Friday, September 16, 2011

Facing fears

I've hated confrontation for as long as I can remember.  I guess it comes from growing up in a home where the cardinal rule was not to make a certain family member mad - or worse, to make that person cry.  (ughh.)  I remember spending my childhood either walking on eggshells or trying to hide from someone's unpredictable wrath because that was dangerous to my health: physical AND emotional.  

So when I started to recover from a lifestyle of doormat-itis and of controlling others through guilt trips and manipulation... avoiding direct confrontation whenever possible ... it was a really difficult step for me to learn how to speak up for myself and inform someone when he or she was doing something that was bothering me - either physically or just that "arrrgh!" that comes from someone's annoying habits that might only bother me personally (anything from tapping a pencil on a desk, to entering into my personal space - extremely closely - to talk to me).  

As I was recovering, it was difficult to know what was a valid complaint and what wasn't.  I had some definite problems with certain behaviors of other people which were causing me physical pain.  Yet I felt as though I couldn't approach them - partly because I hated confrontation so much (okay mostly that) but also because being in their presence was physically painful to me.  I didn't handle those situations well before I started to recover.  I made some pretty awful mistakes, as a matter of fact; I hurt quite a few people.  And when I was first recovering, I didn't know what to do about these situations.  My previous behavior really bothered me... yet I didn't know how to right the wrongs I had done and still communicate my needs to people.  It stumped me for a long time.  

Having had no boundaries for such a long time, it was hard to set them without offending people; I had no practice at all.  And so ... I did the only things I could think of to do.  First, I prayed about it.  Then... I asked for help.

I approached someone at my workplace whose job it is to resolve conflicts.  She and I developed a rapport and we still touch base every 6 months or so.  She listened to me, gave honest feedback, and suggested practical ways to approach people whom I had harmed, to start conversations with them and set my own expectations realistically.  I was grateful for her suggestions.  Today, with the exception of perhaps three of those people, I've been able to make amends to them, and I even enjoy good working relationships (including playful banter) with some of them.  

With some of them, I had to go directly to them and have a fairly difficult and honest conversation - approaching it with an open mind and listening more than speaking.  With others, the direct approach didn't work; I just began (as simplistic as it sounds) to smile at these people when I saw them in the corridor.  One of them has only barely started to smile back.  I still haven't given up on those three remaining people - it might take a while but I am determined to approach each one in a way that fits with his or her particular style of reconciliation. 

It's coming.

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