Overcoming the Fear of Conflict: Why Standing Up to Narcissists and Bullies is Easier than You Believe

Most of us are terrified of conflicts. And much of our lives are spent avoiding them. If possible, we’ll end significant relationships altogether to soothe our worries. But, most of the time, our worries are irrational. Remember what it was like when you were a kid and had to, or witnessed someone having to, confront the class bully? Do you remember how scary it was and how much you feared being hurt? Did the bully back down when he realized your strength or did he continue to insult and threaten you?

Most of the time, if not all, bullies, or high-level narcissists, pick on the vulnerable; they collect easy wins. As a kid, I don’t ever recall a bully attempting to scare someone who wasn’t already afraid of him; some instinct helped him discern his targets from the rest of the group. For the bully’s greatest fear is exposure, the risk of which is wholly intolerable. So, although it’s natural for us to fear conflict, because, after all, we don’t want our own weaknesses revealed, the question that can help most is: Can this person, at some point, begin to fear me more than I fear them? If so, then how?

The child bully fears being beaten up, so he manages his fear by only fighting weaker kids; but, the adult bully fears the acknowledgement of his imperfections, so he insults and belittles only those who’ll remain silent. Even though our aversion to conflict is innate, it’s also usually irrational. I was afraid to stand up for myself for most of my life because of how ashamed I felt about my vulnerabilities. As a kid, I was an easy target and still, to some extent, am and will always be. Yet, in that ease lies an opportunity, as my flaws are visible to most people, so there isn’t much to expose, which grants me the ability to mitigate my fear. If what can be seen already is, then what sort of power does someone else hold over me? At this stage, especially since I began blogging, most of my flaws are pretty much evident.

And through introspection, I think that most of us will realize that the bully’s exposure is much more harmful to him, even if that exposure is merely his target’s assertive response. Even by saying something along the lines of “You’re a bully,” your label automatically paints him in a negative light, which will invariably terrify him. However, most of us remain afraid, and our fear is based in self-loathing. As I’m writing this, I’m afraid that someone will comment on one of my weak points, as though they completely negate the person I am. And this is what narcissists pick up on and use; they remind you of all of the reasons why you’ll never be good enough, and you believe them because you already believed them before their comments stabbed you.

When I was bullied, I ran away from the obvious; I was short, wore big glasses, and had a lazy eye. Everyone knew that, and I still somehow feared the exposure. There was nothing left to expose. That was it; all they had on me. And becoming an adult, I realized that most people didn’t care; those flaws meant more to me than they did to the world. Despite their cool exteriors, the revelations of my bullies’ flaws, the toxicity of their deeds and the stench of their characters, encompassed their own terror. As you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re thinking, “But they often bully people in public?” They do, but they also control the narrative by justifying their actions. Although most people may accept the obvious immorality of their choices, each person likely believes that the others share the bully’s perspective; thus, the tyrants hold on to their power. The upside is that all it takes is one individual, and she doesn’t need to be frightened.

The bully is often as afraid as you are, often even more so. Beginning to accept my weaknesses was helpful in helping me become more adept at assertiveness, which I still struggle with. I continually find it hard to write about certain topics, like this one, because of how vulnerable I feel. And I have to remind myself that these just happen to be my flaws (yes, they are flaws and that’s okay). Others have their own versions. Then, I think back to the film 8 Mile where, in the end, Eminem’s character reveals all of his weaknesses to shut down his rival; the battle rap ends once Em accepts his flaws. Preemptively, he removes the venom from the scorpion’s tail.

Unfortunately, all of this is relative, and, sometimes, a narcissist may posses truly damaging information, so it’s up to you assess whether or not you ought to stand up to him. But, if he can’t ruin your life and/or can only declare what others already know, then what’s really the fear? What if your weaknesses, like most of mine, are already known? And what if the world just doesn’t care?

1 Comment

  1. I’ve stood up to many a narcissist and/or bully, and they frequently found a way to use my own words against me and get me in trouble. Even telling on them failed, cos my attackers changed the story to get me in trouble.

    27 years ago, at 18, I was almost raped by a 14-year-old. When I reported the attack, he and his fat ugly sister, who was in on the planning, changed the story to make it look like I attacked him. I was given detention for lying and became a total pariah throughout junior and senior years of high school.

    My attacker’s sister then threatened to have me arrested for statutory rape if I ever ignored or stood up to her.

    Like

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