I suffer from confrontaphobia. Badly. “Have you got a minute?” I can just about handle. “Can I have a word?” gets my tummy a bit twisty. “We need to talk…” sends me right to the edge of what is tolerable. A recent email with ‘we need to chat’ as the subject line had me thrashing about all night; wretched and sick with anxiety that I had done something wrong that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I rang the sender at 9am after four and a half hours of crippling panic and asked what the problem was. “What?” she asked, baffled. “I meant I need to chat to you because I haven’t spoken to you in ages and are you watching Ozark yet?”
‘We need to talk’ is a phrase that for those of us with confrontaphobia is enough to push us into hyper-stress freefall. No one knows how it develops, but once in its iron grip, it’s impossible to shake off. In our paranoid minds, it can only mean something terrible: “I’m breaking up with you”/”You’re fired”/”I, your landlord, am selling the flat you’re living in”/”You have a terminal illness”/”You are adopted”/”That joke you made last week was both unfunny and offensive and now everyone hates you” etc etc.
‘We need to talk’ induces stomach-churning horror of epic proportions. Confrontaphobics fantasise about being able to calmly sitting down to discuss things rationally when such a phrase is used. ‘Fantasise’ being the operative word because that is never going to happen. We are likely to have fled the country before you can pin us down. Please handle us with care. We are hysterical and we wish we weren’t. If we can disastrously misinterpret you, we will. It is extremely stressful.