Most people who fear confrontation often find themselves standing on the edge of a situation, wondering when they will have the confidence to speak their minds and tackle an uncomfortable confrontation head-on. Unfortunately, what goes unnoticed about this fear is that if left unchecked over time, it can be crippling.

If you are the kind of person who always feels anxious in a situation that requires you to voice your opinion against something that is wrong or unjust; or if you think asking for what you deserve will make you seem arrogant, then you might be causing yourself more harm than you realize.

Whether you are anxious about confronting an annoying colleague who makes inappropriate jokes, or a friend who asks for too many favors, allowing the fear of confrontation to dictate your decisions will have negative consequences on your emotional, physical and mental well-being in the long run.

Many people struggle with conflicting emotions, often putting on an outward smile even though on the inside they are screaming to take action. Restrained by their own irrational thoughts and feelings, such people suffer silently, while they allow themselves to be treated unfairly or taken advantage of.

It is no secret that emotional wellness plays a large role in our physical health and there is enough research to support the correlation between ‘bottled up’ emotions, stressful events, and physical illnesses. The American Psychological Association is quite clear in its assessment of this relationship and points out that stress can not only trigger physical ailment, it can make existing problems worse and lead to chronic illnesses.

If you’re finding yourself constantly avoiding confrontation under the pretext that you prefer to keep the peace or you don’t want to upset anyone, then you might have allowed yourself to become vulnerable to a number of emotional and physical health problems. But, as they say, it is never too late to unlearn unhealthy behaviour.

Don’t let anxiety decide when you should speak out

The first step in overcoming your fear of confrontation is to rise above the anxiety by not allowing it to become the deciding factor in how you will react to a situation. Even when your heart is racing and your palms are sweating, take a deep breath, count to 10 and know that you are standing up for the right thing. No matter who you have to confront, always remember that no one has the authority to intimidate you or make you feel less worthy of respect.

Don’t confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness

There is a fine line between being assertive and standing up for your rights versus being ‘pushy’ or forceful. If you’re someone that fears confrontation, you probably assume that being assertive makes you seem ‘pushy’ or rude. At the same time, you might be in awe of people who are naturals at voicing their opinions and pointing out when something displeases them.

These contradictory notions can make it hard to know when and how you should approach a situation that requires confrontation.

But, in reality, it is quite simple to discern the difference between aggressive and assertive behaviours. Aggressive communication usually involves an undertone of command and does not take into consideration other people’s feelings. On the other hand, an assertive communicator will always be respectful and calm, speaking their mind without offending or insulting anyone.

Knowing the difference is just the first step; being able to translate this knowledge into action is the real challenge. 

Most importantly, allow your instincts to guide you; if a situation or a person’s behaviour has reached a point where it makes you feel uneasy constantly, then it is time to speak up.

Find your voice and use it

Finding your most comfortable zone of expression is key when it comes to fighting your fear of confrontation. Not everybody chooses to express themselves the same way and that is why it is important to take your time in addressing difficult issues. While you might want to be more open about how you feel, don’t expect to change overnight. And don’t expect to be able to convey your message in the same way as those around you.

Our ability to confront, and more importantly communicate in any situation is determined by a combination of factors, including our personality, upbringing, and emotional intelligence. Hence, it is very likely that even though you might be feeling extremely confident about expressing a particular opinion, you could find yourself stumbling when push comes to shove. Don’t be disappointed. Just the fact that you are acknowledging the issue and trying to change it is a step in the right direction.

Practice the plan

Before you embark on any life-changing path, whether it is a new pattern of behaviour or a new job, it’s always best to run your thoughts by someone who knows you well and whom you trust. So, if you’ve decided that tomorrow is the day you’re going to stand up to that annoying colleague who incessantly makes inappropriate jokes during meetings, then plan what you are going to say and role play this with a friend or family member. Bear in mind, the reality could be more challenging, but if you have clearly decided what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, you will feel calmer when it actually happens.

Knowing when to fight and when to fold

Often, the real test lies in knowing when to stand up for something and when to let it go. If you’re faced with a situation that is affecting you negatively, both emotionally and mentally, then there is no doubt that a change is in order. In some instances, it is best to let things slide as the person or situation causing distress might really not be worth the effort. The best way to decide this is to assess the degree of impact on your overall wellbeing. 

If an issue keeps you up all night or makes you feel anxious at odd times during the day, then the answer is obvious. Choose a time and confront it. Most often we are more afraid of what a confrontation stands for than the actual confrontation itself.

We assume people will think the worst of us and thus we allow ourselves to become compliant and conform to things we know in our hearts to be unjust. Don’t let this fear rule your choices or disturb your peace of mind. Start the journey to a more open and healthier life by choosing to voice your feelings and sharing your thoughts with those around you.

If you have tried and tested methods on how to deal with the fear of confrontation, then share them in the comments below.