“Choose your battles,” a very wise person once said.
I know, I know. But how?
Welcome to the part of the show where one little thing goes wrong and I go hide under a chair for the rest of the day. No need for explanation here – I am the Anxious Introvert, and as you can probably tell, I don’t like dealing with confrontation.
I’m a peacemaker. If I can’t diffuse a problem, I’d prefer to sweep myself under a rug and then pretend not to exist while the problem sorts itself out. Learning to stand up for myself has been a real struggle, because a lot of times doing so requires me pointing out to an otherwise oblivious person that they have done something that is not okay, which is, you know, not…okay. I’d rather not. In fact, sometimes I’d rather just put up with that behavior than risk a confrontation. So you could say I would sacrifice my own inner peace just to smooth out a problem in rocky relationships.
Any of this sound familiar to you?
I hope not, because this behavior is draining at best and completely disastrous at worst. But how do the anxious introverts of the world handle these situations, when there is nothing in us which wants to be a part of the problem? We’re sensitive people, and sometimes it’s hard to put up a fight when the last thing on our mind is standing up for ourselves. We just want everyone to be happy. Everyone, that is, except ourselves.
I sacrifice my own well-being for the sake of smoothing out a situation more often than I’d like to admit. I let the other person leave without knowing that they have violated my boundaries all too often. I do it in the spirit of kindness, for the sake of the situation, or for a number of reasons which aren’t compelling in the least. And you, my friend, probably do the same thing, too. Why else would you be reading this?
In my efforts to put an end to this self-deprecating behavior on my end, I’ve come up with a few strategies to gently handle these type of relationships, even for those of us who qualify as the anxious introverts.
1. Confront quietly.
Splashing insults all over social media, gossiping, even venting to a close circle of friends can be extremely damaging to a recovering relationship because it doesn’t allow room for the relationship to heal. I learned this the hard way. Even though I spilled my guts to a trusted friend, the word got around back to the person I was having trouble with, and instead of diffusing the situation, things only got worse. More than that, even if the other person never finds out, there’s still the little issue of drawing people into the problem that don’t belong there. Once they are invested, even if they don’t want to be, their opinions and thoughts on the matter cloud the water and muddy up an otherwise healing environment for you and the other person.
Instead, it’s wiser to confront quietly and without an audience. Bring in a mediator if you need to – sometimes relationships require that sort of help, and I certainly have had my share of mediated discussions – but make sure that it is someone who you trust and stands on neutral ground. I recommend an older person, probably not a parent, but someone who knows you both and can help you hammer out the details and diffuse things if the conversation gets a little rocky.
2. Vent – but not nearby
If you have to vent to someone, do it! It can be healthy to get it all out of your system, and not just have it stewing in there day after day. But be cautious: venting too close to the situation will get emotional garbage everywhere, which, again, doesn’t allow room for the relationship to heal.
My venting buddy is my best friend. Although she has a stake in the way I feel about things because she cares about me, she is also a neutral party because she attends a different university than I do and she is far enough away to have a different perspective. She and I also have a lot of the same values, and it can be really helpful to turn to her and bounce off my thoughts, especially when I’m too close to the situation to really get a good look at what’s going on. In the midst of difficult situations, she often reminds me of God’s love and faithfulness, with the caveat that although she doesn’t know the answer, God’s got a plan.
Your venting buddy can be anyone you like, even someone near to you, but again, I would be very cautious. If the person has a stake in the argument, maybe they aren’t the best choice. You’re going to have to be the judge of that.
3. Choose your battles – and your surrenders
This phrase stops me in my tracks EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Although I am generally a kind, caring, gentle person, if I’m fired up enough I could go for days. I like a good argument, I really do – and though I don’t usually start them, if I can’t fix the situation, I’ll usually pick a side and start shooting.
I don’t recommend that at all.
Choosing our battles can be confusing, because it can be difficult to decide when to fight and when to turn the other cheek. Even when we feel that our argument is justified (such as me, whenever I find dirty dishes in the sink) how do we know if we should confront the issue and let it slide?
Although this is still a difficult issue for me to sort out in the moment, I think it helps to have some kind of criteria to help me decide. I usually drop the issue if:
- it won’t matter by this time tomorrow
- it’s something I can handle without harm to myself
- it’s an issue that isn’t any of my business
- it’s an issue that the other person is working on and just needs more grace
I usually confront the issue if:
- it’s morally, legally, ethically or Biblically wrong
- it is physically hurting myself, another person, or a pet/animal of some kind
- It is unprofessional or dangerous behavior
- It stops me or others from living a happy, productive life
There are plenty of other criteria, for sure, and this is by no means a comprehensive list – but the bottom line here is that confrontation is necessary if the conflict involves any kind of harm – emotional or physical – and makes other people unable to function in a healthy way, it’s time to do something about it! I know that this sounds like one of those weird PSA’s that you used to watch in school, but it’s vitally important.
4. Know when it’s time to walk away.
The hardest part about this whole process is the part where you realize that the person you’re dealing with isn’t going to change while you’re around. This can be completely heartbreaking, especially when that person is someone you care about – but that doesn’t make the separation less necessary.
Although I don’t recommend cutting someone off completely because of a single argument, I do think that if a person in your life continues to exhibit negative behaviors over a long period of time and refuses to acknowledge the harm they are causing, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate the situation. Perhaps you need some distance from each other – I can think of plenty of relationships I’ve had in the past that simply needed some time off, so that each party could figure out where they really stood and then come to understand it in their own time. Perhaps this means that you never see them again, but interact on public platforms such as Facebook and Intagram. Or perhaps, and this is the most extreme, you part ways forever.
The most painful part about any relationship is the ending, and for good reason. Who wants to cut something that was once a normal, working part, out of their lives forever? But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t necessary, and that doesn’t mean that it won’t get better. If you can, try to clear the air before shutting things down. If the other person doesn’t accept it, then move on, and know that you tried you best.
Ultimately, time, prayer, and the healing power of God’s grace is what it takes to mend a rocky relationship. Because of free will, God won’t force another person to change their mind or their feelings, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t working on their hearts. So much happens behind the scenes, and it’s helpful to remember that just as you need God’s everyday forgiveness, so does the other person.
When we do it right, confrontations don’t always have to be ugly. We can be the kind, sensitive people that we are and still not be doormats, and when we stand up for ourselves properly, people begin to notice and treat us with a measure of respect. I hope that you find encouragement in this post, and know that even in the midst of the messiest relationships, you don’t have to let other people walk all over you. In the end, you’ll be happier – and maybe others who weren’t brave enough to stand up will be happier, too.