So you're in a fight.
If the person you're fighting with sent you this article, that either means they're super manipulative…or that you have some work to do. It's a toss-up at this point.
If you think you might be in a manipulative relationship, you should learn how to recognize one. But if you reacted violently to the headline before you read the first paragraph, then that's not a good sign.
First thing's first, what is the fight about? Just kidding. It doesn't matter what set things off or who said the first mean thing, because all fights are essentially the same.
It turns out that you and someone you care about don't see each other quite the way you each see yourselves. You both got defensive and said some things that probably could have remained in that mean part of your head — the part that has a lot of thoughts about other people's tattoos.
With any luck you've already passed the initial shock and indignation of another person challenging your self-perception and you're ready to move on. Maybe you still think that they're wrong — they might be — but you're probably more focused on figuring out a way to get past this whole mess so you don't have to feel upset and unmoored and distracted all day.
Unfortunately, that may mean that you have to put some serious effort into considering the idea that you're in the wrong — at least partially. And if you start to think that you might be, you'll have to figure out how you're going to admit it to the other person… Hopefully these tips — from someone who has spent his life struggling with these issues — can help you get there. To get things started, try to...
Be open to learning about yourself
Only you know your innermost thoughts. That's your exclusive space, and in that sense you know yourself better than anyone ever will. But that inner knowledge can drown out some of the awareness of how you present to the world. You may think that the pure and virtuous motivations that underly your every act are evident, but you really can't know your role in the world without being open to the insights and observations of the people around you.
You might think that everyone values your frank, no-nonsense approach to life, but they might just think you're kind of an assh*le. Or maybe you strive to connect with the people around you by being open and comfortable with your emotional experience on a daily basis. That's a lovely thought, but don't be surprised if it turns out that they all think you're an oversharing narcissist.
If you're not willing to learn from other people's perspectives, you will gain the distinct advantage of never having to admit that you're wrong, but you are also going to slowly alienate everyone in your life. If, on the other hand, you like not feeling utterly, painfully alone in the world, you will occasionally need to see yourself from another person's perspective and tamp down that defensive impulse, which means you must be able to…
Identify the signs
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That flush of heat around your temples, the searching mindset — looking for the tiniest flaw in the other person's argument. It's official. Your hackles are up and you've gone full defense mode. Whether we realize it or not, most of us live under the assumption that we're pretty much always in the right, and that when it looks like we aren't, that's just because we haven't figured out the correct way of looking at the situation.
If you find yourself replaying each word the other person says, looking for a mistake they made — a counterexample, or some proof of their hypocrisy — you're doing it wrong. You're trying to win, which always gets in the way of understanding and fixing things.
Just because it's called a fight, doesn't mean that an argument with someone you care about should be all about scoring points and damaging the other person's case. It's natural to feel attacked, but if you let your wounded pride rule you, you're going to miss the forest for the trees.
Mixed in with whatever flaws you find in their logic, they probably have a point. If you can notice the way pride works to block out the other person's perspective, you can start to tamp that pride down. A good first step might be to…
Remember that you're kind of an idiot
On some level you know it's true. Remember when you forgot how to spell "dentures," and spelled it "denchers" instead? You — just like everyone else on earth — are kind of an idiot.
You're basically an ape that spends all its time pretending to have things figured out. Most of the time you do a good enough job that you can even convince yourself, but it's important not to confuse the mask for your real face — the slack-jawed one with eyes fully glazed over.
The amount you don't know about the world is staggering — do you know how clouds stay in the air? Did you know that cinnamon is a type of tree bark? Do these things matter to your life? Probably not, but the fact that you don't know them probably means that there are some things that do matter that you're overlooking too.
Like maybe you really do have a problem with interrupting people, or not cleaning up after yourself, or making a big deal about the difference between "Frankenstein," and "Frankenstein's monster." You're kind of an idiot. So have some humility and swallow your pride. Once you've done that, you can…
Let some things go
Even if you do notice a flaw in the other person's argument, you don't always have to tell them. Maybe they said that you pay more attention to Twitter than you do to the people sitting right next to you.
It's probably not important to point out that you're actually on Instagram. If you get hung up on little details like that, then you're not going to get anywhere. You're just going to prove to the other person that you aren't willing to meet them halfway. Instead, you can always…
Start by asking yourself some questions. Think about something the other person said that really got under your skin, and instead of saying, "I'm inconsiderate?! What about the time you accused me of overwatering my plants?!"
Ask yourself if you can think of an example of when you were a little bit thoughtless. It doesn't matter if you were exhausted and starving and you'd had a really hard day, you still ate the last slice of their birthday cake — along with all the other slices. We can all make excuses for ourselves, but they don't erase our faults.
If you can't think of an example yourself, maybe ask them if they can think of one — not to put them on the spot, but to better understand what they're talking about. If they can give you one, remember to be open to it.
Don't try to erase the way it made them feel just because that wasn't your intention. If they can't give you an example off the top of their head, leave it open — they can tell you if they think of one later on, or point it out to you the next time the issue comes up. Once you feel like you understand what you did wrong, you can start figuring out how to…
There are three parts to a proper apology. You need to acknowledge what you did, express remorse and an understanding of the way you made the other person feel, and offer some form of restitution — a way to make things right.
You may not be able to throw a replacement birthday party, but you can at least bake another cake and invite some friends to share it. If you aren't ready to do all of those things, you aren't ready to apologize. You can say you're sorry, but with the condition that you're still figuring stuff out.
If you've done everything you can — to be open to learning, to recognize your pride, to remember your own stupidity, to let some things go, and to ask lots of questions — and you still aren't ready to apologize, then you either have nothing to apologize for, or you're an inhuman monster who can't be helped. Good luck!