How to stand your ground / survive a confrontation
July 27, 2005 4:54 PM   Subscribe

How to stand your ground / survive a confrontation

I think fight or flight plays a big role in this, and I guess the answer has a good deal to do with confidence. My experience with a few verbal confrontations was ‘fight’, and then I realize I cant win and then I revert to ‘flight’ and I tend to shut down physically. I feel weak. I can barely hold my head up. I suppose in a confrontation with the threat of physical violence I may go further in this physiological abandon ship and start quivering or what have you.
How can I avoid that kind of thing happening? The way I look at it, it helps to be confident in general, confident of your chances of coming out on top of the confrontation, and then the key thing is to be unperturbed about the idea of being beaten. But how do you be unperturbed when someone has got you in a position verbally where they are going to give you a severe dressing down and there is nothing you can do about it. How do you stand there and take it at that point without flight (shutting down) or fight (having your blood boil). Both have happened to me and I think its because my body wants to act in one way and my mind is saying that isn’t an option so the body just overloads in one direction or the other. Any thoughts?
posted by dino terror to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You might consider martial arts as a route to develop both confidence and self-control.
posted by Galvatron at 5:22 PM on July 27, 2005

Response by poster: I think martial arts training definitely applies to a physical confrontation, but i think with verbal confrontations there may be a more complex dynamic going on. A black belt could still feel helpless in a verbal situation and have their fight/flight response activated.
Also I would say im above average in confidence...
posted by dino terror at 5:29 PM on July 27, 2005

Unfortunately, I have to deal with this often.

1. You SHOULD feel confident, presumably because you feel that you are "right" about something.

2. Your opponent should too, and for the same reason.

3. One of you will lose the argument. Probably the one who has something to learn.

Summary; it's just as good to lose as long as you have learned something. Then you can happily say, "Wow, now I understand!"

I've found that the more open-minded I am, the more often I win.

If your situations are simply assholery, well then indeed check out the martial arts, or marital arts, if that's the case.

And BTW, if you are getting to the point of fight or flight, you have probably already lost.
posted by snsranch at 5:46 PM on July 27, 2005

I mentally conjure up the image of someone whose reaction to a similar situation I'd admire (like MLK or Gandhi). It's soothing, it inspires resolve, and it helps to remind me of nonviolent tactics for conflict resolution. Not fighting back is not the same as backing down.
posted by cali at 5:48 PM on July 27, 2005

dino terror:it's really easy to drag out the standard: "You already know the answer; if it doesn't make sense you are asking the wrong question". In this case, I think you know the right question and answer, but you dislike the implication. So, try this:
1. If you want to fight, develop some skill.
2. If you don't want to fight, develop some self-control.
You need to ask yourself how you are getting yourself involved in these confrontations. Then stop doing that.
Although I've always been an adherent to the first choice I am an advocate of the second and suggest you go that route.
posted by Mack Twain at 5:50 PM on July 27, 2005

"if you are getting to the point of fight or flight, you have probably already lost"

I disagree. I think overwhelming emotions are often par for the course. I think it's important to learn when it's time for a time out. You don't have to say "Time Out." You can just say that you want to cool down for a bit and sort out how you feel. The momentum of an argument can cause people to act rashly, and that can lead to saying things you regret.

I don't think it's so much about winning, as it is about finding common ground, but then I'm a woman... If you read You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation, then you know that women tend to want to find common ground and men often want there to be a right answer. Of course these are generalizations. I just happen to fit the typical portrait of a woman in this book.

But the time out thing... I think it's a good way to go, lest you say something you don't mean and get, well... mean!

Remember, if someone is giving you a "dressing down," they are fighting to hurt. You don't have to stoop to the same level. You can try saying, "You seem really upset right now. I'd like to wait and talk to you when you aren't as upset."

Don't take the bait.

And, like my dad always says, "NEVER ACCEPT AN INVITATION TO GO CRAZY!!!"

And no, I didn't say all of that just so I could post that link. It's just kind of my mantra! My dad always says that. I have that bumper sticker on my car! I use it when I do therapy. I use it when I lead Anger Management groups. It's just a really good phrase to remember.

