Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hard Conversations

For the last couple of years I've been silently obsessing over something about which I have been unable to come to a conclusion.

I don't love conflict. I'm usually a peacemaker. I'm not bad at dealing with conflict, but I don't like what it does to me. If I have a dispute with someone over something that really matters to me, it is usually difficult for me to get it out of my mind until that dispute is resolved.

What this means is that I tend to keep frustrations to myself in order to avoid rocking the boat.

Good thing I didn't decide to go into a career where people sometimes have disagreements!

Oh wait.

When it comes to representing other people's interests, I buck up and deal with the contention, even if it does have a negative effect on me.

I hadn't realized how damaging this flaw can be until a few years ago. By the time I was leaving Palau, my relationship with Daniel had completely soured. There were a lot of reasons for that, some of which I've talked about here before. But as I unpacked that complicated year over the next many months, I came to realize that a big reason things became so unnecessarily toxic was because I had clammed up and completely avoided being real with Daniel.

Circa, 2013.

Daniel and I both did things that were hurtful to one another. And had I been willing to have some "hard" conversations with him pretty early on, we probably could have navigated much of that hurt in a healthy way.

But I didn't. I didn't want to address my own concerns with him because I didn't want to deal with the confrontation that that would require.

Daniel was much much better about this. From time to time he would approach me and tell me that he didn't like something I had done. I consistently caved when he did this, agreed with him, and told him I would change that behavior. The problem was--this wasn't always sincere. Sometimes I thought he was being unfair to me or that he didn't realize why my action was the correct one. But I caved anyway in order to avoid the confrontation with him and in order to end the hard conversation that he had started.

What then happened was predictable. I wouldn't actually change the behavior. Or I would and I would silently resent him for "making" me agree to do something I didn't want.

It was a terrible cycle.

Daniel left Palau a month before I did and I had a lot of quiet time during those last few weeks in which I packed up my life and said goodbye to experiences I'm still trying to process.

By the time I got back to Salt Lake City, Daniel and I had not spoken in many weeks. I had some of his things, which he had left in Palau, so we arranged to meet up to pass off those things.

We had pulled our cars over to the side of a street downtown and I handed Daniel a box of his stuff. It was the middle of the afternoon on a hot late summer day. He thanked me, turned around, and walked back to his car.

I was so angry with him. But still unwilling to tell him that.

He turned around and saw me and saw that I looked angry and he yelled over to me, "what is it?"

The question irritated me. He knew the answer to it. He knew that I was angry with him for many reasons, including that I hadn't heard from him in many weeks and that in this moment he was so cordial and short with me after we had just gone through this crazy thing together.

I shook my head at him when he asked the question.

So he walked back over to me, shaking his own head. When he got close to me, he said, his voice raised now, "nobody ever knows what the Hell is going on in your mind and I'm not going to help you express it. So grow up and say what you want or let it go."

Some other things were said, too.

I climbed into my car, having expressed nothing, and drove away.

This is not a happy memory for me. And not one I'm super proud to share now. But, whatever. There it is.

Over the four years since that happened I've thought about it over and over again. And agonized over where the line of peacemaking and ground-standing is supposed to be.

I have a pretty peaceful personal life. One without much contention and drama. One full of people I love and trust and whom I know I could call on if I needed help.

But sometimes I fail to speak up when speaking up matters. Sometimes I watch the people I love make questionable decisions without weighing in when weighing in might help them have a perspective we all need help obtaining sometimes. I fail to speak up simply because I don't want the confrontation.

I hate that about myself.

I would love to know what you all think about this. Are you good at finding that line? How do you find it? What side of the line do you find yourself on most often?

And while you think about that, enjoy complete nonsense from someone who I think has always been pretty good at this, my Jolyn Metro.




