Picking up where we left off in our blog from last week (which you can find in the resources section below), we all know that despite the best of intentions to resolve conflict through healthy confrontation lovingly, the other person doesn’t always respond the way we hope. Why is this? Sometimes, the knowledge that they have hurt someone they love compels them to respond defensively or in a way that allows them to avoid feeling the weight of their own blame. This might be a normal part of the process and can come from a healthy place of love. With a little time and patience, that person is likely to apologize and make an effort to resolve the issue to restore intimacy between you. Other times, the person might disagree with your characterization of events causing the discussion to be a stalemate. But when two people are truly committed to keeping a healthy connection in the relationship, even when these things happen, eventually they will come up with a mutually respectful plan that can meet both of their needs and restore the relationship. It might take time, patience, and a few attempts at communication, but it doesn’t usually need to remain in a stalemate.
And yet there are those people who will never respond well to confrontation, no matter how hard you try to communicate clearly and lovingly nor the amount of patience you are willing to extend. Instead, they will use tactics that hurt you or shut you down. They will do anything to avoid meaningful connection and personal responsibility. When you are on the receiving end of their assault, it hurts significantly. Most often, because confrontation (especially with this type of person) significantly increases our anxiety levels, you’re already vulnerable when they respond aggressively or passive-aggressively which increases the effect it has upon you. This makes it exceedingly difficult to respond well or to set healthy boundaries. If your partner is a true avoider and possibly someone abusive, they will resist connection and accountability. They are more apt to find ways to punish and retaliate against you.
So what happens when your attempt at confrontation spurs gaslighting?
Gaslighting occurs when someone creates a false narrative to another in order to confuse them, cause them to doubt their own perceptions or to deny, mislead, disorient or distress them (see blog on gaslighting blog in resources section below). Gaslighting or other covert behaviors, which you can find definitions for on our website (see our terms and definitions in the resources section below), can be used as a successful way for your partner to avoid responsibility and shift the focus of the discussion onto you. If you’re not careful, you might take the bait and jump to the defense, which will sabotage your ability to resolve the issue you raised in the first place. Just because someone uses these tactics to avoid confrontation doesn’t automatically mean you are in an abusive relationship. These are common tactics many people use to avoid the stress of confrontation and owning up to the fact that they have harmed you.
Let’s use a common hypothetical here: say you approach your partner about your concern about their excessive use of pornography. You followed all of the steps we mentioned in Part 1 of this blog series for healthy confrontation to identify the problem and explain how it made you feel. Rather than telling you they hear you and want to respond in a way that will address your concerns and fears, they blame you for their addiction because they say you’re not having enough sex with them. Or perhaps you should be viewing it with them to make your sex life better. Or maybe you’re not exercising enough for them to feel attracted to you or you have put on too much weight, etc. Perhaps you’ve been trying to get them to help more around the house or with the kids and to avoid helping they instead attack you by calling you controlling or overly aggressive, which caused them to turn to porn. They might even go so far as to tell other people in your circle that they are distressed because you won’t be intimate with them and they plant ideas in others’ minds leading them to wonder if you’re the one who is having an affair. This is gaslighting or blame shifting. In other words, they make every attempt to divert the focus from them and place it onto you all the while failing to own any personal responsibility or to identify any action steps they are willing to take to resolve the issue. Their chosen response is used to bolster their position, deflect, and make it nearly impossible for you to confront the primary issue, their use of pornography.
So, how do you respond? Here are a few steps you can take when you are faced with this unhealthy or abusive reactions and in deciding how best to respond.
But what if I don’t trust my instincts? It is not uncommon for someone who is a victim of abuse to arrive at a place of such significant self doubt that it is difficult for them to trust their gut. Over time within an abusive relationship, they might stop hearing the alarm that goes off when their gut is telling them something is not right. They have been minimized, gaslit and devalued for so long, they question their own perceptions to the point of becoming numb to them. Often, their deep desire to save their relationship and feel love again blinds them to the harm their partner is causing and makes the victim all too willing to ignore any internal alerts in order to “save the relationship.” For now, it’s okay if you are unsure whether you can trust your instincts. Please just know that you are in process and have grace for yourself. Over time, as you build your internal sense of value and confidence , this will not be a problem for you anymore. In the meantime, following these simple steps will still help you in this situation.
Pause or Take a Step Back. When the attempt at healthy confrontation goes awry due to your partner’s response, it’s important to take a pause and step back at least in your mind before you choose how to respond. Don’t respond immediately, or you might find yourself stuck in a maze of crazy making behaviors. You might even need to take a break from the conversation altogether and return to it hours later or maybe the next day. Remind yourself of the purpose for the conversation. Ask yourself whether your partner has addressed the core issue you presented up front. If not, you may respond by redirecting the communication to the core issue you are trying to address. “I hear what you are saying but right now I would like for you to address the issue I have raised before we move to other topics.”
When Confrontation Fails, What’s Next?
Whatever you do, please make sure you do not remain in hiding from others about this issue as the isolation can increase your own confusion, depression, or lack of self worth. It’s also important to to practice strong self care routines during this time. (To see past blogs on self care see the resource section). The best thing you can do is to care well for yourself and work on redeeming a positive self identity. We value you. You are worth it!
SIGN UP FOR MAY’S FREE INTENSIVE “WHEN FAITH LEADERS SEEK TO END DOMESTIC VIOLENCE” – https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIqdeuvrTgtE9eDDe-ZRYPNrCRewC9Y4fH1
SIGN UP FOR JUNE’S FREE INTENSIVE “PTSD? COMPLEX PTSD? WHAT’S THE SCOOP?” – https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMsdemorz4jGdCdQqjXHKoLoZq3O9W58fI6
WHEN HEALTHY CONFRONTATION SPURS GASLIGHTING, PART I- https://themendproject.com/when-healthy-confrontation-spurs-gaslighting-part-i/
GASLIGHTING BLOG- https://themendproject.com/gaslighting-a-toxic-form-of-abuse-that-is-highly-misunderstood/
GASLIGHTING A NARCISSISTS FAVORITE FORM OF ABUSE BLOG- https://themendproject.com/gaslighting-2/
COVERT EMOTIONAL ABUSE TERMS AND DEFINITIONS- https://themendproject.com/am-i-the-victim-of-emotional-abuse/you-are-not-crazy/#definitions
SELF-CARE GROUNDING BLOG- https://themendproject.com/3472-2/
CARING FOR YOURSELF- https://themendproject.com/3-simple-ways-vi…uring-quarantine/