Does the idea of confronting someone make your heart race? Or do you avoid confrontation with others at all costs? If yes, you are experiencing a common phenomenon called confrontation anxiety.
Confrontation anxiety keeps you from meeting your own needs and can limit growth in your relationships. Learning to gracefully communicate in conflict with others is a critical skill for success in all areas of life.
This article will help you deal with your confrontation anxiety so your needs can stop taking a backseat. With a little practice, you’ll be able to respectfully approach confrontations with ease.
- Why do we get confrontation anxiety?
- What are the long-term effects of confrontation anxiety
- 5 ways to deal with confrontation anxiety
- Wrapping up
Why do we get confrontation anxiety?
I have yet to meet many people in life who enjoy confrontation. But why is it that some of us get a heightened anxiety response to confrontation?
Research suggests that confrontation anxiety stems from sensing a threat to your well-being. Anxiety is supposed to be a helpful response to help you survive dangerous situations.
But in our modern world, we are exposed to very few real threats. We’re not running from tigers for our lives or fighting off famine.
So instead, perceived threats trigger this same physiological response in our bodies. What once was a tiger chasing you now is your boss treating you unfairly.
And our bodies don’t know the difference between a real and perceived threat. This is why just the thought of confronting someone makes you uneasy.
On a personal level, I know that I get confrontation anxiety because I’m afraid of how the other party will react. Because I can’t predict their reaction, I can’t anticipate what will happen to me.
And ultimately, it all stems from not being able to control or predict the outcome. But letting this type of confrontation anxiety dictate your life can be crippling.
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What are the long-term effects of confrontation anxiety
So what happens if you avoid all confrontations? Well, you may avoid any potential conflict, but that doesn’t leave you any happier.
A study found that workers who avoided confrontation regarding conflict had higher levels of emotional exhaustion. They were also less willing to forgive others.
The same study found that respectful and constructive confrontation had positive effects on workplace relationships.
We won’t make ourselves any happier and our relationships won’t grow if we always avoid confrontation.
I used to avoid confrontation like the plague. I feared that I would either lose respect or lose relationships altogether.
For many years of my life, this resulted in boyfriends and co-workers taking advantage of me. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that it hit me that I had to stand up for my needs.
And when I turned that switch on, I was better able to strengthen my relationships. I’ve also been able to cultivate a healthier workspace and grow from confrontations.
It’s not easy to deal with confrontation anxiety. And it won’t just magically go away. But with practice, you can overcome it to be a better version of yourself.
5 ways to deal with confrontation anxiety
If you’re ready to stop avoiding confrontation and face it head-on, then we’ve got you covered. These 5 tips will help you make your severe confrontation anxiety a thing of the past.
1. Remember why you’re confronting the person
This step may sound obvious, but it’s absolutely critical. If you aren’t strong in your reasoning for confronting someone, you will find more reasons to avoid it.
You need to be able to clearly communicate your concerns and why they matter to you.
I remember I wanted to confront an ex-boyfriend of mine regarding blowing me off at the last minute. He had repeatedly canceled our plans three weeks in a row.
I had major anxiety over the situation because I was afraid he was going to break up with me. And I started to think I was just being too needy.
But each time he did it, he hurt my feelings more. Weeks went on with this behavior before I finally said something.
The kicker was that I didn’t communicate how it hurt me or why it concerned me. So he basically pushed me over and said it was no big deal.
Don’t be like me in this situation. Being clear on why you’re doing it helps you regain your power. And it prevents you from getting pushed over.
2. Use the sandwich approach
If you haven’t heard of the sandwich approach, let me introduce you to it. Trust me, it’s a game-changer.
The sandwich approach essentially means when confronting someone you tell them something you appreciate about them first. You then tell them your concerns or feedback.
And you end by telling them something kind or positive about them again. It’s a great delivery strategy for confrontation.
When you start by saying a compliment or statement of appreciation, it eases that natural defensive reaction in many people.
I remember I had a boss who used this on me a few years ago. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was his sneaky way of confronting me about a work problem.
It totally changed how I interpreted the confrontation. It just felt like a productive conversation and I came out of it feeling appreciated.
Using this when I have anxiety about confronting someone else has helped me immensely. It usually makes the confrontation feel more like an open conversation than a potential argument.
3. Make a physical list of your concerns
This tip goes hand in hand with tip number one. Listing out your concerns can help you clarify why you’re confronting someone.
And seeing that list physically written out helps you gather the courage to confront someone. Because it’s a crystal clear picture of your own needs and wants.
I think of it almost like preparing for a speech or a work presentation. By preparing ahead of time, you have a general idea of what you need to say.
This can help you stumble less during the confrontation and appear more confident. It also gives you something to refer back to if you become so anxious you forget all your thoughts.
I tend to do this on the “notes” app on my phone. I will jot down a few bullet points regarding why I am confronting them. I then review it right before the confrontation.
Feeling prepared in this manner has helped to ease my anxiety and improved my communication during confrontational situations.
4. Let your brain play out all the “what ifs”
I know it’s counterintuitive, but sometimes what’s helpful is to analyze all the potential outcomes.
When I’m really anxious about confronting someone, I tend to hyper-fixate on the worst outcome. I’ll imagine my boss firing me or my significant other leaving me.
I used to leave it at that and the anxiety would fester. But you have a few options when this happens.
Playing that situation all the way out in your mind can actually help ease the fear. Let’s take the example of my boss firing me.
So if your boss fires you, then what? Well, I don’t have a job.
And then what? Well, I’d be stressed out.
And then what? Well, I’d find another job.
You start to realize the “end of the world” situation in your head really isn’t the end of the world.
On the flip side, you can imagine the situation playing out well in your head. And by visualizing a positive outcome, you’re more likely to attract one.
Either option will help your brain to realize you’re not in danger. You are safe. And you will be fine no matter what the outcome is.
5. Practice, practice, practice
The main way to ease anxiety in relation to anything in life is exposure. This means exposing yourself to more confrontation.
Now, I’m not suggesting you start a bunch of fights or create conflict. But you do have to stop avoiding confrontation to become less afraid of it.
Start small. If your roommate has an annoying behavior, try to constructively confront them.
It can also help to practice a confrontational conversation in front of a loved one if you’re really nervous. Practice multiple times if you need to.
As someone who used to be deathly afraid of confrontation, I am now better at navigating it with intentional practice.
I won’t pretend that confrontational anxiety doesn’t sneak up on me here and there. But I have enough experience to draw on now to know that the outcome is never worth the fear.
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You can overcome confrontation anxiety with intentional effort and practice. It’s by no means easy, but it’s well worth it. Use the 5 tips from this article to transform your confrontational anxiety into productive energy for successfully navigating conflict. And with time, you will learn that giving your concerns a voice can be an empowering experience.
What's your favorite tip to deal with confrontation anxiety? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!