~It Just Gets Stranger

38 comments:

  1. I am pretty much nonconfrontational as well. I guess the way that I am trying to get over it is by allowing myself to be vulnerable instead of trying to be the bigger person and have little things not bother me. Instead I am try to recognize that while it may seem petty, I have the right to share my struggles and my shame just like everyone else. Not to compare hurts, but to understand each other better. Brene Brown's research about shame resilience has been especially helpful, but I'm still silent more often than I'd like to be.

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  2. I also hate confrontation. There have been a lot of times in my marriage when I've been unwilling to stand my ground. This has resulted in me becoming a doormat, and opening the door for emotional abuse. I'm now spending all of my energy on reclaiming myself, and attempting to salvage my relationship with my husband if there's anything left. I've found that seeing a therapist can actually help in gaining a healthy perspective on conflict resolution.

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    1. Amen. I had to walk away from my marriage to save myself. It's an ongoing process, but it does gets better. Keep taking care of you!

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    2. Anonymous--Would you mind shooting me an email?

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    3. I just lost a 21 year marriage due to the two of being unable to communicate with each and years of pent resentment. It's the saddest.

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  3. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for years. I caved to everything for fear of 'rocking the boat'. I felt like saying anything would make everything worse.

    Once I got out of that relationship, I made an overcorrection. I started standing my ground about everything because I was terrified of repeating my past. I hurt a lot of people unnecessarily during that time.

    Eventually, I started finding a balance and I began to communicate in a more honest way. I think that balance has more to do with understanding myself, my needs, and what really matters to me. If I take the conflict part out of the equation, what would I want the end result to be? Once I began to see confrontation as a tool to get to that result rather than an end in and of itself, I used it more wisely (and effectively). Therapy also helped, TBH.

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  4. This is an important skill. How do you handle confrontation and contentious discussions for/with clients? Do you do it well? Same skill set. It doesn't make it easier, but it is important.

    Something that my husband and I do is schedule arguments. We don't deal with the problem when we are hungry, tired, or volcanic angry. We wait until we are rested and are not hungry. Makes it much easier.

    When you unintentionally hit someone's"button", ask them how you could have said the offensive thing differently.

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    1. Oh I love the idea of scheduling arguments. That sounds like a good way to constructively, but clearly work through problems. I think the key is getting to a level of trust with people where you can bring up that idea.

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    2. My bishop actually gives this advice to couples. There should be time set aside to discuss issues/conflicts daily. It defuses the frustration and anger before it gets worse.

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  5. I'm really uncomfortable with confrontation as well. Another poster mentioned Brene Brown; I've been listening to the Power of Vulnerability over the past few weeks (available on Audible). She mentions her mantra when dealing with comfrontation: Choose discomfort over resentment (or something along those lines). It makes a lot more sense with context she gives around the mantra, but repeating that has helped me not fear confrontation over the past week or so.

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  6. I have been and find myself on both sides. Sometimes I choose to stay silent to avoid contention and others I really need to speak up. I think it's key to know how to have healthy confrontation. If you don't know how to, you will struggle your whole life. Or when you do have to talk to someone about something, it will end up not well. Confrontation doesn't have to be fighting or heated arguing or even being angry. It does take tact and humility and that is because there are always going to be people who wrong us, but we will for sure make mistakes and wrong people as well, even if unintentionally. I will be the first to admit that that is hard. Because the response from the other person or how they approach us about something sometimes may be rude or insensitive. What can I say, living with someone else is tough, let alone in an isolated island. And I sure hope that since you are reflecting on these things, that you learn something from them about yourself. Because if you feel that way about confronting (or not) someone about x and y, there might be people in your life who have felt that way about you. Like, "I love him, but we won't touch this subject because he doesn't open up or he seems to get defensive" sort of thing. Anyway, I hope what I'm saying makes sense. You are an amazing person and it's crazy how we never stop learning and growing!