Yeah, I'm a nut. I know! :P
posted by abbyladybug at 5:58 PM on July 27, 2005

The benefits of martial arts training are not limited to capability in physical combat. Most of the black belts I have met exhibit confidence in all aspects of life, including verbal confrontation.
posted by Galvatron at 6:00 PM on July 27, 2005

Meditation. It's what's going on in your own mind that makes you afraid or angry. Practice sitting completely still while your mind tortures the hell out of you. It's exactly like the situation you describe--you'll be given a severe dressing down (by your own self), and have nothing you can do about it. Then, when something in the real world comes along to torture you (as it inevitably will), you'll have more space to respond appropriately because you're deeply familiar with the experience.
posted by mcguirk at 6:02 PM on July 27, 2005

Recognizing that the rules are going to be slightly or even very different depending on who's getting all up in your face (stranger on the street, someone you do business with, someone you are married to, authority figure) very often the best direction to go in a verbal confrontation is... sideways.

The formal name of the technique is "de-escalation," and the basic principles are not to throw more gasoline on the fire and, one by one, try to remove the reasons for, and the perceived payoff from, attacking you.

My wife recommends a book by Suzette Haden Elgin called The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense, which she describes as "sort of judo for verbal confrontations." I have no personal experience with it, but she says it's good stuff.

Of course, sometimes there's nothing for it but to slug it our, metaphorically speaking, toe-to-toe. Just pick your battles.
posted by enrevanche at 6:05 PM on July 27, 2005

Response by poster: Never accept an invitation, thats a good one :)

I suppose fight/flight may be a little dualistic. If you are being lectured and just have to take it i guess the best thing to do is neither fight nor flee. I guess thats where the confidence plays in.
I sometimes feel like i have a reserve of confidence that can slowly be built or depleted over the course of an interaction. If it gets below a certain threshold i can start to feel nervous where moments before i felt fine. Nothing was said in particular, i didnt have a discouraging thought, just all of a sudden i got struck with nerves.
A generally confident person feeling nervous and more severe fight/flight responses in extreme situations may be separate or related, im not sure...

The situations i mentioned before have been few, i just thought i might learn something by getting to the bottom of them / become more of a man i guess.

on preview: Avoidance techniques are not to be dismissed for sure, but if there is no way of avoiding it would be nice to be able to stand in the fire and not get burned so to speak... But maybe everyone has their breaking point? Just mine is lower than id like...
posted by dino terror at 6:21 PM on July 27, 2005

I revert to ‘flight’ and I tend to shut down physically.

Dude, the "flight" in "fight or flight" does not refer to shutting down or submitting, it's about running the hell away, as fast as possible. Which is a viable option you might consider sometimes.

But it sounds more like you are just lacking confidence in your self. To put it more directly, you are instinctively responding to anyone who talks like an alpha male, because the jedi mind tricks they instinctively lay on you make you see them as bigger and stronger than they really are. So to avoid getting beat on, your mind evolved this strategy of automatically rolling over and/or licking their boots. Assuming you're not actually in a situation where you're likely to get physically thrashed if you don't fight or flee, and usually even if you are, you just gotta rise above that psycho bullshit.
posted by sfenders at 6:38 PM on July 27, 2005

...and like mcguirk said, meditation should help. The thing you're looking for is called equanimity, and meditation is one way to get some.
posted by sfenders at 7:15 PM on July 27, 2005

overwhelming emotions are often par for the course.

Bullshit. Control yourself, you are not in grammar school anymore (are you?). Stop worrying about standing your ground so much. Don't go throwing your chest out unless you are ready to go, and by go I mean go to jail for fighting. Get a grip man. This nonsense if for kids and jailbirds. You should wander down to the county poke some morning and start asking the prisoners why they are there. Stupidity and pride are the most common reasons. You might also think about drinking less; most of this crap happen to drunken people.
posted by caddis at 7:48 PM on July 27, 2005

Response by poster: Equanimity, composure, sangfroid, all good words :)
posted by dino terror at 7:57 PM on July 27, 2005

The benefits of martial arts training are not limited to capability in physical combat.

I second that emotion: My son who is otherwise an introverted music nerd has gained a lot of confidence through Tae Kwon Do.
posted by Doohickie at 8:37 PM on July 27, 2005

The benefits of martial arts training are not limited to capability in physical combat.

Thirded. Here's my experience. I haven't been in the martial arts for years and years. However, if someone's yelling at me, in my face, creating a verbal confrontation, whatever--the martial arts give a new perspective on the situation.

Look, this guy's yelling at me. I can yell back or fight, or I can do nothing. In my opinion, yelling is a waste of time--I mean, it's clear I'm not gonna change his mind about anything. Fighting is worse--the dude's not physically threatening me! (at least, not in this example). Not only is it rather morally reprehensible to me to start beating on someone when the physical threat doesn't exist to me, but it's just stupid. I don't like to get hurt, and starting fights can get me hurt. The other guy, too--and he's just yelling at me.

