate the abuse. This can be disastrous when social service and other authorities are involved and play into the hands of abusers.
      I just feel it is a before during and after topic and the other areas may need as much attention as the crisis phase. I am currently volunteering with the Freedom Programme, as I am keen to learn more about the work they do to help victims that are in abusive relationships, however, my heart is pulling me to areas I feel are possibly a little more neglected. Input like yours is vital for us to understand and move forward.
      Many people I have supported, have self medicated with substances to cope with abuse and made themselves even more vulnerable. Helping them has ignited a real passion in me to understand this more, so please all comments are welcome. If that support is not in place, then we are possibly only addressing part of the issues and letting people down. WE need this discussed more and we need better awareness.

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      1. Yes, yes and yes again! I was treated for alcoholism. Addiction masks the problem, not only for the target but also for everyone around them. (Plus, is an absolute gift to the abuser: “You don’t know what you’re saying, you’re drunk! Look, everybody, see what I have to put up with?”

        Freedom programme worth its weight in gold. For any targets reading this, it’s free and you can do it online if no suitable group near you.

        • How many struggle with the emotions of the abuse throughout their lives?

        I will. In my experience, abuse targets who were ‘trained’ from childhood can do a lot to fill in the gaps that were tragically formed by their upbringing. It’s a long road, and a hard one, but very worthwhile. The inner voices that, for example, criticise your every move, were put there at the time your character was forming. It may not be possible to remove them; we can turn down the volume; we can modify them or answer them back; we can definitely stop being controlled by them! But – to me, anyway – it looks like they’re now a part of me. One of my challenges is to learn to live comfortably with the modified versions.

        For people who were not trained young but were tricked by an abuser, I think it’s possible to regain your previous security. You will have scars. You’ll not be as trusting as you may have been before you were conned. Many find themselves stronger and even more secure after recovery. It can take a long time – years for some, and only a few months for others.

        • If trauma bonding occurs, how do individuals recover? Will their experiences affect new relationships?

        A traumatic bond is like an addiction. It even activates the same neural pathways. Recovery is the same: intensive support during withdrawal, then longer-term nurturing as you discover how to live ‘sober’. Yes, of course the experience will colour future relationships. How that works out for each individual depends on them, their precise circumstances, and the nature of their recovery. It can be a very positive thing.

        • I just feel it is a before during and after topic.

        Absolutely! I do a lot of work (informally) on helping targets to ‘wake up’. I’d like assertiveness and the Freedom Programme to be taught in schools – adolescents who’ve received this kind of education are marvellous at spotting warning signs and, even better, at correcting themselves if they start to display them.

        Insight is the thing. Isn’t it always?
        Thank you very much for your thoughtful replies, Angela.

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    2. Yes, it’s important to remember that we aren’t responsible for attracting the abuser in the first place; each of us will attract many different kinds of people in different walks of life. I used to agonise over this one – and then realised that it wasn’t something I was unconsciously beaming out to the world, but that I just didn’t get out of the way when the intolerable behaviour started. Simple as that.

      I was so conditioned to care about others’ feelings, and recognise their vulnerability, that I totally ignored the effect they were having on me. I now look back with disbelief at myself… I’d turned my life upside down to be with a guy in another part of the country, all that. One day he was stroking my hair and saying how glad he was that we were together; then in a split second it changed to him grabbing my hair, twisting my face round to him and practically spitting in my face: “Or are you just leading me on?”

      My first thought? “Oh, poor thing – I’m obviously not giving him enough reassurance!”

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  4. Regarding the difficulty in expressing what’s happening to you as a target – yes, it’s virtually inevitable. It’s a consequence of gaslighting, which is done quite specifically to make you look & sound confused. The only antidote is rigorous, objective analysis of what was said and done. This nearly always needs support from a counsellor and/or enlightened friends. I spent almost a year writing down an evaluation of every bloody row! (My therapist gave me a worksheet, quite similar to a CBT thought diary.) I am still an utter bore about establishing the facts of everything.

    The Archers story might be helping a lot of people to see how gaslighting works 🙂

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  5. Here is a link for the Freedom Programme: http://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk/

    There should be free counselling services in most areas. You could always contact local colleges that have counselling courses as student counsellors often offer a free service. They receive a lot of supervision and support, and have theory fresh in their minds, so do offer an excellent service.

    Sadly this is very common but there is a lot of information on the net that can help and online forums, so people can get some validation elsewhere, rather than simply have the negative attitudes of abusers chipping away at their self esteem.

    Freedom Programme is looking at ways to target schools, which is a great step forward.

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