Dealing With People Who Resist or Thwart Confrontation

Aug 26, 2022

If you have a resistant person in your life, the number one stance you will need to adopt to learn how to deal with them is this: stop being surprised that they do not welcome the truth. Nothing can happen until you acept the reality that, for whatever reason, they avoid confrontation. Many people who want to confront someone adopt a “false hope” stance; they simply hope that one day the other person will hunger for feedback. Simply hoping against hope is not enough. So take the steps below to increase the chances that in time they will see the truth as something that heals them and brings them life.

Show Grace and Love

When you are preparing to confront a resistant person, remember that they also need relationship, safety, and grace. They may resist due to hurt or past experiences that made truth dangerous or unsafe for them. Grace and love are not everything a person needs; however, they are the most important elements they need. In addition, without grace and love, it is unlikely that anything redemptive will happen in your conversation.

Come to the talk being “for” them, knowing that you also are in need of love and grace.

Don’t React to Reactions

When the person you are confronting reacts negatively (blame, defensiveness, etc.), you will be sorely tempted to respond in kind: anger to anger, blame to blame. This is the most natural thing in the world. When we are attacked, we protect ourselves, and sometimes we attack nback. At the same time, the most natural thing in the world may not be the best, most helpful, or most mature thing to do. This is why you need to be in control of how you respond to an attack. If you are not, the tack can quickly degenerate into an argument or alienation.

Make the Defensiveness the Issue

If you have made several attempts to listen and overlook someone’s minimization or projection, yet the other person persists, you may need to address his attitude directly. This becomes necessary when it is obvious that the resistance will continue to get in the way. If you ignore it, the person may either dig in his heels for an indefinite period of time or even escalate emotionally, making things worse.

Othen the person is not even aware that he is being defensive or blaming. He is caught up in protecting himself. Bringing the topic up can help him see what he is doing, take responsibility for it, and give it up. So it can be helpful to get off the subject to talk about why you can’t talk about the subject. Here are two approaches:

Approach #1: “I need to point out something. I’m noticing that as I try to get us talking about your temper, you keep getting angry and blaming everything on me. I’ve tried to get past that several times now, and I’m feeling discouraged that I can’t get to the problem I wanted to solve with you, nor can I connect with you, either. I don’t want to make you mad, but I do want to talk about your temper itself in a way that we can both feel closer. Is there some way I can talk so that you can hear what I’m saying without blaming me? For instance, if you want me to know how I bother you, too, maybe we can do that first, if that means we can get back to my issue with you.”

Approach #2: “Do you notice that we can’t talk about your temper without your getting mad at me and starting to blame me? I don’t know if you are aware of this, and I wanted to check that out with you before we go any further. Maybe we can drop the temper thing for now and talk about how you are feeling about this conversation, to see if we are on the same page. We can return to my question after that.”

Avoid playing counselor. It can sound patronizing: “Seems like you are reacting to my confrontation. Maybe it’s fear of hurt or some anger from your past. Do you want to talk about it?” This forces the person to push away from you merely to save face.

Listen and Contain

When a person feels her perspective is heard and understood without evaluation or judgment, she often becomes less reactive.

This may also require that you not only listen to her viewpoint, but also hear her negative emotions, such as anger at you or disappointment in you. When you can be with her and her emotions without reacting yourself, you help her bear them and process them. Helping a person deal with her emotions by being there, hearing them, and not reacting is called containment. A mother who soothes and calms her unhappy infant, who is experiencing emotions so large and primitive that he cannot bear them on his own, is containing. The mother acts as a container for her infant’s feelings so that he can learn over time how to feel what he feels without panicking or becoming overwhelmed.

Bear in mind that listening and containing do not mean agreeing. You may have a very different viewpoint from the other person. She may have legitimate or illegitimate grievances against you. Your task is simply to help her be heard on an emotional level.

When people do not contain, the conversation’s process may be hampered, as the other person feels negated or discounted.

Listening and containing require us temporarily to shed our own point of view and self-interest to connect with the other person’s heart. It is the ability to identify with another’s pain and experience.

Containing does not mean, however, that you should allow yourself to be emotionally inured by the person. Evaluate whether her anger or negativity toward you is uncomfortable or harmful to you. Sometimes, if you are in a fragile season of life or if the person has wielded great power over you, you may need to limit the amount of containment you can tolerate until your situation has changed.

Look at Your Contribution

When you confront a defensive person about a problem, one thing he will try to do is to find another source for the issue. This often means that he will attack you. However, even if he is trying to avoid responsibility, do not discount what you are hearing because it is coming from an attacking person. Rather, listen and reflect on what you are hearing to see whether it is true. If you are making a problem worse, you will want to know that.

Further, even if you are not being blamed, take the initiative to search out whether you are provoking the problem. Do not wait to be confronted; rather, be a self-scrutinizing and self-correcting person. Make this process a part of the boundary conversation with the other person. It can go a long way toward helping resolve defensiveness.

We tend to deflect in response to another’s deflection, and that can be a mistake. 

You can table your part until later, but this is not a hard and fast rule. It may be that you could deal with your own contributions right then, as long as there is time and willingness and as long as you are assured that the other person will get back on topic with you when you are done.

Be honest and not manipulative. Looking at yourself is fundamentally not a strategy to solve a conflict, but an attitude to take toward your own soul, growth, and responsibility. Use what you are hearing to find weakness within you that you need to repent of, change, and work through.

