arguementWhen we are angry, we are very vulnerable to being manipulated. Our logical thought processes have been swept away  by a tide of emotional reactions and counter reactions. We are, in this state, very likely to do exactly what our sparring partners expect us to do. They do not expect us to do anything reasonable or constructive. They expect us to be as immature and vindictive as they are. “That’s fair.”  We self sabotage our happiness when we play this game of tug-o-war and become defensive. We take their absurd insults personally, where the exchange sounds something like this: “You’re a failure.”  “No I’m not.”  “Yes you are.”  “You take that back.”

We will get nowhere this way. One of us has to be the adult in the room. If they do not know how, then we must.. We can choose  not to take their words literally, personally or seriously. We are not in a court of law and do not have to defend ouselves against their false accusations.  We can choose to do something else instead. In fact, we can do anything we want as long as it is based on a choice for us, not against them and not a mindless reaction to their provocation. If we are tired of this useless third‑grade game, we can learn some new responses to old jabs:

When they say: “You suck.”

Do the unexpected by saying: “You got a real problem there, I don’t know what to tell you.”

When they say: “You’re stupid.”

Do the unexpected by saying: “It’s just awful, isn’t it.”

When they say: “Come back here and fight like a man.”

Do the unexpected by saying: “You got a real problem there. I don’t know what to tell you.”

When they say: “I hate you.”

Do the unexpected by saying: “I am sorry you are so angry.”

When they say: “I am not angry. Your being so stupid.”

Do the unexpected by saying: “I don’t know how you stand it.”

When they say: “Why do you have to be such a jerk?”

Do the unexpected by saying: “I never thought of it that way.”

We must use our tone to ensure we are not being antagonistic. Have you ever taken a road trip and gotten lost? You don’t know where you are and feel a bit confused on what to do. Do you stop and get directions? Do you turn around? Do you pull over for the night? do you keep going? Your concerned, confused, and unsure what direction to go. That is the tone to use, confused. Really you don’t know what’s going on and why the other person is making these false accusations.You speak slow and softer, but deliberate and clear.

Notice the responses above do not have to make sense. We are using our response to set limits. It is not our responsibility to straighten them out and defend against their false accusations, We are implying that this is not a court of law and do not have to proove our innocence and defend against the guilt of some absurd accusation. The game of tug-o-war is over, we are not going to pick up the rope and get dragged through the mud.   They can no longer control us into reacting defensively on their terms. We have a choice now, an alternative mode of responding. This alternative gives us a 100‑percent improvement over the old days when we had only one choice, a knee‑jerk reaction to defend ourselves, which was not much of a selection.

Two men arguing image available from Shutterstock.



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    Last reviewed: 24 Aug 2014

APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2013). When Others Make Us Angry. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 27, 2015, from



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