I hate conflict. I really do. I’ve always known that raised voices make me tense, but kind of thought I would grow out of it. Well I’m now 39 and it’s still with me and in the last year or so I’ve become more aware of how much struggle in situations of conflict. Even those where voices are only slightly raised. Or when there’s just mounting tension in the air.
For example, I listen a lot to talk radio, especially at night (usually in an attempt to avoid silence). Late night phone-in programmes are very different to day time ones, where quick, to the point comments are required. At night, all the world’s insomniacs and weirdos (myself among them) seem to be around, and the talk show hosts often let callers waffle on at length. This can help those of us who don’t call in but lie there listening to drift off, especially if they have droney voices. But often these callers also phone in to make a point – political, usually, and this they do in strident tones, often goading the host into a debate. I can listen for a few minutes but as soon as one of them starts trying to talk above or through the other, I have to switch off. I would rather face my own demons than listen to the aggression spilling out of my radio and into my room.
Recently at work two colleagues got into a very mild debate about some or other work issue. No-one else in the room seemed bothered; some even found it amusing – not me. I sat there as long as I could and finally was compelled to leave the room and go outside for some air. This was not a nasty argument at all, just two people disagreeing, but I couldn’t handle sitting through it.
I know where this comes from. My parents had a very volatile marriage. I say ‘had’ because although they are still alive and together, old age and health problems have changed their priorities and now they bicker but they no longer have shouting, emotionally charged arguments. Oh the fights they had! No physical attacks, but so much out of control emotional stuff. Arguments which usually ended with Mom in the bathroom behind a locked door, sobbing. My dad standing helplessly by, looking confused. Me, kneeling at the locked door, crying, pleading for her to come out. My older siblings, before they left home, tended to walk out or shout at both of them. They all ‘sided’ with Dad leaving me feeling I had to take Mom’s side. I remember making her countless cups of tea once she allowed me in. Wiping her face with tissues. Hugging her. Feeling helpless and so scared they were going to get divorced. Later, wishing they would get on with it already.
I still remember vividly as a very small child lying in my bed and hearing the raised voices through the wall, knowing what was coming, feeling this weight of despair where minutes before I had been excited for a day at the beach or a family lunch.
And that’s what I feel still when I sense tension mounting in a room, voices getting a sharp edge. I feel this compelling need to get as far away as I can from that conflict, even if it doesn’t involve me.
Of course this affects the way I handle conflict within my own life – especially with G. In short, I handle it poorly. When he gets angry, I clam up. Usually I try and leave if I can, which doesn’t go down well. And if I get angry back, I cry – useless, powerless tears of frustration, which in turn piss him off (some men will do anything to make a crying woman stop crying – he comes with his own baggage and all it does is make him see red – he reads it as a form of manipulation.)
So. I need to figure out a way of dealing with conflict, of learning that it doesn’t spell the end of the world, of seeing and believing that it can be necessary and healthy if handled properly. I KNOW this, but I have yet to work out how to get past the ingrained horror of it.
Not really sure where to begin.