People look out for themselves. We first look out for our own interests, as in what's in it for me? This is our automatic, animalistic, reflexive, hair-trigger response; it's usually not done out of conscious choice. But what's worse? It's antagonistic nature causes others to get triggered as well.
Antagonism is defined as active hostility or opposition.
Antagonism is what comes naturally to us, and it requires us being on opposite sides. It's us vs them. You've probably seen this behavior before in humans.
When we are on opposite sides, survival mode takes over. Someone takes a position, and the other takes the opposite position, creating opposition by definition. This opposition creates a tug-of-war, and it generates an inertia which has us continue down along a path that takes us right down the drain. We can't seem to stop ourselves.
The more we do it the more we do it.
A few years ago I had a fairly serious injury. I had, among other things, a herniated disc in my spine. The disc was pressing on the spinal cord which was in turn causing my sciatic nerve to get pinched. The pinching was causing inflammation in the nerve – which caused a tremendous amount of pain. The sciatic nerve passes through a gap between the vertebrae out of the spinal column, and down your leg, but since the pinching caused the nerve to become inflamed, it wasn't fitting through the gap. And, the more it got pinched, the more inflamed it would get, and the more inflamed it would get, the more it would get pinched. And around it went.
It's what we call a Vicious Circle.
I have since, thankfully, resolved that particular vicious circle and I'm back to being pain-free.
But the same principle holds true for our arguments. The more you argue, the more you trigger the other person to argue, and the more they trigger you to argue, and around you go – down the drain.
Let me show you an example of what I'm talking about.
If someone says: You were late. You get triggered.
Now the fact is this: either you were late or you weren't late. But either way, you will feel the need to oppose it. You will deny it. Most likely, in order to protect yourself from the attack (the perceived attack of being accused of being late), you're going to argue that you weren't late. Which is then going to make the other person argue that you were late. And off you go...
This argument is basically: You were late, No I wasn't. Yes, you were, No, I was not.
What's going on here? It's insanity: doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.
The bottom line with these types of arguments is: When our defenses get triggered we feel like we have to, we are compelled to, our instinct makes us try to prove that we're right (and/or they're wrong).
But, it's a complete waste of time! It's a waste of time because being right doesn't make a difference. You're still arguing in circles.
When you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, it's a trap! Just like the Chinese finger trap, the harder you fight the more trapped you get.
Don't worry. There is a way out... the only way out is to relax. However, there is no relaxing in survival mode! So, what you have to do is get out of survival mode....
Instead of arguing around in circles, the next time you find yourself fighting to be right about something, relax, and try focusing on listening to what the other person is saying. Set aside your knee-jerk reaction to defend yourself, and just listen to them. Let them say everything they have to say, until they are done saying it. It's true you might find it to be uncomfortable, but you will live through it. Really.
What's in it for you? They'll be more willing to listen to what you have to say, meaning you are more likely to be heard when it's your turn to talk. And isn't that what you really need anyway, to be heard and understood?
Try it, and let me know how it goes...
Caren Field (MA, LLPC) is an individual and couples counselor and author of 7 Steps on the Path to Partnership, a free eBook. She teaches people exactly how human nature and going into survival mode kills relationships. Her on-line courses The Partnership Q&A Call Program and The Path to Partnership Bootcamp are designed to show people how to get out of their own way so they can create healthy and happy partnerships with the people that matter most to them.