I was recently asked to write an opinion piece for Ireland’s largest online newspaper, thejournal.ie.  Based on a previous blog I wrote, they asked for a piece on body image and the media, which I wrote for them and had published on 13 December.  Here’s the link if you are interested: http://jrnl.ie/303035.

However, on foot of the reaction to the article, they asked me to write another piece, this time on food, multinational food companies and health.  Again, I was happy to do so, as it’s a particular area of interest to me.  But this article was a lot harder.  First, the entire subject of food and its production is enormous, really I needed to write a series of articles to cover everything, not just one.  But second, it produced a far more vigorous reaction than the first article, and I was pretty much attacked in some of the comments the article generated.  Here’s the article (and the comments) if you’d like to read it: http://jrnl.ie/318242

The interesting thing about this experience is exactly that, one of being attacked, or judged, by complete strangers who know nothing about me, my ethics, my professional practice or of me as a person.  But of course, putting yourself out into the public domain – in a ‘soft’ way by blogging, or a much more public way by being published on a more general forum, invites feedback.

I didn’t follow the comments going up over the course of the day, I chose instead to review them the following morning.  I then composed a response that I felt addressed most of the points raised in the comments, and left it at that.  But it really got me thinking about a very common issue that comes up with clients – that of accepting feedback, and how it is ‘heard’.

I have a fairly standard exercise I do with clients who avoid conflict at all costs.  ‘People Pleasing’ is a very common habit in clients with Eating Disorders, for several reasons:

  1. Never being able to say no, out of a fear of being rejected;
  2. Never wanting to cause an argument, because it reminds them of a turbulent childhood, angry parent or being bullied;
  3. Never being able to accept feedback, as it is always heard as criticism.

The exercise is:

Q1: What’s the difference between the following words:

Argument        Conflict         Criticism          Debate         Disagreement         Feedback          Fight

For many clients, all these words are usually lumped in under one word, which could be Criticism, or Conflict, or Fight.  Do you lump all these words together, and therefore avoid any situation where you may disagree with someone else? Do you hear all feedback as criticism? Are you able to argue your point with someone without worrying that they will reject you as a friend?

Q2: Which, if any of these words is negative?

What do you think?

Actually, none of them.  Don’t believe me?


Argument, Debate, Disagreement and Fight are the most likely to be picked out as negative, but why?  There’s nothing wrong with having a different point of view from someone else.  You don’t have to always agree with the other person, and not all ‘fights’, disagreements or arguments need to end with consensus.  You can agree to disagree and move on, each with your own opinion, and that’s ok.

Of all these words, I’m guessing Fight is the one that most people will think is the most negative.

Fighting is not necessarily negative.  We all get angry, getting angry tells us that we are being disrespected, or not taking care of ourselves, or being bullied.  Fighting can be constructive, if you can do it constructively.  Ok, it’s not good to end up having a screaming match where two people start throwing stuff going back years at each other, but feeling a fight coming on, or even getting  into a fight, is a signal that something is wrong.  If you can step back from the screaming match, take a breath and then calmly but assertively say what you have to say, clearly, then you have done something constructive.

On the subject of the article I wrote, yes there were strong opinions.  I was called ill informed, ‘pseudo-scientific’, and accused of buying into ‘conspiracy theories’.  Do I care? No.  I am entitled to my opinion, the fact that others disagree with me is fine.  That’s life.  No big deal.  Life goes on.

So, the next time you feel angry, or disagree with someone, or have a difference of opinion, try to pluck up the courage to say it out loud.  Say, “I disagree, because…”, or “I’m angry (or annoyed) because….”.  Say it clearly, but calmly.  Be assertive, but not aggressive.  And when you’ve said it, stop talking.  Lastly, don’t have an emotional investment in the response from the other person.  When you’ve said what you have to say, calmly and clearly, your part of the conversation is done.  What the listener chooses to do next is up to them.  And if their opinion differs from yours, so be it.  No big deal.

Emma Murphy BA (Hons) Psychology

Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy

Private Practice in Dublin, Ireland www.sandyfordwellness.com