Pulse pounding. Stomach clenching. Adrenaline squirting. Cortisol pulsing. Ears itching. Hot Flashing. Blimey! We must be trapped in a confrontation. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the right or not. It feels like Hell!
If that describes you too, my condolences. It’s an awful, debilitating way to feel especially because sometimes confrontation is an unavoidable part of life. Right out of the gate, we’re at an incredible disadvantage.
Personally, I’d forgotten just how much I feared confrontations. Life with Michael is remarkably peaceful as we both hate drama. I’ve only had four confrontations in the past decade, if memory serves. Three with people who were financially cheating me and one with a hospital that didn’t have a doctor on the premises. They had the audacity to get pissed at me when I moved Michael to a staffed hospital. I mean…hello! But I digress.
For the first time in a long time, through no fault of my own, I find myself in a line-in-the-sand position. I didn’t want to be put in this position but like Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” And sooner or later, someone will get in my face and attempt to start a confrontation with me.
The mere thought of that future confrontation conjures an unreasonable terror that our narcissists can take a bow for. Thanks to them, we can’t face a confrontation with the calm, or even humor, that other people can.
President Reagan said the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” But he was wrong! The Most Terrifying Phrase in the English language is just four small words:
“We need to talk.”
The Kitchen Table
Many of you were probably subjected to naggers, yellers and much more dramatic forms of confrontation by your high-drama-loving narcissist(s). The more emotional you became in response to their drama, the more they loved it, feeding vampire like off your trauma, upset and tears. But drama isn’t necessarily required for trauma. Even calm words will do the trick.
My narcissists were the intellectual kind. If they made a decision about The Project (me), they had paragraphs of good reasons prepared to compel my pseudomutuality. The Kitchen Table was where it all went down.
Oh, that ol’ kitchen table. Brown, faux wood grain formica. It was the center of our home. We ate all our meals there, of course. Talked about our days. That’s where I did all my homework. That’s where I was ordered to wear men’s boxer shorts when I was 12, interrogated after school each day as a teenager and lectured, it seemed, for hours.
Mother and I sat in submissive silent terror at the kitchen table while my father stood at the kitchen counter, beating it with his fists, lecturing us and screaming in rage that he had to verbally and physically attack the teenage neighbor kids or they’d grow up to steal and rape.
But most confrontations were calmer than that. Perhaps mildly angry or irritable, but they had one shattering thing in common:
I was always in the wrong.
Only, looking back now, often I wasn’t. I just wanted to be normal. But that ol’ projection, that old over-active narcissistic imagination dreamed up bad scenarios to foist upon me when, actually, I wasn’t thinking about doing that stuff at all.
Hot. Confused. Upset. Ears Itching, Adrenalin Squirting. Cortisol flowing. Words trapped in my constricted throat. Tears flowing in lieu of speech. While I always tried to defend or make excuses, of course it rang hollow. The more innocent we are, the more guilty we look! No back talk, no excuses were allowed. I was guilty. Their word was law. And may God have mercy on my besmirched soul.
You don’t exactly learn how to handle confrontation from interaction with dictators.
Is it then any wonder that you and I are still terrified of confrontation!?! We have zero confrontation skills. We’ve lost before we’ve begun even if we’re in the right and have the moral high ground. Our bodies let us down. The one who gets red, sweats and cries always loses. If someone can move you to emotion, right or wrong, they are automatically the winner.
Unless you’re way more chill than me, that ol’ adrenaline is going to start squirting…then it all starts: the shaking, feeling hot, the urge to weep while your stomach is in knots. When things get really bad, you may feel like you’re floating outside your body for a few moments. It’s kinda cool cause you can hear your own voice from the outside as others hear it, instead of from the inside as you usually hear it. I believe they call it depersonalization.
Forewarned is Forearmed
If we can’t control our bodies, at least we can control our minds. We all know from our years of trauma that anticipation is both our best ally…and our worst enemy.
If your narcissists always blindsided you, leaving you gasping, defenseless and naked in the wind, then like me you’ve probably gone through life with your dukes up. You became your own worst critic, always looking for something, anything you could be criticized for so you could prepare a glib defense and never be blindsided again.
It served its purposes but it’s also no way to live. But, if you know as I do now that a confrontation is imminent, forewarned is forearmed.
“That’s Funny, Right There.”
The best way to handle a confrontational person is with humor. As Victor Borge said, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” If you can get them to laugh, the confrontation is basically over. You’ve moved them to a positive emotion and now you have the upper hand.
We learned this from that old raconteur, the Great Communicator, President Ronald Reagan. In the 1980 Presidential debate between incumbent President Carter and (then) Governor Reagan, Carter brought up the topic of Medicare. Reagan’s response was a smile and the quip, “There you go again.”
Everyone laughed. Reagan won.
Again in the 1984 Presidential debate, Reagan sidestepped the Age Issue by saying that he would not make the 56-year-old Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience” an issue during the campaign. Mondale laughed…and Reagan won again.
But if you’re anything like me, humor is the last thing you think of in a confrontational situation. Our narcissists didn’t raise us to laugh at people, and certainly not at them and definitely not during a traumatic confrontation. I distinctly remember Dad telling me to “tighten up” with his fists clenched as a visual demonstration of how I was to live. By George, I took that to heart. To me, life is a deadly serious business, more’s the pity.
Knowing that confrontational people, like bullies, thrive on our reactions, my plan is to not react. To take all the fun out of it for them. That’s what my mom advised me to do with the bullies on the schoolbus. It work thirty years ago and it works beautifully now. If confrontation occurs, I plan to not make eye contact and walk casually away as if I never heard a thing.
But if words become necessary, I have prepared my lines, memorized and rehearsed them. At the top of the list is, “There you go again.” Hey! If it worked for Reagan, it can work for us too.
Thank you for reading. My family and I are going through trying times right now (click here for details.) If you enjoy reading Narcissism Meets Normalcy, your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!