My way or the highway

Copyright Jeff Krouwel 2014I love going to the cinema on my own; especially to a movie that’s been out for a while that everyone else has seen, and thus I get most of the cinema to myself. I pick a seat slap bang in the centre, take my shoes off, spread my scarf over my knees and settle back with my sweet & salted mixed popcorn that I paid for by selling a lung. I like being able to concentrate entirely on the film without worrying that I am breathing too loudly. But what I like MOST about going to the cinema on my own, is that afterwards, if I really loved the film, there is no one to disagree with me about it.  I can happily cycle home thinking about all the things I liked about it, composing never-to-be-written blog reviews in my head.

If this sounds dysfunctional to you, that’s probably because it is. I have always, ever since I can remember (and Mother DinosaurPirate would probably confirm from before I can remember), had a problem with people disagreeing with me.

As a child, I suspect this manifested in being willful and stubborn. I recall one argument when I was very small about Top of The Pops, and how if a number one single was number five in the charts last week, then really it should be described as having gone DOWN to number one, not UP to number one because ONE is a LOWER number than FIVE. I can’t remember how my exasperated Mother RPD dealt with this. I am pretty sure I had one as a teen with Mother DP about pelican crossings and whether they had stripes like a zebra crossing that resulted in me being ejected from the car and having to walk home.

You could put this down to two similarly made identically wilful women butting heads, except this pattern didn’t stop after I’d grown up and moved out and started having relationships. I suspect all of my exes would without hesitation describe me as ‘argumentative’. It’s not a label I enjoy. I actually really hate arguments – I hate being at odds with people. I hate falling out with people. I hate that scrunchy hot feeling inside you get when you’ve upset someone and the world falling apart feeling of having a big row with someone you really care about. And yet, I remain argumentative.

Part of this I am sure does come from the Mother ship, whether it’s in the DNA or learned behaviour I couldn’t say; but we both certainly have a burning need to correct the other person, and make them see exactly how they are wrong and why.

As I got older though, rather than growing out of it, it got worse. I had a huge argument with my first serious boyfriend about the fact that he was watching Waterworld. I thought it was a terrible movie with no redeeming features. He thought it was a terrible movie but fun to watch. The row that ensued as I tried to make him see how completely wrong he was was terrible to behold. Years later I became furious with a significant other who suddenly, after a blissful 6 months together, announced that he “didn’t like Tim Burton films. Or cartoons”. I couldn’t let that one slip by, and spent a significant portion of our precious time together (it was a long distance relationship) trying to show him the error of his ways through the medium of shouting and insults to his intelligence. He just put up with it, secure in the knowledge that after my initial shoutyness had gone, I’d feel all bad and scrunchy and apologise for being a massively unreasonable angermonster from mars.

No, I am not proud.

But it took that last row, the one about Tim Burton, and that particular significant other (who remains my closest friend to this day) gently pointing out that I had a problem when people disagreed with me, and wondering why that might be. He pointed out that when I was happy and chilled and relaxed, I didn’t have these sorts of fights. That they tended to happen the day he was due to go home, or when I’d had a bad day, or when I was hungover, or otherwise feeling a bit down or lost.  It was one of those hooooly shit moments.

In all the preceding 30 odd years of my life, even knowing I was argumentative but hated arguments, and always wondered why they kept happening around me, it had never occurred to me to connect the dots between my inability to allow other people to be wrong have a different opinion to me and my bouts of low mood. But he was right. When I was down, I needed people to agree with me. When I was feeling anxious or unsure, I wanted – no – I needed validation. And if someone disagreed with me, that must mean I was wrong. Or I’d chosen the wrong opinion. Or that my very values and sense of self were being picked apart.

I have suffered from low self-esteem for much of my life – back to at least puberty if not younger. This became most marked when I suffered from a breakdown which led to years of poor mental health. I think during those years was when I was at my most difficult and argumentative because it only took the teeniest-tiniest disagreement to make me question my entire being. My need for validation and my desire to be understood actually had the effect of making me come across as self-important, vain and conceited – when the truth was entirely the opposite. It became a downward spiral where my attempts to seek validation by wanting people to support my opinion pushed people away which made me feel even lower, and need even more validation. In the end it got to the point where I could barely even discuss anything of any importance with anyone, ever. Just in case I made myself worse.