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  7. Finding a way to be as honest with ourselves as possible about why we do (or don't do) all the things we do (or don't do) is the jumping off place. What are the contingencies in place that we allow? How do they prevent us from personal growth? End of the day we can only control our own behaviors, and that is where we find growth and peace. ❤️

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  8. I have this problem as as well. I don't like to share my thoughts. I find it very hard to express myself in spoken word. If it is something difficult I find it hard because I don't want to upset that person.
    Luckily I have found a human who was willing to wait however long it took me. And I am learning something weird.
    Talking out the hard stuff is actually freeing. I never knew! There is no longer this weight on your chest. Your mind clears up and you feel like you can BREATHE. I do this thing where I write down the points I want to hit. That way I will say them. Because when I am talking sometimes I don't actually say everything I want to. If I write it down, I can literally just look at it.
    I think you have to just learn to take a deep breath and force the words you actually want to say. And yes. You will actually have to FORCE them because they are not used to being let out. (Trust me.)
    But you will feel better.
    I promise.
    And it will get easier. I think.

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  9. Sounds like the first year of my marriage, which *spoiler alert* did not end well. Good communication is difficult. Compromise is difficult. Change is difficult. Relationships are hard. If you cave, if you enable, if you avoid the hard conversations and the hard truths you allow yourself to stay in an unhealthy cycle which can have long term negative effects for everyone involved.

    I can stand confrontation when it is on someone else's behalf, but when it comes to myself I'll do anything to avoid it. I spent 5 years trying to avoid making my narcissistic ex angry, avoiding arguments, avoiding tough conversations that might lead to an angry argument, catering to his every whim at the cost of my own peace of mind...you get the picture, it spiraled out of control into an ugly, unhealthy mess. I've been divorced for more than 5 years and I'm still struggling with what happened when I was married. I've finally realized that I need help with this and I'm not going to resolve these issues on my own. So I broke down and started therapy. It's early in the process, but I know if I do the work and truly want to change that it will help me be stronger and better in all my relationships going forward. It's ok to ask for help.

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    1. I'm really sorry you had to go through all of that. I can tell you from experience that you will eventually learn to trust yourself and others again. It sucks, but it sounds like you're making positive choices to get there. You're not alone.

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    2. Thanks JenniLyne. I fooled myself into thinking that I was fine and that I had solved all my issues but I realized now that I haven't and that I've got some work to do. I want to have happy and healthy relationships, I want to stop being suspicious, and scared all the time. It's hard but it's worth it.

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  10. My favorite thoughts on this have to do with how we define being passive vs. aggressive. That is to say, "passive" tends to refer to being non-confrontational, whereas "aggressive" is confrontational, even attacking. Being "assertive" is the ideal in the middle - confronting people politely, firmly, and only when we need to.

    But how the heck to know where you land? Here's the frame that changed my perspective: the passive-assertive-aggressive spectrum is nothing more than a measure of how we values our own needs vs. others'. Passive = others' needs matter most. Aggressive = my needs matter most. Being assertive simply means gauging my own needs as being just as important as others' needs.

    Sometimes that seems WAY out of balance. "How can my needs be as important as everyone else's?!" I sometimes find myself asking. It can feel selfish. But every time I ignore that balance, I regret it, and every time I honor my own needs AND others' as being equal (in normal circumstances), then I'm much happier.

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  11. Love Brene Brown, total girl crush for me. I don't think anyone 'likes' confrontation, some feed off of it, but mostly we all want peace and dramaless lives. Personally, I've found pretty good success in being careful in my language. Focusing on "I" statements and simply stating something from my point of view, how its affected me, how I feel about it and Stay far far away from pointing out anything 'you' which puts people on the defense almost immediately.
    I would be willing to bet you are an INFJ or an ISFJ on the meyer-briggs spectrum. One dear friend of mine who's an INFJ will almost never say whats 'so' for himself. It drives me crazy, just say what's on your mind. It's more hurtful to find out later the resentment, or discontent than if he'd just have said what he really felt/thought in the moment.
    I also 2nd the therapy, having worked in social work for 7 yrs, I think everyone should experience therapy at least once in their lives. Or Landmark Education - years of therapy packed into 3 day courses.

