Client Blog | Pizza, Why We Argue, and How to Restore Peace
Insights on why we react so destructively, digging chasms between ourselves and those we love when we know we don’t want to. Here are some thoughts on how we can bridge the gap.
Don't Invite Dave to a Pizza Party
Can pizza make you violent? How mad can you get at pizza!?
Our casual, build-your-own-pizza party was going so well, until Dave lost it. Typically kind and generous, my friend for over a decade slid from annoyed to frustrated, and from frustrated to hurling empty tomato cans at the wall in under 11 minutes.
It was one of those moments we all know too well. Someone in the room is losing control. Everyone looks awkwardly at one another, each wondering if they should be the one to step in. In this case, Dave was surrounded by 14 close friends and his fiancé, and our social cues were not enough to calm him down.
Dave’s relationship with his fiancé suffered many setbacks over similar incidents.
Becoming Something We’re Not – Like Dave
We all know a few Daves. It’s hard not to - they tend to reveal themselves eventually. And it would be nice to think we never snap from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde like that.
You may even be telling yourself that right now (and believe me, I am too). It goes something like: “Well, I’ve lost my temper, but I’ve never thrown a tomato can” or “I’ve raised my voice but never really yelled at my husband.” Right?
We’re both softening the blow.
Why We Fight
This is the hard part – but stick with me, let’s rip the band aid off: you and I both have Dave’s “monster.” And it’s OK – even healthy – to accept that as a given. It’s called the autonomic nervous system, and it often causes us to react, argue, and hurt other people when we know we don’t want to.
The autonomic nervous system is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it keeps us at a safe distance when we approach a cliff and protects us from real threats. On the negative side, it can cause us to lash out at perceived threats.
Some call this the “fight or flight” mechanism, but this analogy is overused and under-comprehended. It’s not just confronting a mother bear in the woods - it’s much closer to home than that.
Simple arguments, fights, and even “spats” activate this life or death response in the autonomic nervous system without our knowledge. It builds, pressurizes, and can ultimately climax with flying tomato cans. All our hormones shoot off like fireworks, spurred on by adrenaline and punctuated with angry emotion. In a snap second, fight or flight kicks in - and we feel cornered.
In this moment, our goal is no longer to find common ground or even to win the argument. Now we are out for blood, attacking the person in front of us although we love them quite deeply.
You Can Restore Peace
The autonomous nervous system is hardwired into our biology and is one of the major reasons we have made it so far as humans. We aim to survive, and when we feel threatened we often do whatever it takes.
But other times, the system takes full control and destroys our relationships in one mighty crash or a slowly over time. And yet, it is not inevitable. We can take steps to control the autonomic nervous system, exercise control over our reactions, and restore damaged relationships.
Here are five strategies to help you get started right now:
Consider – are they really a threat? Wife, sibling, parent, or friend, it’s most important to take a serious look at their intent. This analysis tends to defuse arguments before they start. For example, I know my wife is not looking to harm me. Keeping that in mind stabilizes my nervous system when I feel cornered. If someone is looking to cause harm, that calls for a more foundational look at the nature of the relationship, which we’ll discuss more in a future article, or you can contact us [link to your therapist contact info here] here for help with abusive relationships.
Think, then speak: “Counting to ten” is more than a cliché or joke – it’s a real, effective tactic. This article discusses how to handle biological systems taking control, so let’s hack them. Training ourselves to think hard about what we want to communicate and being precise in what we say acts as a form of mind/body regulation. This aligns the intentions of our hearts with the actions of our mouths. If we are merely reacting, the autonomic nervous system controls our actions – often with devastating effect.
Put a pin it: Sometimes we all need more time. Asking for space to finish the conversation after breaking for 20-60 minutes allows the endorphins released by the autonomic nervous system to stop pumping. This puts us back in control, allowing care to drive the discussion once more.
Focus on “I” statements: Focusing our statements on the other person and using the word “you” only invites aggression back into our words and psyche. It also forces them into a defensive position, adding even more intensity and wounds to the argument.
Healing takes time, and relationships take many small victories to find reconciliation. It’s a lifelong pursuit, but aiming for peace over chaos is essential to turning your ship on the right course.
Are You Considering Counseling?
You may be reading this because you are searching for guidance as you navigate hurdles and issues in your life. We are here to help and hope you will take a moment to contact us [link to your therapist contact info here]. Together, we can explore practical methods to help you grow in your life and relationships. Keep hope and remember that it is never too late for positive changes - or to get experienced support as you do so.
Created and distributed by Joshua Zello LPC and Josh Polgardi at NeatlySaid.com, with publishing permission granted to this practice.