How to Cope with Heated Conflict!


    We all encounter people who are irrational. We are all are irrational due to life circumstances on occasion. If you lose a night’s sleep due to the flu, having to get up in the middle of the night to soothe a crying child, or work too many hours you can feel depleted and your tolerance is low. This kind of irrationality is common and shouldn’t be taken very seriously.

     A second type of irrationality is embedded in a particular dysfunctional way a person perceives. There are individuals who typically are irrational, not due to the type of circumstances in their lives but rather their personality style consistently perceives inaccurately, it is part of their character.

   How do you cope if this individual is your boss, your boyfriend, your relative and God forbid your spouse?

    Our nervous systems talk to each other, as one voice intensifies it raises the blood pressure of the other person in addition to releasing stress hormones, all of which can cloud our thinking and reduce our ability to respond with reason. Whenever you hear someone begin to escalate try to teach yourself to respond slowly, wait and think a moment before you talk. If you are reactive you become part of the problem. If you consistently personalize the other person’s remarks, rather than understanding their personality, it often means they have evoked sensitive areas in your story you never resolved. The following example may help clarify my point.

                                         One Couple’s Ongoing Impasse

   I met with a very bright man yesterday who was telling me he can’t cope with his wife’s ridiculous criticisms that are based, in his opinion, on her perfectionist personality. “Once she starts I can’t resist and we end up yelling at each other over and over again in front of our children”. He needed to understand his role in this conflict before he could manage the emotional heat successfully. After some exploration it became clear that her perfectionism was insulting his perfectionism. “I try to do everything right all day, I always succeed except with her, I can’t stand being criticized, she brings me down to my knees”. It’s easy to understand in this example that he can’t resist and slow down his reactions because he feels his self esteem is being threatened, his view of himself is being damaged.

                                  Don’t Accept Every Invitation to the Party!

     The example of my client should clue us into the idea that it takes two to tango. If we can’t resist losing our temper it almost always means we are being reminded of our negative story that we never re-wrote. My client is reminded each time his wife criticizes him of the home he grew up in where he always felt driven by his parents to perform better and better. He is an accomplished attorney, professional pianist, avid cyclist and studies the trumpet in his spare time to prove his worth. Problem is he never felt loved for just “being”, he only felt loved for “doing”. His wife is threatening his image as he re-visits his old view of himself and this makes him livid. He can’t stand the old feeling of not being loved for who he is rather than what he provides.

                                              What is the way out?

Follow these steps: 1) Slow down your reaction, and if you can’t take notice of the old story your repeating and seek help to expand your awareness and change the old view of yourself  2) Acknowledge the other person’s emotion without taking responsibility for their actions, for instance you can say, “I am sorry your offended but I didn’t intend to hurt you”, 3) Set limits, despite indicating you regret your friend is hurting be clear as to what you consider reasonable. “I am sorry your hurt but I don’t accept you yelling at me”, 4) Stick to the facts, no matter how unreasonable the other person becomes, “ I am simply asking you to stop yelling, to come to work on time, etc”, don’t get sidetracked into other topics 5) once you know a person is irrational consistently prepare by not expecting a sane dialogue, you are the only who can keep the conversation civil, 6) if all else fails, if the emotional irrationality continues, de-invest, walk away, don’t provoke just indicate that the conversation is not productive and you’re not going to continue further.

       Finally, and most importantly, if you continue to over-react even though you know the other person is being irrational, accept responsibility that it is your past sensitivities that accentuate the dilemma.  My client will never be free until he works out the hurt he experienced in the past and comes to know the truth about himself in the present. Why is this so very important? One compelling reason is that we often, unconsciously, choose love partners to repeat the old story. What I call “returning to the scene of the crime”. A formula for ongoing unhappiness.

                                          Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D.


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Arthur Ciaramicoli PhD

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