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My confrontational attitude is causing problems.
December 9, 2009 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop being so impetuous and confrontational--I'm getting myself into trouble. I want to change but don't know how.

Long story short, I tend to get myself into heated arguments with people online and offline about various topics. The latest incident has caused the other party involved to suggest what I wrote regarding a third party would be libelous and that they would let them know what I posted. While I don't personally believe it to be libel (I clearly stated it was my opinion) the incident has caused me to come to the realization that my behavior could be doing more harm to me than good.

Now, I know at the end of the day the best way to stop being this way is to just STOP. However telling someone to do that is like telling a clinically depressed person to just cheer up--it just isn't that simple.

For all you psychologists out there (armchair or otherwise), I have a hunch that this personality trait developed from being physically and mentally bullied throughout my entire childhood without the confidence to stand up for myself. Now that I can form halfway intelligent sentences and arguments, I find that I experience a rush when I "tell someone off" or "lay the smack down" if you will.

I also have a tendency to be a bit of a control freak, which is what usually sparks the arguments in the first place. I find that if I disagree with someone's opinion or feel that it is the "wrong way of doing things" I have a need to speak out righteously on the subject and "correct them" which inevitably leads to escalation, etc.

The internet hasn't helped me as I am an avid PC gamer and "smack talk" just comes with the territory. However the anonymity the net typically affords has certainly made me a bit looser with my tongue which is a problem when I forget that I am posting under my real name in some instances.

So what am I trying to get out of this thread? Well, ultimately I want to stop this behavior before it ruins me personally and/or professionally. To that end I'd love any suggestions, resources, personal stories of change, etc. Please avoid simply telling me that I need to stop. I know this, and I wish it were as simple as flipping a light switch, however we're talking deep-seated personality traits which were developed after a childhood spent being a victim.

I'm happy to answer any clarifying questions the hive may have and will do my best to try not to tell you your advice is wrong ;)
posted by Elminster24 to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
As seen recently on the blue...

Also, try to remember that when you go off like this, the personal emotional baggage you described winds up being pretty apparent to anyone reading even half-way thoughtfully. When you take joy in telling someone off, you are saying more than you think you're saying -- you're telling us about yourself.
posted by hermitosis at 10:21 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Where do you get the energy? Have you considered doing something useful with your time? Have you really got nothing better to do than argue with people? Go for a run.
posted by GuyZero at 10:21 AM on December 9, 2009


Now, I know at the end of the day the best way to stop being this way is to just STOP. However telling someone to do that is like telling a clinically depressed person to just cheer up--it just isn't that simple.

What would you recommend to a clinically depressed person? Therapy, right? Especially if they believed they had deep-seated issues that they believed were coming into play. I would, thus, suggest the exact same thing to you as I -- and apparently you -- would actually suggest to a clinically depressed person. Try therapy.
posted by brainmouse at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2009


A very recent similar question.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:28 AM on December 9, 2009


Telling you to "just stop" is different from saying the same thing to someone who is clinically depressed: You have the option to stop and think before speaking, and there's really nothing analogous to that with regard to depression. Before making a nasty comment, or starting an argument, or smack talking, STOP and think about what you are about to say and whether or not it really needs to be said. Perform a 10-second cost/benefit analysis. I think then you will find that you probably talk too much, honestly.
posted by amro at 10:31 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Print this out, paste it on your monitor so you have to look at it often.

Let other people be stupid. Laugh at yourself.
posted by rokusan at 10:32 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


The internet hasn't helped me as I am an avid PC gamer and "smack talk" just comes with the territory.

That's exactly why I don't play much online. The 12 year olds drain all the fun out of it.

I think of it as "childish talk", which might help you indirectly.
posted by rokusan at 10:35 AM on December 9, 2009


Count to 10, or 50, or a very high number (use the Fibonacci sequence!). If a lot of this activity is online, write out your reply to someone's comment, but write it out in Word or some other non-Internet space. Then wait ten minutes. Go get coffee, or water your plants, or something. Come back and read what you wrote. Go away for another ten minutes. Repeat as necessary.

I've used this technique in some very heated arguments on this site. It doesn't shut me up completely by any stretch, but it keeps me from getting all "Fuck you! No! Fuck you!"

Also, yes, therapy, which can help you sort out what baggage you're dragging that prompts you to react this way. Rather than an illusion of control - which is what the online smackdowns give you - it will help you gain actual control of both your feelings and your behavior.
posted by rtha at 10:47 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now, I know at the end of the day the best way to stop being this way is to just STOP. However telling someone to do that is like telling a clinically depressed person to just cheer up--it just isn't that simple.

Yeah, this just isn't true.

What you need to do is create for yourself a routine that allows a buffer to develop between the thing that is aggravating you and the moment when you respond. If most of your problems are with online behaviour, luckily this is easier. For example, when you read a screed on MeFi that sets you off, BEFORE you respond, go make a cup of tea or something else for about 15 minutes. Then come back and think, "am I still as angry about this as I was? Will arguing about this make my life better or worse?"