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  12. I have nothing helpful to add. Just wanted to say that these comments are super valuable to me today.

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    1. Ditto! This subject has been on my mind for a few months now, and hearing from all of you beloved Strangers has been invaluable!

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  13. I'm an odd combination, I'm both unafraid of confrontation and I'm a peacemaker. Both of these attributes have come over time, at different rates. I'm not COMFORTABLE with confrontation but I fear that LACK of communication does more damage on my relationships than confrontation does. And I cherish my relationships enough to want them to be peaceful. I'm one who talks in circles until I finally understand my own feelings and it's a bit of a messy process. But that's taught me to be patient with the miscommunications of others and their processes. I'm learning not to hold onto specific words that were said but to try and understand where they are coming from. When it comes to confrontation, my rule is to re-frame my own perspective to come from a place of love, and to assume that the other person ultimately has good intentions (even if defenses are up or mistakes are made).

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    1. "I'm learning not to hold onto specific words that were said but to try and understand where they are coming from."

      Thanks for that. This is something I really struggle with. I think it's the lawyer in me. I've had friends criticize me for getting caught up on the words they use to communicate something when I know the meaning they are trying to get across. I have sometimes derailed productive communication this way.

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    2. I also really appreciated this comment. Thank you!

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    3. I teach college communications courses and I cannot say how much I love this statement: "I'm not COMFORTABLE with confrontation but I fear that LACK of communication does more damage on my relationships than confrontation does."

      I also like the idea of not holding onto words. I think one of the main issues here is that we have labeled these conversations confrontations. Confrontation has a bad connotation. If we look at the thesaurus the synonyms are words like hostility, clash, battle, skirmish, fight, war, altercation, resistance, opposition . . . . . . .ouch! Instead of focusing on these let's focus on a synonym that is less toxic: disagreement. This is still a differing of views and often involves emotion but this word isn't quite so heavy. We have disagreements with people all the time. The key is to find the healthy way to share those disagreements.

      From my experiences I have found some important things for me to consider are:

      1. Timing. It can't be too close to the disagreement because my emotions are too strong. It can't be too far from the disagreement because my emotions have festered the the other person doesn't understand why I didn't say something sooner, which only makes the disagreement worse.

      2. Modality. I'll use my husband as an example. There are times that we need to have a discussion face-to-face. It's important for a relationship to have this connection when working through conflict. However, contrary to popular literature, I hold there are times not to have the conversation face-to-face. People say things in face-to-face conversations that they regret and sometimes it's better to work through your emotions of what was said without the other person sitting there waiting for a response. My husband and I have had many healthy discussions about highly charged topics via email - sometimes when we're sitting in the same house!

      3. How much do I value the relationship. I found over the years that I hated the "unsaid" more with people whose friendship I valued more. The "unsaid" is what pushes people apart in many relationships. I found the more I avoid the hard conversations, the less I want to be with those people. So now, when I need to have a hard conversation I consider how I would feel without that person in my life. If I value the relationship, I have the conversation.

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    4. "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." George Bernard Shaw

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    5. I do the same thing!!! The picking on certain words when I know that's not the point. I actually told my Mom a few weeks ago that I think that's something that all my siblings do. But I also think that I'm more likely to be picky when it's a conversation that's already emotionally charged for me. So conversations on topics that I really care about or times when I'm already upset or bothered by what someone else said or did, though sometimes I'm not even aware of how I'm feeling about it, just that I'm upset for no apparent reason.