Speak to the Effect on You

Though the person’s attacks and blame protect her from confrontation, they often have another result: They negatively affect you–the person doing the confronting. It is difficult to try to reach out, to not be defensive, and to confront a problem while the other person is being hostile toward you. It cuts off relationship and it hurts. Tell the person about the effect of her resistance on you. It could help her access that part of her that cares for you and doesn’t want to see you get hurt.

When you do this, however, avoid the mistake of making her responsible for your emotional stability and well-being. That indicates a dependency of such a depth that it may be a problem.

Confront Defensiveness From an Adult Position

Having been kind, nonreacting, humble, and containing, you may still find that the other person continues to evade looking at himself. To go further at this point, you may need to deal firmly with that attitude. Take an adult stance, not that of a parent or a child.

On the one hand, you may be tempted to respond parentally when you hear the immature blaming of the person. On the other hand, you may feel so intimidated by the other person that you can’t even think straight. Especially if you have ascribed a lot of power to the other person, you may have a tendency to regress to a childlike emotional state.

The fear of experiencing the anger and blame of the other person causes you to lose your truth and objectivity about the situation.

In the adult role, neither child nor parent reigns. This way, you are still making your points, standing firm and yet not attacking or condemning.

Admit Helplessness

When you confront a person who is invested in a power struggle with you, you may have to let her know that she can win the control game. This kind of person will refuse to see your side at all costs, will insist on your seeing things her way, or will want you to see that you can’t push her around.

Let her win. For one thing, she is right: You cannot make her see your side, you do need to lok at her side, and you can’t control her. So don’t fight reality; that’s the way things are. While you have many choices for yourself, you are helpless to control her.

Further, when you stay in the power game, you can actually influence the other person to feel more threatened, become more competitive, or escalate the conflict. Often, what was a mild issue can become an ugly screaming match if both people get caught up in a power struggle.

When you admit you are helpless to go any further, you are being vulnerable with the other person. This shifts the playing field from power to relationship. This can help her see your openness and make it safe for her to look at things as well.

Being Right versus Doing the Right Thing

People sometimes tend to approach a confrontation as if it were a debate. In a debate, individuals take opposing sides and present their arguments, with the intent of someone being wrong and someone being right. In personal confrontations, however, and especially with a resistant person, this can work against your desire to solve the problem at hand. Keep in mind that, above all, you want the person to do something redemptive about the issue of concern. Make sure your own emotional investment is more that the person will see the truth and less that you have won the argument.

When you confront, you are likely trying to make your point in the face of defensiveness or denial. Many times you need o tell the truth about a person’s behavior to break through his denial systems. However, disagreeing on the truth is different from trying to prove that you are right and the other person is wrong. The latter focus might well convey to the other person that you are more invested in winning the debate than you are in nurturing your relationship with him. Often you will find that you are going too far when the person is either so upset that he can no longer understand your point, or so disconnected from you that it does not matter. At that point, you may need to regroup.

Persist and Give it Time

When the person you are trying to confront blames, rationalizes, or attacks, she has probably spent a long time avoiding the discomfort of feedback and creating ways to divert it. This means you will probably not have one conversation with her, but several over time. This can be discouraging for you, but time and persistence can pay off.

Persistence and time allow confrontation to do its work. The safety and grace you give can help melt a hard heart. The truth you speak can cause enlightenment. The feedback you provide can give perspective on how the other person’s actions affect those she loves.

Have Consequences Ready if Needed

Sometimes, no matter how hard and how long you try, a person will persist in deflecting, blaming, and avoiding. This attitude will prevent any growth or change from occurring. A person who will prevent any growth or change from occurring. A person who will not recognize or own an issue is not able to address and resolve it. Because of that, you may need to realize when it is time to end the feedback and set appropriate consequences.

There is a time to give up trying to correct someone with your words. To someone who is deeply invested in always being right, or in others always being wrong, your words, being perceived as mistreatment, can further incite him to anger and resentment.

In these situations you may need to let the person know that you are not giving up on him. However, you are giving up on your attempts to confront him, at least until things change. At this point you may want to tell him that you are no longer interested in debating with him about whether he thinks he is doing what you say he is. You are sure, as you have scrupulously checked out the facts with others, with God, and with your own heart. So, whether or not he blames, minimizes, attacks, or projects, it’s irrelevant. You will now deal with the problem as you see best, without his cooperation.

This takes you to the limit of a boundary conversation. That is, words have accomplished as much as they can. The other person’s attitude toward the problem requires that you move to consequences and actions. It will be important to warn the person of the consequences, however, so that he can still decide to change. If this becomes necessary, be sure that whatever you say, you say with grace and truth.

Think through what particular problem you are setting a boundary with. Sometimes it is a behavior that does not go away, such as irresponsibility, control, or withdrawal. Sometimes it is a defensive attitude, such as rationalization, denial, or blame, that prevents any processing of problems. Determine what changes you are resting based on where the most serious relationship-breaking problem lies.

Finally, always provide a path back if, down the line, the person repents. It is not easy to be both firm and caring when you are confronting someone who is attacking you. However, you may be the first person who ever truly gave that person the right amounts of grace and truth he needs in order to be aware of, own, and repent of his problem.