How To Deal When You're Arguing With Someone Totally Irrational

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We’ve all had someone say something that sounds totally off the wall to us and tried to argue with them—tried to make them see it our way. How often does that work? The answer is almost always…never.

Instead, the argument tends to spiral out of control with neither of you listening to the other, and it usually gets ugly.

When people are angry, their logical brains go offline and their animal brains take over. They begin to respond based on fear, activating their fight-or-flight stress response. So, trying to argue with someone who has disconnected from their logical brain is like trying to explain something to someone who speaks a different language than you.

But when someone close to us starts responding to us from that place of fear, of wounded ego, it often activates our own fear responses. When that happens, both parties cease to act or interact rationally, and the conversation turns into something emotional and unproductive.

So, what’s the alternative?

The alternative is to become aware of your own response. Your initial thoughts might be something like This sounds crazy. This isn’t right. That’s not true. This is off the wall. They are mistaken.

Your first challenge is just to be aware of these thoughts, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you can’t change someone else’s beliefs. You have no control over what they say, how they feel, or how they treat themselves or you.

The hardest part of this process is accepting your lack of control over others. Once you accept that trying to communicate with them in that state is futile, you can choose to take an action that is loving to you: either comforting them if they are available to it or walking away and taking care of your own feelings.

This can be incredibly difficult. We want so much to convince people—especially people we care about—to see “the truth.” We want them to stop being crazy and reconnect with us. It’s scary when someone we care about stops making sense.

That’s why the best way to feel safe is to not buy into the crazy. When we try to argue, defend, explain, yell, etc., we are buying into the crazy.

Much of the time, someone in an emotionally driven state isn’t available or open to comfort. If you know from past experience that this person, in this state, is inaccessible to you, then the only safe and sane thing is to remove yourself from the situation—not with anger or blame but with firm, gentle detachment.

It generally takes about 30 minutes for a person’s higher brain to come back online after they’ve been triggered and upset, so wait at least half an hour before trying to re-engage. At that time, you can check to see how the other person is doing.

If they seem to have calmed down, perhaps you can talk with them about the situation that triggered them to respond from a wounded place. But it may be best to just let it go. Experience will tell you which is most helpful.

It takes discipline not to jump in and try to get the other person to stop “acting crazy.” Most of us want so much to avoid the feeling of helplessness over others that we will do almost anything to not accept this reality.

Once you disengage, compassionately accept the feeling of helplessness and allow that feeling to move through you. I assure you that you will feel empowered when you are able to take loving care of yourself rather than arguing with someone who is incapable of hearing or understanding you.

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