I wish I could say “but I am all better now! I am brilliant at debating now. I learned how to tolerate difference and now I am totally a chilled out and cool dinosaur. I’m totes a chillasaurus rex.” But I can’t. Because that would be a massive lie. I still find living with a difference of opinion difficult. And often, I am mid-way through a huge row before I even notice that I am doing that thing again.

The survival strategy I have developed to get around it is to walk away the minute I realise I am doing the no you are wrong and I must show you that you are wrong because if you are not wrong then everything I know is wrong and I am a bad person thing, I just walk away. I take myself off into another room. I go outside. I lie face down on the bed. Anything. As long as I am away. 5 minutes in, I will realise how ridiculous I am being and that it’s perfectly fine for the other person to have a different opinion. That nothing bad will happen if they disagree. That we are still both good people. That the stars will still burn and the seas will still have tides and bunnies will still be cute and it’s all ok.

Of course, there are some things this doesn’t work with. Really fundamental differences of ideological opinion, for example. If, at some point in the future, I want to start looking to have a relationship which is going to be in any way functional, I need to  make sure that on the really big issues we match up. That the other person, isn’t, for example, a tory. Or with a strong religious belief. Or an anti-feminist. But if I can’t deal with having a relationship with someone who maybe prefers Alien to Predator, or ninjas to pirates, then I have serious problems and will be alone for the rest of my life.

While I *am* much better than I used to be – and this year of being hangover free and developing more confidence has helped hugely – I am still learning how to have conviction without needing validation.  I am learning to put in rules to prevent, or soften, arguments. For example, if I am tired or hungry I am more likely to NEED TO BE RIGHT, so I have a ban on discussions before breakfast. I warn people that if I walk away mid-heated-discussion it’s because I am aware I am becoming unreasonable and inflexible and that I need to cool my brain down. I write long replies to angry facebook posts and then delete them, walk away, have a cup of tea, and then write them 30 minutes later with less swearing. And I go to the cinema on my own.




  1. I’m curious, why is strong religious belief a barrier for you? Are you, possibly, conflating strong religious belief with evangelism? I have a strong religious belief but part of that belief is respecting that all beings are on their own journey through life, and that what is right for me may not be right for them. So while I can understand a revulsion for evangelism, having strong faith as a deal-breaker seems pretty odd to me.

    Sitting in the cinema alone is indeed a marvellous thing … though I pass on the overpriced snacks … because selling organs is all fun and games till somebody loses an eye.

    1. I had this discussion today! I haven’t fully worked through all my ideas, to be honest. I am very much live and let live when it comes to faith and belief, and I am ok with close friends having a faith if it makes them happy. But I do have issues with organised religion, and I suspect it would be a dealbreaker for me to find someone I was considering dating to be a member of a specific religion were they were actively worshipping their deity of choice.

      I would probably also have a problem dating a fervently active athiest, the sort of atheist that denies people with faith the right to get on with it in their own way.

      #agnostic4lyfe 😉

  2. I feel like I am reading a story that was based on my life. Your blog is phenomenal. I am having a blast perusing it. Roller Derby? Awesome. I am not allowed to roller skate… or do anything like that because I am a klutz and have destroyed one of my knees… But, I love it when girls are fierce, and most especially honest about who they are. I cannot wait to read more. Thanks so much for writing this!!!!

  3. This is really interesting, and made me reflect (a bit uncomfortably, sometimes) on myself. I can be an unreasonable angermonster from Mars, which really surprises people who don’t know me so well, because I come across as so quiet and thoughtful the rest of the time. I totally get that hot, scrunchy feeling of shame and guilt and all of the bad things that my anger has caused to happen, as well. I can spend DAYS beating myself up about how mean I was to someone; even if it didn’t particularly bother them, it just goes to show that I am a HORRIBLE person. etc.

    About 18 months ago I joined a local ‘Philosophy in Pubs’ group – mostly because it sounded like an interesting thing to do on a Tuesday night, and I barely knew anyone in Liverpool. And it has been an unexpectedly, amazingly great crash-course in separating my ideas from my sense of self. It helps that our regular crowd are lovely people, and that to some extent everybody struggles with this. I can’t honestly say that I never lose my temper and argue horrendously with the people I love these days, but I have got a lot, lot better at handling disagreement.

    That Tim-Burton-holy-shit guy sounds like a good friend.

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