I was conditioned from a really young age to be passive and go along with whatever was happening (mostly because of my dad’s temper. He was never abusive but he was very angry and it was never worth the battle to disagree with him), so now everytime i get into a disagreement or heated discussion with someone I end up crying and choking up to the point that I can’t get a sentence out. Do you have any advice for being able to argue inspite of this?
realsocialskills said:
A few suggestions:
It might help to communicate more slowly when things aren’t urgent. For instance:
  • Some conversations might be possible for you to have over email, but not in person
  • It’s ok to say “let’s move this conversation to email so I can figure out what I think without melting down”
  • It’s also ok to need to pause the conversation from time to time
  • Needing the conversation to be over for a while doesn’t mean you’ve conceded the point
  • Some things are urgent, but a lot of conversations can be slowed down

Learn to use the word “maybe”:

  • It’s ok not to know what you want
  • It’s ok not to know whether you’re ok with something
  • It’s ok to need time to figure it out
  • “Maybe” is an important word, you don’t always have to say yes or no immediately

It might help not to rely so much on your voice:

  • A lot of people who can’t get words out for various reasons can still type
  • You might find that typing is more reliable than speech for you when a conversation gets emotionally intense
  • An iPad can be really useful for this since it is very portable
  • You can use a text-to-speech app (Verbally is a free one, Proloquo4Text is a dramatically better but also more expensive one),
  • Or you can even type in Notes and show the screen to the person you’re talking to
  • Or sometimes typing the thing first can make it possible to say the thing with your voice.

It might help to make less eye contact:

  • If you’re intimidated, looking at someone’s face can make matters worse
  • If you aren’t looking at their face, it might be easier to think and speak
Do any of y’all have suggestions for things that help with this?

billiestiletto said:

I think a lot of this is good advice. As someone who experiences a very similar reaction to what Anon describes, I’d like to add the following:

  • Not making eye contact is a good point. Often I’ll look upward when I’m trying to think of what to say, down when I’m listening and trying to get my thoughts straight, or sometimes look at another part of the person’s body. It can also help to keep your eyes closed for a bit or use something to cover them that you can also wipe your tears with.
  • Typing can be extremely useful - I am much better at handling myself during a disagreement or heated conversation over text or email, sometimes even on the phone - but sometimes in immediate, face-to-face conversations you don’t have the ability to change the medium of the conversation, or it might make you too uncomfortable to ask to change the medium of the conversation.
  • In these situations, sometimes what you can do is excuse yourself for a few minutes to break up the conversation. You can leave and go into the bathroom to take a few minutes to get it out of your system, so to speak; regain your composure and think about how you feel and how you can phrase it when you return to the conversation. You also absolutely can leave, or ask the other person to leave, so that you can have some time to think.
  • Sometimes you can’t get it out of your system and you end up struggling through the conversation regardless, but that’s okay. Sometimes when I get upset it can take me a *long* time to be able to stop crying. It’s okay to have emotional reactions to things that some people think are disproportionate. I know how frustrating it is when you want to converse calmly and rationally but your body is overtaking you.
  • Sometimes half the reason I get emotional is because I am frustrated at myself for getting emotional. It’s a vicious cycle. If you experience this, I’d recommend trying to be gentle and understanding with yourself. Don’t be embarrassed that you’re crying.
  • Silence helps. If you’re too upset to say anything, you don’t have to say anything. You can tell someone if you’re being quiet during an argument, “I’m just trying to collect my thoughts,” or “Please give me a minute to think about what I’d like to say,” something along those lines. It’s possible that may give you enough time to regain your faculty of speech. Acknowledging that you’re upset can help, too. “I’m upset right now, but I’m trying to get my thoughts straight.”
  • Oftentimes, when I’m in a close enough relationship with the person, I’ll explain to them at some point that this is something that happens when I get upset. If they’re respectful, they might notice this when it happens and be a little more understanding and give you space. It also can help people understand that you’re not trying to be manipulative when you start to cry during an argument (I think this is an unfair assessment, by the way, but it happens).
  • I used to apologize when I started crying and try to justify myself with saying things like, “I’m still interested in a rational discussion, but I’m getting upset, so please give me a minute to speak.” You don’t owe them an apology, though. Everybody reacts differently to difficult conversations, and your reaction is OK.
  • People who might accuse you of being manipulative or too sensitive are being unfair. You don’t owe it to them to talk the way *they* want you to talk. I always find it harder to regain composure if I know that someone is getting frustrated with me or starting to become accusatory, so in these situations I find it most important to extract myself from the conversation for a while. If someone brings this up, maybe you can say something like, “If you feel this way, maybe we should finish this conversation later when I’m more together.” That gives you a chance to gracefully leave the conversation and approach it fresh at a later time.
  • In some situations, jokes help. I think it’s important to be kind to yourself, but a bit of self-deprecating humour can sometimes help break through the emotional wall that’s getting you too upset to speak. If you can find a way to laugh at yourself a little, it might not only easy the seriousness of the conversation enough to allow you to calm down, but also help the other person understand that you’re experiencing a reaction you can’t fully control. “Wow, look at me go! I’ve got so much snot coming out of my nose, let me go get a kleenex.” (Crying sucks.) Of course, this depends a lot on the person you’re arguing with, what you’re arguing about, and what their temperament is like.

I hope this helps a little. This post piqued my interest because it’s something I’ve struggled with for years.