In addition to casual bad communication habits, we are all guilty of some of the worst communication habits. When we’re under stress, these styles represent our reaction to a situation that really “pushes our buttons!”


Two Styles Under Stress

We all tend towards one of two styles under stress. This doesn’t mean we never show up in the other; it just means more times than not our primary style is what we trend toward. The two styles correlate with the fight or flight response our body has when we experience an adrenal response (where our adrenal glands release cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine).
  • Silence: Silence is when we tend to withdraw or distance ourselves from (or completely avoid) tense, conflictual situations. We believe that there isn’t a good way to approach the situation, so it’s better just to get away from it. We choose to not say or do anything versus saying or doing the wrong thing.
  • Violence: Violence doesn’t typically refer to physical acts of violence (though it could). In this style under stress we tend to pursue or go after resolution of a situation, instead of withdrawing or avoiding. Our volume may increase along with our intensity. We feel an internal pressure to keep after it until resolution is found, even when the other person doesn’t wish to continue the interaction.

It is a fool’s choice to believe the only way to handle a situation is either through silence or violence. Neither are helpful. Both silence and violence keep us from meaningful dialogue. They are what we go to though, when we don’t feel safe in a situation (resulting in an adrenal response). When we don’t feel respected by the other person or question whether they really care about what matters to us in the conversation, we start to react defensively with silence or violence.

Clever Stories

What’s worse are the clever stories we tell ourselves to justify our fool’s choice between silence or violence. These handy tales help us feel good about behaving badly.
  • Villain Stories: In these clever stories we assign motives to the other person that make them out to be “the bad guy.” Bad guys, after all, are not reasonable, rationale, decent human beings who we should treat with respect. We are completely justified in shutting them out in silence or going after them in violence.
  • Victim Stories: These clever stories go hand-in-hand with villain stories. In victim stories, we paint ourself as the innocent victims of the villain’s villainy. Sure, how we showed up wasn’t helpful, but we wouldn’t have if they hadn’t.
  • Helpless Stories: What else could we do? Helpless stories justify our behavior by working to convince ourself and others that how we handled the situation, no matter how abysmal the results, was the only way we could have.

Reactions When We Get Hooked

Withdrawal  I avoid others or alienate myself without resolution; I sulk and use the silent treatment. 
Stonewall  I turn into a stone wall by not responding; I present myself as catatonic. 
Withhold  I withhold my affections, feelings, sexual intimacy, or love from others. 
Avoidance  I busy myself with activities to avoid situations. 
Escalation  My emotions spiral out of control; I argue, raise my voice, fly into a rage. 
Earn-it mode  I try to do more to earn others’ love, care, or approval. 
Negative beliefs  I believe others are far worse than they really are; I attribute negative motives to others. I see others through a negative lens or in a negative light. 
Blaming  I place responsibility on others, not accepting fault; I’m convinced the problem is someone else’s fault. 
Innocent Victim  I see others as malicious attackers and myself as put upon, unfairly accused, mistreated, or unappreciated. 
Arrogance  I posture myself as superior, better than, or wiser than others. 
Selfishness  I become more concerned with myself and my interests, feelings, wants, or desires. 
Exaggeration  I make overstatements or enlarge my words beyond bound or the truth; I use words like “always” and “never.” 
Tantrums  I have a fit or react with a bad temper. 
Denial  I refuse to admit the truth or reality. 
Invalidation  I devalue others; I do not appreciate who others are, how they feel, what they think, or what they do. 
Defensiveness  Instead of listening, I defend myself by trying to provide an explanation. 
Clinginess  I develop a strong emotional attachment or dependence on others. 
Passive-aggressive  I display negative emotions, resentment, and aggression in unassertive passive ways, such as procrastination or stubbornness. 
Caretaking  I become responsible for others by giving physical or emotional care and support to the point that I am doing everything for them and they do nothing to care for themselves.  
Acting Out  I engage in negative behaviors or addictions like drug or alcohol abuse, extra-marital affairs, addictive sex, self-harm, excessive shopping or spending, overeating, or scrupulously controlling my eating. 
Pacify  I try to soothe, calm down or placate others; I try to get them to not feel negative emotions 
Fix-it mode  I focus almost exclusively on what is needed to solve the problem. 
Ruminate  I replay arguments over and over; I don’t stop thinking about conflicts or what people do to frustrate or hurt me. 
Control  I hold back, restrain, oppress, or dominate others; I “rule over” them; I talk over or prevent them from having a chance to explain their position, opinion, or feelings. 
Independence  I become ultra-independent to separate myself from others in attitude, behavior, and decision making. 
Re-write History  I recast earlier times in a negative light; I recall previous disappointments and therefore present slights become dramatically enhanced. 
Demand  I try to force others to do something, usually with an implied threat of punishment if they refuse. 
Annoying Behavior  I use irritating habits or activities to infuriate, annoy, upset, or get on others’ nerves. 
Provoke  I intentionally aggravate, hassle, goad, or irritate others. 
Pessimism  I become negative, distrustful, cynical and skeptical in the way I view others/relationships. 
Complain / Criticize  I express unhappiness or make accusations; I present a “laundry list” of faults.  
Belittle  I devalue or dishonor others with words or actions; I call names, use insults, ridicule, take potshots, or mock. 
Pursue the Truth  I become fixated on trying to determine what really happened or who is telling the truth. 
Right/Wrong  I argue about who is right and who is wrong; I debate whose position is the correct or right one. 
Stubborn  I will not budge from my position; I become inflexible or persistent in my own perceptions. 
Righteous  I make it a moral issue or argue about issues of morality or righteousness. 
Righteous indignation  I believe I deserve to be angry, resentful, or annoyed with others because of what they did. 
Lecture  I sermonize, talk down to, scold, or reprimand others. 
Cross-Complain  I meet others’ complaints (or criticism) with an immediate complaint of my own, totally ignoring what the others have said, or not giving it real consideration. 
Striking out  I become verbally or physically aggressive, possibly abusive. 
Manipulation  I pursue others to get them to do what I want; I control others for my own advantage. 
Mind Read  I make assumptions about the private feelings of others and their thoughts, behaviors, or motives. 
Repeat yourself  I repeat back my own position over-and-over instead of understanding others’ positions. 
Anger or rage  I display strong feelings of displeasure or violent and uncontrolled emotions. 
Catastrophize  I use dramatic, exaggerated expressions to depict situations as dangerous or near complete failure or destruction. 
Emotionally shutdown  I numb out emotionally; I become devoid of emotion, or I have no regard for others’ needs or troubles. 
Humor  I use humor as a way of not dealing with the issues at hand. 
Play dumb  I pretend not to understand or know what others are talking about. 
Sarcasm  I use negative humor, hurtful words, belittling comments, cutting remarks, or demeaning statements. 
Whine  I express myself using a childish, high-pitched nasal tone and stress on y syllable toward the end of the sentence.  
Nag  I badger, pester or harass others to do something I want. 
Minimization  I assert that others are overreacting, I intentionally underestimate, down play, or soft pedal the issue. 
Negative Body Language  I give false smiles, smirks, glares, shift side-to-side, or fold my arms across my chest. 
Yes, but…  I start out agreeing (yes) but I end up disagreeing (but). 
Dump on  I emotionally “vomit,” unload, or dump on others. 
Rationalization  I attempt to make my actions seem reasonable; I try to attribute my behavior to credible motives; I try to provide believable but untrue reasons for my conduct. 
Indifference  I am cold and show no concern. 
Abdication  I give away responsibility. 
Self-Abandonment  I desert myself; I neglect myself; I run myself down; I become very critical of myself. 

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