Finding the wherewithal to confront someone can be absolutely exhausting. While I am a very open, straight and honest person (oftentimes to a fault), I find, as I get older I’m actually more hesitant to deem interactions and people as “worth it” in terms of the stress and (let’s face it) dread that precipitates calling people out on their shit. While sometimes the mature thing to do is decide this person is not worth my energy, and let it go, I do wonder if sometimes that attitude is a cop out. What’s more: When I find myself doing that over and over again with a certain person, I then avoid them or cut them out of my life completely, which is not always the right way to go.
Is it fair for me not to give them a chance at changing, before deciding to outgrow them? At the same time, as adults our time becomes more and more valuable: If a person is toxic, they often do need to be cut out of our lives. So what’s the balance between having necessary confrontations while keeping productive, positive people around you?
What I often try to do (as formal as this may sound), is categorize the people in my life who I’m taking issue with into a few different descriptions:
1. I’m stuck with them.
As harsh as this may sound, there are always going to be people in our lives who we’re simply stuck with. Whether that takes the form of immediate family we have complicated relationships with, extended family, in-laws or an everyday superior at a job you love and do not want to leave. For this group, the basis of sanity for me starts with making sure I am always convinced of one important thing: That this person’s problems and issues are not about me, and are not my problem.
This doesn’t mean you can’t still be helpful to a family member who is having issues and therefore treating you horribly, but I really think the only productive, sane way to both help them and self-preserve is to wholly believe that first point. When I don’t fully believe this, one of the following three things occur: I have an angry, unsuccessful confrontation that gets us nowhere. I sit back and feel bad about myself because I’m taking that person’s personal issues as an attack on me. I absorb the person’s issues, somehow make them my own and then feel sorry for myself (which isn’t productive for me, them or anyone close to me in my life).
If you truly believe that first point, you’re armed with what’s necessary to confront that person in your life. You have to go in fully knowing they may never change, or that it may take a number of confrontations for your relationship to get better. Even if nothing does change, at least it becomes a relationship based on honesty and openness rather than them being enabled and seeming to “get away with everything.”
Which of these people you’re “stuck with” do you confront, and when?
I personally think the big confrontations that are worth it are the people who permeate your life, where the majority of your interactions are negative and affect your day-to-day.
The people I feel aren’t always worth it are the ones you have a confrontation with sporadically (i.e. Thanksgiving, a holiday party, a special family vacation), that you don’t really have to deal with on a regular basis. With people like that, I think one has to pick their battles. An obnoxious comment at a dinner table is not necessarily worth more than an eye roll, but an action where the motive is driven by an intent to hurt you, or negatively impact you and your significant other, might be worth a confrontation. If they don’t change, at least they know you won’t take things lying down.
2. They’re around.
This is usually the category I find least worth the trouble of a confrontation. Whether it be someone in the same circle of friends, a person in a cubicle nearby, or the friend of a significant other: This is the group I often try to let stuff go with.
When I’m honest with myself, I realize I don’t really have to deal with them all that much, so why cause myself the trouble and stress of having antagonistic interactions with them? Why put it on myself to prepare a whole confrontational speech, when they’re not that worth it? I don’t need to do them the favor of trying to change them.
Unless they’re doing something to really hurt me (which always warrants standing up for one’s self), the burden of a confrontation is more stressful than the infrequent (albeit annoying) encounters I have with them. I actually find this is the group where the less you act like you care, the less obnoxious they’ll be.
3. They’re offensive.
We can all relate to this. No matter what your viewpoints are in this day and age, there will always be people whose views you don’t agree with and whose comments can – quite frankly – make your blood boil. It’s no mystery this has only become more heightened as of late. I think if offensive peers fall into the “I’m stuck with them,” category, confrontations can be healthy and necessary. If they fall in the “they’re around” category, I personally feel saner when I let a lot of it go.
Trying to change peoples’ viewpoints to something you believe for the greater good is a wonderful thing, but also being aware of who is closed off or incapable of hearing other opinions (and therefore, perhaps not worth the fight) is important as well.
This train of thought was so inspired by reader comments I combed through for the If You’re Addicted To Being Nice, Read On piece. I found some great insights and questions about dealing with impossible people, the challenge of confronting people the correct way in the moment and also about having the maturity to just walk away. When do you think it’s worth it to have confrontations? I’d like to hear from you!