I have a fear of confrontation. Recently, this destroyed my relationship with my best friend, after I slept with her ex. I did not tell her for several months, and developed my own twisted logic that I was somehow protecting her from the painful truth. When I did tell her, she made me realise my refusal to tell the truth had hurt her more than the action itself.
It’s been a year, and I haven’t spoken to her or her ex (who was also my friend). My way of dealing with the situation was to suppress thinking about it for months and continue with my life. However, partly owing to my relationship with my new partner (who is highly emotionally intelligent), I have started to reflect on the situation. I know I have to recognise my responsibility to myself and others, and become an active, not passive, force in my relationships. I hate the idea of ruining that with my new partner, which is one of the best relationships I have had.
This brings me to my main issue. I live with the fear that my best friend will want another confrontation as part of her way of moving on. I am scared of bumping into her in my home town, or having to respond if she messages me. I am conflicted over the fact that perhaps I owe it to her to instigate a meeting. But I am scared that I will talk too much about myself, not listen well enough, or fail to offer anything new, making her feel disappointed for even bothering with me. What can I do?
There’s a lot of living in your head going on. Your friend hasn’t made contact with you, and if she did, you are imagining that she wants confrontation. Often when people fear confrontation, it can be traced back to something that happened earlier in life, but it may not be as simple as that, as psychotherapist Lucy Beresford (psychotherapy.org.uk) helped me understand.
“I did wonder if your idea of not wanting to have another conversation was less about fear of confrontation and more a masking of a deeper desire to always be in control,” Beresford explained. She went on to say that the way you conducted the affair with your friend’s ex, and then didn’t tell her, was also about “controlling the situation”. This can stem from a fear of angering others and wanting to be liked.
This is really worth exploring: think about your interactions with people, and which of these you deem to be successful and which aren’t, and what the difference between them is. What is it about your new partner that has allowed you to learn more about yourself? You may find that, actually, you can talk in a “confronting” way with some people and not with others; the reason for this may be telling. It may be down to the combination of personalities rather than just yours.
Talking generally about fear of confrontation, Beresford said it “often goes back to childhood, and is a fear of powerlessness. The confrontation would have been between the parent [or other authoritative adult] and the child, and the child is invariably going to lose because they have limited resources, and may not be as verbally dexterous. Confrontations [between adult and child] in the beginning go only one way.” Later in life, it can be reminiscent of “always being on the losing side”.
What to do? Beresford suggests sitting down with your partner and exploring exactly what you are afraid of. I know, you think you know, but I want you to really unpack it. Go through each imagined contact with your friend, talk about what it is you fear, what it brings up, and then get your partner to ask you: “And then what?” Being gently challenged to really think, and not come up with hackneyed answers, can throw up surprises.
Your friend hasn’t contacted you yet, and she might not. If you wanted to be less passive, you might consider writing her a letter, asking to meet. You can be in control of what you say, and you can even say you fear meeting and not listening, or talking about yourself, so you are writing this letter first. Then, when you do meet, allow both of you the luxury of not talking much and just listening. Don’t justify yourself, don’t answer back, don’t excuse.
• Send your problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence
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