This is why, why we fight
Why we lie awake
And this is why. This is why we fight

When we die
We will die
With our arms unbound

And this is why. This is why
Why we fight
Come hell

– The Decemberists, Why We Fight

Very few of us enjoy fighting. We don’t thrive on conflict. Most of us, given the opportunity, would rather avoid it. Sometimes, when one person in an emotional conversation shuts down, it’s viewed as them avoiding conflict. They’re seen as not wanting to aggravate the situation. Sometimes it’s true.

I can be quite masterful at shutting down. There are plenty of instances in my life, as several partners would attest to, when I just stopped talking and, if they pushed, went to my room and hid in bed silently. As someone who doesn’t talk much to begin with, and someone who has been analyzing their choices and mistakes very closely in the past ten months, this is obviously an unhealthy response. But I’m still not sure why I did it, or if I even did it for the same reasons every time.

A common thought I had during these shutdowns was “Anything you say will just make this worse.” The idea that no matter what words came out of my mouth, they’d be taken as the worst possible interpretation. No amount of rephrasing or backpedaling will be able to soothe the emotions that the first sentence out of my mouth would be. Another thought was that I was afraid that if I spoke, I’d yell. I am generally a soft spoken person. I don’t like to raise my voice and, in a situation where it feels like I need to, I’ll usually just decide not to say anything. (That applies to sitting in a noisy restaurant as well as the beginning of a conflict.) The most common thought, though, was that if I say anything, if I open the gates holding back the words, then I won’t be able to stop them from flooding out and, more importantly, that flood will be accompanied by an ocean of tears. I never wanted people to see me cry. I never wanted to be vulnerable with someone. I still don’t… but I realize now that those people that would see it are the ones who most deserve to see me as I am, vulnerable and insecure about it. That’s the hardest challenge for me in being authentic, the biggest change I’m going to have to embrace.

Why am I writing about this? Because I’ve recently been on the other end of it. I’ve been the one who wanted a discussion, who wanted to have an honest, if awkward, conversation. I wanted that level of authenticity from someone who wasn’t prepared to show it. I pushed, probably too much, and the more I pushed, the more they shut down until I finally realized the irony of the situation, the role reversal that I was witnessing. That’s when I backed off and gave them their space, left them to their thoughts, and then went my own way and had the first anxiety attack I’ve had in months.

Is this how I made other people feel when I shut down? My first response is that it’s amazing that anyone ever stuck around as long as they did. I quickly realized, though, why they remained. They may not have understood what was happening in my mind, but they stayed anyway. They wanted to know those thoughts, even if they were going to hurt their feelings. They wanted to help, even though I was pushing them away. They stayed because they loved me.

Conflict isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. Sometimes the fight needs to happen. Sometimes the words need to be said out loud, even if they hurt. People aren’t always going to agree, and they need be able to express their beliefs or opinions openly or else there will never be any way to find a resolution, even if that resolution is that the two parties in disagreement don’t interact anymore on that topic. But both parties will, at least, know what the other thinks/feels, and will have that knowledge for the future. They will be able to treat each other with respect and, hopefully, with love.

Here I am now, pouring these words out at four in the morning with work waiting for me in four hours, unable to sleep because I can’t turn off my brain. No, that’s not true. I can, I just refuse to. I won’t turn off my brain. I’m not going to be that person anymore. I’m not going to bottle things up and shut down that part of me that hurts. I’m not that person anymore. I’m going to sit through this, analyze it and try to understand it better, to understand myself better, no matter how hard it feels. I’m going to ride out the conflict within myself, to have that fight that I’ve never had the courage to have with others, in the hopes that the aftermath gives me that courage for the future.

To anyone whom I’ve shut out before, I’m sorry. I never realized how it felt from your end, and I thank you for putting up with it. I owe it to all of you to correct this behavior and be a more authentic person. I owe it to myself.

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