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  14. Telling the truth all the time can be hard and can be thankless, which is why I cannot think of a single person who's completely truthful all the time. I swallow a lot of my anger because I have to in order to live-- my mother-in-law is an extraordinarily demanding, difficult person and years of therapy have taught me that it's not necessarily helpful to either her or me for me to point out when she's being irrational or doing something that's not great for her. In these tough conversations, not only do YOU need to have the resources and the readiness to elucidate what's bothering you-- the other person has to be in a place where they can receive what you say. And sometimes, you may decide that you can't sit around waiting for those two things to align, and that's okay too. I think you're working your way to talking to Daniel. He's clearly someone who means something to you and I think you're being nagged by the sense that something with him has been left open-ended. The world will not explode if you, a Nice Person, suddenly have to vent Not Nice Feelings. If you care about someone and they care about you, that means that sometimes they have to see the ugly parts of you-- because without that, they're not seeing all of you. As the theme to the Facts of Life tells us, You Take the Good, You Take the Bad...and, well, you know the rest. Hang in there. I say see it out. Call the man. The hardest thing you will do is pick up that phone. The rest will be comparatively easier.

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  15. Difficult conversations and confrontation can be tough, but they are so necessary. I have a quote on my wall at work from Mother Theresa, "Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway." Being as I'm now a mediator and often facilitate difficult conversations, I try to take a lot of this to heart.

    It's honestly made my marriage so much richer than it probably otherwise would be. My wife and I are both so much better about talking about things before they fester than we were at the outset. And it paves the way for real, ongoing communication.

    It's also one of my ongoing crusades within Mormondom--to ditch the facades and social-media-perfect lives we project, and to allow some vulnerability. The best lessons we learn come from areas that are hard to talk about, which means that the way we can best help others and the best connections points with those who need our help are the very places we have the hardest time talking about. And when we let down our walls, more often than not we find healing, connection, understanding, and acceptance from others.

    Books from the Arbinger Institute and Brene Brown all speak very well to what it takes to break things down. And the incredible musical Dear Evan Hansen (which I got to see last week!) points to the struggle so many face when they aren't truthful with themselves and others--the spiraling out of control and contemplating untenable options to get yourself out of your self-imposed doom.

    I could probably go on, but I'm told I ramble. Me. I tell myself I ramble.

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  16. "nobody ever knows what the Hell is going on in your mind and I'm not going to help you express it. So grow up and say what you want or let it go."

    This exactly describes me. I rarely say what is on my mind. The rare times I do, it usually blows up. For me specifically, the most volatile topic is about the LDS church and how I no longer believe in it. My husband has been clear that he does not want to be married to me if I am not committed to the church. So naturally there's a huge disincentive for me to discuss my beliefs/feelings about the church with him, if I don't want him to divorce me (I don't). The last time we tried discussing church issues was about 8 months ago. It blew up terribly.

    Like you discuss above, I also find myself focusing on the exact words that were said and trying to get an advantage in the discussion/argument based on that. Often it is really difficult for me to let go of the exact words that were said - I honestly believe I could be somewhere on the autism spectrum because of things like this.

    These issues have led to a marriage where we never talk about anything important (especially not religious issues or anything connected to them), and I just live in my head most of the time. So if you don't want relationships like that, I say you have to learn to do the conflict.

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    1. This breaks my heart! Sending you virtual hugs (for whatever that's worth) and hoping you have some good friends to go to for real hugs.

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    2. Anon... I can relate. I also left the LDS church and it was terrible between my husband and I for a while. I hope things get better for you two. Keep trying to communicate. My husband took the same stance as yours when I left, but now we are happier than we've ever been. You should read the book "In Faith and In Doubt" by Dale McGowan. It helped me immensely.

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  17. Eli, I know what you are talking about. It is a vicious cycle that too many people go through. This exact cycle was part of the downfall of my marriage. I was the person that wanted to talk it out, he was the one who wanted to avoid that conflict. It got to the point where things would be good...not great...and things would stack up, one of us (usually me) would explode, he would stop talking to me for days on end and then one day just act like nothing happened. It wasn't healthy. Conflict can be scary, but it is necessary in order to grow as people. I'm not talking an out & out war with someone, but the airing of grievances is a good thing...or it can be if done correctly.

