Verbal fighting is one of the dozens of ways in which we engage in emotional self-sabotage or self-defeating behaviors. When we fight continually with our loved ones, we are putting up a barrier between us and them ultimately hurting everyone involved – including ourselves.
By fighting with the people around us, we are defining ourselves; we are telling others that we are not interested in listening or opening ourselves up to them.
Here’s an example: John has a reputation for picking fights with whomever crosses his path: his wife, his friends, his children. When his wife comes home late from a meeting, he’s angry; he assumes she is seeing another man or has lost interest in him. When his daughter asks to borrow money, he snaps at her before asking her why she needs it. At work, he bickers with co-workers because he thinks they are competing for his job.
The first step to overcoming the anger/fighting habit is to recognize and acknowledge it. Step back and look at your behavior: Do you look for or thrive on tangling with the people you most care about?
Do you jump to conclusions without finding out the real facts and having full information? Do some of your relationships center more around negative, debilitating arguing than constructive discussions or fun times?
Once you openly and honestly look at your own behavior there are positive steps you can use to take control of it. Using John’s situation again as an example: John could stop labeling others in his mind which then contributes to his inaccurate predictions of their behavior. He may believe that his daughter is an exorbitant spender because she is a teenager and likes to go to the mall every Saturday with her friends.
Perhaps, however, his image is not correct, and she may need the money for a school assignment or an extracurricular project.
In essence, John doesn’t simply draw unsupported conclusions, he places a judgment on others as individuals making assumptions without full information, rather than separating the person from the behavior. Rather than evaluating each situation on its own merits, he takes mental shortcuts in an attempt to predict behaviors and their underlying motivations.
He is guessing. Again, John judged his wife’s lateness without knowing the circumstances. Was she being irresponsible by being late or was there another explanation? Before she even walked through the door John thought he knew the answer and was prepared to judge her and to be angry.
If, instead, he gave his spouse an opportunity to explain while he comes from an assume-the-best-in-others attitude rather than an accusatory one, he might address her lateness in a caring, supportive manner; he might ask, “Everything Ok? I was a little worried that you came home late.” He has then used the situation to express his caring and give her the opportunity to share with him why she was later than expected.
Unfortunately, many people like John, have learned only one basic approach in relating to others which is to always assume that they, even family, are just waiting for you to slip up so they can criticize and demean you. As a result, many develop the protective mechanism of judging others negatively before they themselves can be judged.
Many families have not learned the skills of positive communication, and therefore have only angry, accusatory, hurtful means of expressing themselves which will ultimately push family members away from each other creating fear and tension at home rather than a sense of peace and safety. My suggestion is, if you recognize in others around you, or in yourself angry and self-defeating communication styles, try approaching the people in your life with an assume-good-intentions attitude. Rather than pre-judging, try simply talking calmly with those you care about. Before making negative assumptions, ask first and then truly listen. In this way, closeness and a sense of emotional safety are developed. Your peace of mind, as well as that of your loved ones will benefit.
Based in Rockport, life and relationship coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., a psychotherapist and former university director of career and counseling services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, to clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com or by telephone at 978 546-9431.