In real life, when someone says something you want to respond to, always think "Will my instinctive response here make me come off as a relaxed, easy-going person, or someone who is wound up tight and reflexively irate?"

This IS entirely in your power to stop. It is simply matter of learning to recognise the traits you have (which you have done -- yay!), and then apply the power of your brain to control them.
posted by modernnomad at 10:51 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't personally believe it to be libel (I clearly stated it was my opinion)

Defamation law can be complex, but just so you know, clearly stating that something libelous is your "opinion" does not necessarily remove its libelous quality. So who knows whether anything will come of this incident but you are right to consider that there can be real consequences for your actions.
posted by grouse at 10:58 AM on December 9, 2009


Total armchair:

Think deep about what you are getting out of it.

Winning an argument, controlling others, telling others what is right, can be about self protection, safety.

You were not safe as a child, you developed traits to protect yourself, you get the rush because you just did a good job (in your no-longer-needed perspective) in protecting yourself.

Think about why you feel good after one of these events. If you had these traits as a child, do you think you would have been bullied less?

Might be a place to start.
posted by Vaike at 10:59 AM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Being confrontational is a necessary skill in life, but it sounds like you're applying it to the wrong areas. Are you confronting someone because they're a n00b? Or because they're the electric company and they messed up your bill? Are you being rude to someone because they love love luvvvv Twilight, or because they just cut in front of you and a whole bunch of other people in line? In the latter examples you are more justified in confronting, as this is aggression against you, whereas the former examples are you being the aggressor.

I've run into these same issues with myself (mostly in my early 20's) and, like you, I got really tired of my own attitude. So I started training myself to stop whenever I was beginning to feel angry, or tense. Then I would ask myself...do I have a dog in this fight?

Most of the time I don't. This varies when considering the platform the discourse is contained within, and in terms of importance, the internet ranks very low for me. (Metafilter is actually an outlier in this regard. I take information on this site more seriously than I take most things in print.) You might change someone's mind if arguing with them in real life, but on the internet that rarely happens. That in itself is a good reason to move on with your time.

Pick your battles, and if someone won't back down, don't let it actually become a battle. The instant someone attacks you, and not your opinion, the discussion is over. Don't dignify (literally) their comment with a response. Their ugliness speaks for itself.

It's also a good rule of thumb to keep in mind that politeness on your part goes a long, long way. In regards to your interaction with people, online or off, you get out what you put in. So don't let your input be entirely negative.

This kind of attitude change doesn't happen overnight. You have to work on it. But just starting will make you feel better about yourself.
posted by greenland at 11:03 AM on December 9, 2009


Rather than "stopping" try something different. One technique that is an extension of active listening is to ask more questions to fully understand the reasons for perspectives that differ from yours. If you're as confrontational as you say you likely make a lot of assumptions and the more assumptions you make the more likely it is you assume incorrectly. Clarify. Slow down. Explain the evidence that is causing you to form your opinions and ask where those other ideas come from.
posted by medea42 at 11:10 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great thoughts so far from the first responders. Unfortunately I cannot afford therapy right now. I am out of a job and trying to get a new business venture off the ground (which I am having a lot of frustration with) and my work ethic is declining thanks to the lovely snow storms and lack of personal interaction I have during the day. This in turn leads me to spend more time online which, well, causes problems. Unfortunately my business will be primarily online so unplugging isn't an option.

I like the suggestion for filters and I will definitely try to implement some of those.

In response to greenland's question:
"Being confrontational is a necessary skill in life, but it sounds like you're applying it to the wrong areas. Are you confronting someone because they're a n00b? Or because they're the electric company and they messed up your bill? Are you being rude to someone because they love love luvvvv Twilight, or because they just cut in front of you and a whole bunch of other people in line? In the latter examples you are more justified in confronting, as this is aggression against you, whereas the former examples are you being the aggressor."

I am embarrassed to say I am guilty of all of those (particularly the Twilight one, going so far as to attempt to get them to watch the movie along with the Rifftrax mp3 of it).

Is there salvation to be had? Have others here successfully dealt with their similar issues?
posted by Elminster24 at 11:14 AM on December 9, 2009


fwiw, it would help it you quit rationalizing it by saying you're a PC gamer and thus there are some arenas in life where it's okay. If it helps give any perspective, I'm also a gamer and all the realy good PC gamers I've ever known, including a friend who plays professionally and maintains a living off it, are really laid-back, good-natured people who are not at *all* prone to smack-talking. While joking with friends is a bit different, smack-talking makes you sound desperate to impress and immature to a lot of people in all areas of life, not just gaming; in other words, rather than giving people the impression that you're a confident, skilled person, it makes them think the exact opposite. People generally won't say anything to you if they think this, they'll just keep on thinking ill of you and mentally relegate you to someone that they just have to "put up with."