So, I have the capability to hurt others, physically, a lot. Is it right for me to do that to someone who's simply yelling at me? If he's not a physical threat, I'm not going to risk injuring either of us by starting a fight. It just doesn't bother me. Either the guy's saying things that are true, in which case you can't exactly argue with him, or he's wrong in which case you can simply ignore him. It's easier.

Yes, verbal confrontations can lead to physical ones even if you aren't the instigator--but that's not what this is about.

The degree of the response is dependent on the degree of the threat.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:50 PM on July 27, 2005

self-confidence is important ... but another question is who are you fighting with and about what? ... if it's someone you have to deal with and it's about something important, then you need to stand your ground

if it's someone you don't have to deal with, just go away from them
posted by pyramid termite at 10:14 PM on July 27, 2005

Winning and losing is not the only game in town.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:38 PM on July 27, 2005

Hmm, I just don't understand the situation. Why do you need to do either? Just ignore them. Act (and convince yourself) that whatever they're saying dosn't really matter.

I suppose if they have some authority over you (like a parent, teacher, whatever) it might be more difficult.

If it's just a Peer, just ignore them.
posted by delmoi at 10:58 PM on July 27, 2005

I think you're referring to a situation in which you can't win. Like yelling at a cop.

My strategy has always been to just nod my head and control myself. If it's my boss yelling at me, its always "yes, OK, I understand." If its the cops, I just nod my head and say "yes sir, no sir".

Recognize you can't win, and act accordingly. I'll leave you with these wise words that were repeated to me throughout elementary school:

Think before you speak.
posted by Edible Energy at 11:34 PM on July 27, 2005

Second vote for The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defence. I remember it really helped me, like 20 years ago, when I read it. I think it may be time for a re-read.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:23 AM on July 28, 2005

Third vote for The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defence. One thing I like about it is that Elgin doesn't treat verbal confrontations as a zero-sum game. In her paradigm, both sides of a confrontation can "win".

I'll also testify with as to the benefits of martial arts training, with some qualifications. It is possible for a martial artist, even a high-ranked one, to be an insecure asshole who handles confrontation badly. Sometimes that's the fault of the student, sometimes of the teacher. What a good training program should do is help transform you over time into a person who can stay calm and choose appropriate action (or inaction) in a threatening situation. A sign that you're in such a program is that you find yourself taken outside your comfort zone, but are encouraged to stay calm, controlled and relaxed.

I have always tried to relate my martial arts training to the rest of my life. It's made a huge difference in a number of ways, including my ability to handle verbal confontations.
posted by tdismukes at 8:27 AM on July 28, 2005

I keep my cool by being aware of the person's insecurities/flaws that cause them to strike out. Oftentimes, the very thing someone attacks you for has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. Remain calm, and don't get pulled down to their level. Many people resort to changing the attack to a personal/emotional one, so that you're resolve is weakened on the original issue. Take your time, and respond in a way that feels healthy for you. Sometimes the best response is to walk away. Good luck. :)
posted by Radio7 at 8:30 AM on July 28, 2005

I second the suggestion of learning the ability to ignore the person pressing you. Not much can take the wind out of a gas bag if you simply do not respond.

However being careful is certainly important. Don't do things that could be potentially insulting, such as turning your back on the person. This, of course, applies to the "random angry drunk/bad night in the bar" scenario.

Find a clear spot in your head and stay in there. I found that thinking of a good close friend who would never respond in violence and who I respect and love helped. I suppose that's similar to cali's suggestion of thinking of MLK or Gandhi.
posted by dazed_one at 9:24 AM on July 28, 2005

I used to have a bandmate whose behavior enraged me. I had deal with her on a regular basis and she would piss me off to the point where I was just shaking on an equally regular basis. I was loaned a copy of Getting Past No by William Ury and it was a godsend. It provided me with tools communicate with a difficult person, which was helpful, but almost equally as helpful was that using those tools gave me something else to think about besides how much she was pissing me off.
I also second meditation. I find that I'm much less prone to get angry now that I meditate largely because I can see it coming, and I can stop and consider how unproductive it is.
posted by smartyboots at 11:38 AM on July 28, 2005

But how do you be unperturbed when someone has got you in a position verbally where they are going to give you a severe dressing down and there is nothing you can do about it.

Imagine them doing what they're doing - naked.

Now, try not to laugh.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:34 PM on July 28, 2005

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