Which Confrontations Are Worth It?

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!

26 thoughts on “Which Confrontations Are Worth It?

  1. My trainer asked me to assist her with a list of “to do” items while I was not working in exchange for training sessions. I completed quite a few items off her list on to have her add more and more items delaying what I needed to get done bc she was so insistent and pushy. I drew the line at applying for an American Express card and contacting the KKK for an interview about their “thoughts on current events”. Honestly- WTF. She doesn’t value my time so I had to create boundaries which was hard bc I see her at the gym (talking about her clients no less). Terrible. She picked up me backing away so she was confrontational, emotional, loud and acted like she was a Real Housewife from Jersey. Jesus Henry Christ it was embarrassing. She kept trying to get me to confront her but I refused holding my silent ground. It wasn’t worth my time to tell her she’s a user, exasperating, lonely, sad, tired, boring, a complainer who can’t manager her time and overly dramatic. Oh well! I am currently getting sessions bc I’ve built up time but it is a matter of time before a lie comes out that she can no longer train me. Always get things in writing and be careful what you say to these nut bags. They can be set off by anything. Choose your confrontation wisely.

  2. Really liked this article. Personally, I find that I tend to always “be nice” avoid confrontation at all cost….even when I’m seething inside. What happens, though, is that I accumulate and remember these incidents….then I will explode and let it all out, sometimes even on the wrong individual. I guess my point is to try to address and respond if I feel that I’m going to hold on to the toxicity, which of course is not healthy. I’m going to use your advice on dealing with these types of situations. Thanks for the wisdom !!

    1. Thank you for sharing this article and for the insight into a rather tricky area in most of our lives. I am a head in the sand kind of person and will do so most anything to avoid confrontation. Having saidv that, I am no Saint and tend to let issues lie and stew and then BANG, I am pushed that little bit to far. Everything comes out, mostly in the wrong way and I am left angry, confused and very shamefaced at the end. All I can say is that, in a perfect world Zingara would do it so much better. Until then……

    2. I do the same thing Joanne! It’s never good to let things fester, you just end up causing more stress for yourself over a long period of time. So happy this resonated with you!

  3. I find myself increasingly dismayed by avoidant relational dynamics. Maybe it’s the blight of technology that has resulted in folks offering monoyllabic responses or making unilateral decisions when there’s another person in the mix. True we need to discern what and who warrants our energy. Some battles are not worth fighting. However not all confrontations are battles. They are simply part and parcel to real intimacy. I for one would welcome more depth, more difficult conversations, more relational generosity. That’s where growth and love can flourish.

    1. Hi Sheri, this is so true. Many times we hide behind text messages, social media comments and emails and actually our in-real-life interactions are put out of practice and we forgot how to simply talk with one another! This is such a great observation.

  4. Excellent article..very useful….The older I get , it seems, the less willing I’ve found to tolerate the bullshit…However I also realized that there are people that just want to hook you into their drama..I found I no longer want to or care to. Therefore my confrontational personality was evolved into okay ..and opinions will vary…then with this air of the filterless commentsthey seem to believe i’m right your wrong and be ugly…Now I say I don’t give a shit what you think, nobody does and if you can’t be civil..well we got nothing to talk about..see ya…sine the last 3 administrations . I’ve lost friends that I’ve had for as much as 50 years . They can’t seem to vocalize without being brutally offensive in their opinions…and I’ve pointed that out…and also their high handiness seems to fall short when you bring up the obvious…by example…and rational discussion….so they either disappear or I have….it does sadden me…but my peace of mind and and comfort level has taken priority….don’t need or want the drama of over heated conversation and their dumping…now it’s to each his own and opinions will vary..and I gotta goand rearrange my sock draw…they need to to work on their people skills…I have…oh well…life goes on….thanks

  5. What do you do when you have toxic people in your life that suck your energy and make you feel low? What if they’re relatives and they’re around all the time? They can be jealous, hot-tempered, patronising, negative, with tunnel vision and don’t accept any constructive criticism.

    1. I feel this so much, I had to move back home after graduating from college and am trying to move out. I’m finding that after that distance from my parents I notice more often that their behavior is toxic and controlling. I can’t really distance myself from it when I live with them and know they’ll blame and turn me into the bad guy.

    2. I get it Elsie, these would probably be the “I’m stuck with them” category, and unfortunately situationally they’re around far too much. Is there a way to take yourself out of a situation where you’re together on a day-to-day basis? If there isn’t, I’d think a really meaningful sit down about things that need to change would be a good way to go!

  6. I learned this a long time ago.
    In your 30’s and 40’s you really care what people think about you.
    In your 50’s you stop caring.
    In your 60’s you realize that they were not even thinking about you at all!

  7. I loved this article. I’m not always nice; however, I’m the go to family/friend. I actually considered the mean and nasty person in my family YET they come running when they are in need. I’ve done for ALL (family/friends). Now, I’m doing for me, usually by LETTING GO (family/friends). LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR DRAMA. I seriously believe in people entering into your life for A SEASON, A REASON, AND A LIFETIME. Thanks for the insightful article.

  8. As a 63 year old woman, it took me a very long time to go against my “nice girl / good girl” upbringing and do anything to avoid any type of confrontation, particularly with relatives and close friends. With the relatives, I was lucky in that I saw them rarely. I tried the “let’s not talk about politics”, which worked most of the time, and the direct “that’s not any of your business”, which mostly didn’t and resulted in screaming matches. With friends, another story. When a friend of son=me 30 years called me, out of the blue, to promote a political candidate, I told them I would not discuss politics with them. The stream of insults that followed made it easy to cut them out of my life. I very rarely try to change anybody’s opinion. I will stress that they have their thoughts and feelings, I have mine, and it would be better if we didn’t discuss that subject. If they persist, quite frankly I speak softly and push them to a point where they wind up screaming and yelling and looking like the insane creatures that they very well might be.

  9. I just had a confrontation yesterday at a public train station. I asked myself to day all these questions. As someone who does not like discord, I felt this time, though a tricky situation,, I had to stand my ground. Good to read this today, I feel validated.

  10. If a good exchange of ideas and beliefs is possible it is always a great place to go but if it is just confrontation for confrontations sake forget it. I feel people have bypassed the skill of being assertive in an intelligent way and are either passive (nice) which is rarely nice when you are talking behind someone’s back or aggressive (stating your views or name calling) trying to shut down all conversation on the subject. Assertiveness takes education of oneself and tolerance of other views in the interest of learning and understanding why others may not have your views. It should be taught.

    1. I agree, it’s so hard to have a productive discussion when people are completely closed off to ideas that don’t echo their own. I’d say we all need to work on this right now! Thanks Christine!

  11. When it comes to myself, I’d much rather walk away, I don’t like arguing or being confrontational, but when it involves someone else and my children, I’m all in. If they’re wrong, then we deal with it personally elsewhere, but if their innocent then I deal with it right then and there! As for my spouse, he has this thing of “if he’s upset about something that happened between us, then he becomes more upset because I’m not upset with him”. It’s not until I give in and become super upset, then he’s happy and wants to tell me to calm down! I used to always fall into that trap, but now, I just go silent and let him throw hits fits until he calms down. Because I know who he is and how he nitpicks and tries to get under my skin to get a reaction out of me, I’ve learned to pick and choose what I’ll respond to nice and calmly, so he can just give up on his plan. In dealing with other people, again I pick and choose and most times the stuff isn’t even worth my breath. I just let them act a fool and embarrass themselves as I’m walking away. You can get in my face all day long, but if you touch me, then we have a problem! So then the question for them would be is this confrontation worth it?

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