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Mental Health

Confronting the Fear of Confrontation

    Confrontation. Even typing the word makes me shiver a bit. I have never liked confrontation, and when it comes to communication, I would rather let others have their way than attempt to start an argument. This has caused me a lot of complications, the worst of which have been with irresponsible roommates (not this year though, I promise!). I refused to stand up for myself in uncomfortable situations, and for that, I found myself in an environment that was terrible for my self-esteem and mental health. It was simply easier to suffer in silence than to hurt their feelings and affect our relationship, but I knew that there must have been a better way. 

    I’m here to bring everyone good news! I did, perhaps too late, find a better way, and it’s as simple as seven letters. DEARMAN is an acronym that stands for the steps of collaborative communication between you and whomever you wish to express your feelings towards. This works well in any cooperative space, as well, including work environments, classroom settings, and even platonic and romantic relationships. 

    The DEARMAN communication system is actually a therapeutic process for dialectical behavior, a diagnosis that relates to a term I don’t like…personality disorder. I prefer to call personality disorders chemical imbalances because, in truth, that is what they are. Ranging from mental complications such as anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc. to physical self-destructive tendencies, mainly eating disorders and self-harm rituals, dialectical behaviors are less of a weakness in one’s strength than a hindrance of one’s spirit. This is why DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) is so important in applying emotional regulation to managing relationships. 

    Whether you identified yourself in the list of disorders or not, the DEARMAN system provides one with a way to accept, validate, and express her opinions in a courteous manner. Women are typically seen as rude when they assert their opinions, but with this system, introverts and extroverts alike can effectively argue a point without excluding emotions!


  Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com

DESCRIBE: Describe the situation in only factual terms. This makes your audience aware of the situation and reveals the problem at hand. For example: “Hey, Roomie, I noticed that there are dishes piling up in the sink and I want to see if we can find a way to keep that area clean.” Boom. No confrontation, no blame, just facts.

EXPRESS: Express your current emotion without ever mentioning the other person; using an “I” statement is highly recommended. Ex: “I get very anxious when my space is cluttered, and when I use the kitchen, I like to have the sink clean so I can put in dirtied dishes as I cook.” 

ASSERT: This is an explanatory step, but it has to be direct. “We need to find a way to keep the sink clean.” Your statement should not leave anyone guessing as to what you wish the end result to be.

REINFORCE: Here, you should give a positive affirmation so that your audience has an open mind when considering the next steps. “I know you’ve been busy with school and projects lately, we both have, so obviously we aren’t running the dishwasher every day.”

MINDFUL: If you do get an emotional response, simply be aware of that person and that situation. Don’t let them lead you astray with something like, “Well, you always let laundry pile up!” Each problem has its own solution, and now is only the time for one discussion.

APPEARANCE: Keep your poise, confidence, and respectfulness in check while addressing your audience. Give the impression that you want a clean resolution and refuse to take no as an answer.

NEGOTIATE: You are not going to be able to get your audience to change her/their ways, so finding the middle ground will benefit you both. Perhaps you set up a cleaning schedule, or she washes the dishes and you dry them. The sink is emptied, but you don’t have to do it all yourself! And who knows, maybe one day, she’ll load the dishwasher without being prompted. 

With DEARMAN, you make your emotions known without blaming the person(s), which is what leads to confrontation. This was a very useful checklist for when I would try to overcome my anxiety, as one of the most effective ways to change a situation is to just simply communicate that you are uncomfortable in it. Many people don’t know that their actions are offending or upsetting you, so if you address the issue without criticizing them, they’ll usually modify their behavior without the last step of negotiation. 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com


There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, we want to cooperate with each other in a pleasant environment, whether that’s in a meeting room or a living room, so we will do our best to assist and comfort those around us. DBT isn’t just for those affected by illness or trauma; we all want to create meaningful relationships, and we can do that by improving our communication skills. Keep this list tucked away in your back pocket, and any time you fear the impending doom of confrontation, just remember that your emotions are valid, and anyone who values your relationship will hear you out and work to find a solution that benefits you both. 

Trust me, you won’t regret keeping your sink clean and your friendship intact!

Alea Lehr

Cal Lutheran '21

A Biology major with a love for anything and everything in the ocean! Any time away from examining coral structures, wading through streams, looking at cells, or grappling immunohistofluorescence is spent reading, writing, and baking. (She has the best banana bread recipe) Though she mostly composes scientific papers, creative writing is her true passion, and when she isn't coming up with an article, she's jotting down ideas for novels. During a bad case of writer's block, she tries to find inspiration by talking to her best friend, and dog, Bear.
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