I’ve always had a lot of friends - I know this might sound a little boastful but well, it’s true. I believe I am an extrovert and being around people makes me happy. My weekends have always been full and I wouldn’t have it any other way
But having spent years around my (several) social circles, there’s always been a thought that’s bothered me, something I think about even now : I never fight with my friends. If (and when) I do, it always ends up being blown out of proportion. I’ve realised I alway rationalised my anger by telling myself that I’d never want to hurt them unnecessarily and as long as they are happy, it’s okay… but that’s where I caught myself. Two things cropped up for me at this point: 1) I’m a 100% people-pleaser. 2) What does fighting really mean to me?
When I pondered over it, fighting meant a rude and passive aggressive conversation that leaves me feeling anxious because I hurt someone. It meant the other person wouldn't perceive me in a good light anymore and I’d be left to fend for myself. I realised this definition had to change because it was this that made me run to the two extremes. If things are going well, I love my friends, but if things have been going south, I end up phishing all of it inwards to such an extent that I start to just dislike the person instead of the problem.
I don’t blame myself though, my definition of ‘a fight’ came from what I’ve seen around myself while I was growing up and in the media. A do-or-die situation where a disagreement means aggression and bullying, while sustaining friendships means agreeing and adjusting. So, as a 20-something year old, to compensate for this irrational worry, I decided to take the plunge and start some fights.
If you’re wondering how that went, it was all great anticipation till I actually disagreed with a friend, and almost fainted with the anxiety that it led to! I guess it’s always been the ‘2 steps forward 5 steps back’ approach for the anxious kids around the block. I distinctly remember blaming my thoughts as untrue and invalidating my feelings completely, till (after a few weeks) I realised it’s not my thoughts or feelings that were wrong, but the way I communicated them. It needed fine-tuning, and a lot of it.
So I dove into more disagreements, took my stand and communicated what I could. It was a long process, and it took me 2 years to actually reach a stage where I was okay disagreeing with someone without the ensuing anxiety. I did learn a few things through this process, so if you’d like to initiate some ‘well-deserved’ fights in your relationships, this one’s for you:
- Disagreeing, fighting, arguing, being assertive, or whatever else you’d like to name it, is important for any relationship to sustain itself. It allows you to define the relationship (and each other) better.
- Feeling angry is your mind’s way of saying “hey, something’s unfair out here and I don't like it!” and that deserves to be addressed before you start loathing a completely clueless friend. So, address it with your context and feelings in place.
- Your friend might or might not understand, but starting a conversation will allow you to feel heard nonetheless. They might even feel hurt, but a relationship is a two-way street, there will be some inter-dependence and it will play out nonetheless. But if you do feel like you hurt them with your words, apologise and make space for their feelings too.
- Trust your emotions and thoughts through the process, but make sure you’re responding (pausing - understanding - giving an opinion) and not reacting (saying what’s on your mind sans filter).
- And lastly, for all the people-pleasers out there - accept your feelings and fight for them! I understand that it’s easier to imagine that the waters are calm to avoid the storm, but the flood will come through one way or another. And the only person drowning in that case will be you. Share the space, feelings and thoughts, and very soon, the flood will subside altogether.
Over the years, I started looking at conflicts like waves that come and go, leading to some instability till they wash through. But too many of these waves might mean constant instability and that’s something to reflect and work on in any relationship. If fights keep happening and make you feel unheard nonetheless, it might be more than just talking your feelings out. And in that case, please talk to a professional who can aid you in the navigation and intervention process!