People who are confrontational only have the illusion that they have the upper hand, but in reality when other people back off or leave you to do whatever you want, it's almost always because they think you're too crazy or unreasonable to be dealt with. Maybe that thought could act as a kind of kick-in-the-pants?
posted by Nattie at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2009 [8 favorites]


I should add that particular realization is what lead me to quit being so aggressive and confrontational early in college, so I have some sympathy. Realizing that other people think very little of you, even if they sometimes find your ranting amusing, is terribly humbling.
posted by Nattie at 11:18 AM on December 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Try this, just as a way to kick things off -- in fact, you can try it even for further responses in this thread: type your responses with a pencil instead of your fingers, or with mittens on. Something that makes typing each individual letter awkward, time-consuming and error-prone. You'll quickly learn to stop engaging people in extended exchanges, and most of the time you'll just go "eh, it's not worth it" -- which is a realistic view, actually.
posted by davejay at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2009


Oh, and yes, there's "salvation" to be had, because you don't have a deep-seated character flaw, you just have a bad habit and/or poor interpersonal skills. Bad habits can be broken, and good interpersonal skills can be learned. It's not like you're a sociopath.
posted by davejay at 11:30 AM on December 9, 2009


I like all your best answers above. Smart people here on the Meta, listen to them.

Okay, this may be silly and stupid (no comments from the peanut gallery please) but it might help you.

Follow this rule: Before you correct somebody, you have to give them an honest compliment. If you can't think of something nice to say first, you aren't allowed to say something not-so-nice. The time it takes for you to come up with a compliment might help you slow down the anger.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:56 AM on December 9, 2009


Just be aware that personal and intimate relationships will suffer immensely if you continue this way. Your girlfriend or your buds undoubtedly love you, but they don't like you very much. You don't want your epitaph to say, "He meant well"

With that said, you're ahead of the curve in realizing this shortcoming. I agree with others suggesting short pauses/breaks/activities before responding to things that would normally set you off.
posted by teg4rvn at 12:05 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Find out the thing you are actually defending yourself against. The only person likely to be attacking you would be you.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:15 PM on December 9, 2009


Quit activities that lull you into thinking this is okay. That means no games where others regularly treat one another with disrespect, and it may mean no message boards. Also, from now on, everything you post on the internet must go out under your real name. Add your name to your Metafilter profile and any other site profiles, and register under you real name on any websites you use. Be accountable for your words.
posted by decathecting at 1:53 PM on December 9, 2009


1) I was going to come here to suggest something that has already been suggested: write what you want to post. Then step away from your computer for a few minutes. Come back and decide whether you really want to post it, or if you want to tone it down.
Another method, instead of walking away and coming back would be to make yourself read what you wrote five times over, changing something about it each time. You will hopefully find that after doing this, you will have a less heated post to make.

2) You will find that if you are in a debate, if your responses get your view across but are very reasonable and mature, you will feel much more satisfied with yourself than if you write some over the top rant. You will also probably need to spend less time arguing with others.

3) This isn't in your question, but you should look at how much time you spend each day in online forums or gaming sites arguing with people. I used to use livejournal and there were some people on there who I think probably spent at least five hours per day in various communities arguing/acting a fool. It was like their only source of entertainment or joy. Don't let yourself get there, or if you are there, find some other activities.
posted by ishotjr at 3:19 PM on December 9, 2009


I used to be like this. And then I realized I didn't want to be like this anymore. So I just....stopped doing it. I stopped rising to the occasion. Stopped responding. Signed off or deleted. I just was so tired of spending so much energy and getting so worked up about something that really didn't matter in the long run.

It was a breath of fresh air every time I "won" by not participating. It was a relief every time I was able to ignore some idiot's comment. I stopped feeling like I needed to correct someone else's perception of me. I started counting "wins" not in terms of verbally dismantling my "opponent" but in the number of times I didn't engage.

I've slipped up a few times since then. The "high" and adrenalin rush that come with those arguments don't feel fun anymore, and it's much easier to avoid it than to participate.

Interestingly, I grew up in a lot of other areas at the same time, and all my relationships are less strained now and I like myself much better. I'm not sure which way the cause and effect went, but it's definitely related. I still play video games and read potentially irritating blogs and I still have friends who are superopinionated and spoiling for a fight, but I can ignore the chatter and not comment and change the subject. I've changed and that's made all the difference.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:22 PM on December 9, 2009


I'm a college teacher and I have a rule about responding to (perceived) obnoxious students: if I have any kind of physiological response to an email I make myself wait 24 hours before replying. In 24 hours I usually don't care at all about I was insane about the night before. If I'm really angry I'll write a reply - as others here have suggested - but again, wait 24 hours. I never send those drafts and my life is better for it.

Another thing that helps me is to try and be compassionate. I will consider different reasons the student may be writing to me in a particular way or saying a particular thing rather than they are just an asshole that needs to be smacked down.

In reality, I don't believe anyone is just an asshole who needs to be smaked down, but in the heat of the moment I do believe it and I'm 100% sure I'm the one to do it. I seem extremely arrogant when I think about it that way I don't want to be arrogant or make any one else's life worse, so I've worked hard to stop indulging the impulses.
posted by orsonet at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


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