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  18. I have always hated confrontation. I'm not good at it and try to avoid it if at all possible. I think all arguing does is that you both say things to intentionally hurt the other person. In my marriage I was a human doormat. Maybe that's why my marriage only lasted for a month. Since then I have built really tall walls and don't let anybody in just so I don't get hurt again. It's a lonely life.

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  19. I used to be excessively non confrontational, to the point that I basically actually got myself into a real mess in my life because I was so scared to stand up for myself so people just bullied me into corners. Over the past few years, I've started just speaking my peace and letting the chips fall where they may, and I've noticed that not only do I feel better and happier, but all of my relationships have improved.

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  20. DUDE!!!! I hate confrontation. And I wish that I could be better at handling it, but I also get super frustrated when conflict does arise because I can feel my emotions pushing the logic out of me. I actually describe my brain as an ocean of emotion surrounding an island of logic, and that when I get too emotional the logic island gets completely flooded. And I hate being in that state, because I say things that don't make sense even to me, and I say things (sometimes...) just to hurt the other person or for the sake of argument even if they aren't 'real' points. So I just try to avoid it. And sometimes I wonder if my religious upbringing contributes to that, because I grew up believing that if I could just stuff my feelings and swallow my emotions (TEARS... or whatever), then I was the better person, rather than recognizing that the maturity it takes to admit what bothers you and try to come to some sort of agreement or compromise or understanding is better. Also, it's important to let other people love you by making changes for your sake, sometimes-of course without demanding it. But I'm still figuring that out, too, because often I just want to be independent and believe that I can do it all on my own... ARGH!!!! But this has been super cathartic, so thanks, ELI!!!! AND YOUR HAIR LOOOKS AMAZEBALLLLLSSSSS!!!!!!

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  21. I know one or two people have already mentioned counseling and I, for one, think it's a great idea. I've been going for years and I can't even tell you all the ways it has helped me.

    As far as confrontation, one thing that has helped me has been to stop calling it confrontation. Sometimes, we do have to have hard conversations. They're part of life. But when you call it confrontation, that immediately pits the two parties against each other in adversarial roles when that's usually the opposite of what you're trying to achieve. Also, I know I get very irritated when someone comes to me to offer unsolicited advice by just telling me what they expect me to do. But then, there are two main types of conversations here.

    When you need to talk to someone about something that affects you personally (be it that they keep dropping puppies off at your house or refuse to ever do you laundry for you), ask them if you can just have a chat. Keep your statements on your feelings more than on their actions. Because a lot of times, we are so wrapped up in our own thoughts and feelings that we miss how we are affecting others. So if you point out to someone how they are making you feel, they will either understand where you're coming from and why, or they will continue to make you feel bad with the full knowledge they are doing so, and then you can calmly remove them from your space.

    If it's a situation where someone is on a dangerous road and you feel like someone really needs to speak up, this is definitely tricky. Because unsolicited advice is seriously the worst and most people are not receptive to it. When I am in this kind of a situation, I generally try to find a way to start a conversation with someone by asking their thoughts and feelings on that situation. I don't get into what I think until they've started talking and shared their rationale. That usually opens the door for me to say what I think. Most of the time, it's because they actually start asking me and then it is not unsolicited advice.

    Anyway, I'm sure other people have given great advice and said it much better than I can. But you are awesome and I know where you are coming from because I have been there. And, sadly, I have to get through life with not as great hair. So you already win.

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  22. I must be the only one here who has no problem with confrontation! I don't seek it out, but if it rears its ugly head, I have no problem expressing what is going on inside my head to anyone. Fortunately, my hubs has never had a thought in his head, confrontational or otherwise, so we get along well. But, I have to settle the issue or it eats at me like a dog gnawing on a bone. For days, weeks, months. Maybe I do need therapy...

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