“Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
When does a healthy debate become an unhealthy one? When does your need to be right or your attempt to try to change someone make you just as insane as the person you’ve labeled “crazy?”
There’s no doubt that allowing yourself to be around someone who is negative or crazy, when you have a choice not to be, is a quick way to sabotage your happiness and quality of life. The question is: Are there boundaries you need to define or enforce with someone? Are there ways you unnecessarily add to the drama in terms of how you react or interact with them? Our ego loves to paint us as the always rational, responsible, heroic ones, but that’s a major trap for our own growth and the growth of everyone we have relationships.
The path of least resistance is to distance yourself from people and conversations that are unproductive and toxic, but we can’t live in a bubble, and so it’s crucial that we learn how we can remain grounded when we don’t have that choice.
Certain family members, spouses, and co-workers are good examples that invite us to find peace despite emotional triggers and circumstances that are out of our control. In fact, they can be our greatest teachers at times.
Whatever your philosophical views may be, here are some ideas to help you be proactive with all of this.
The first step is to call it like it is. Whenever you are spinning your wheels when arguing with someone, ask yourself whether it’s better to end the conversation or if there’s a way to change your approach. Of course, do your best to avoid chronic patterns, either with the same people or different ones. An easy example would be to skip talking about politics (or religion) if you find you get too worked up over the topic. Remember, rarely is someone with an opposing or radical view going to suddenly stop in the middle of an argument and say, “You’re right!”
Next, stop being surprised by the behavior of people you think are crazy or act crazy. We’ve all seen it or even found ourselves dealing with the same annoyances for months, years, even decades, and, somehow, we can continuously be shocked by the same results. “Did you hear what so and so did this time? You’re not going to believe what he said to me…” Why would we expect things to be different from what we have experienced from this person in the past? If they have consistently been rude, disrespectful, dismissive, controlling, immature, selfish, mean, or unloving, acknowledge whom you are dealing with and accept them as they are. By taking away the unrealistic expectations we’ve attached to this person, our energy is no longer wasted trying to change what cannot be changed. Believe me, YOU will NOT change them. That’s their job, whether they choose to take responsibility or not. So feel what you feel about it but don’t argue with what is. That, for me, is the most important step. Of course, people do grow and trust can be built or rebuilt over time. Just pay attention to your gut and the history there so you can get off the emotional rollercoaster ride and increase your chances of a healthy relationship instead of a depleting one.
I also find it extremely helpful to see the vulnerability behind the frustrating or destructive behavior. “Crazy people” are often living in a world without solid coping or communication tools. They have deep wounds or experiences that have shaped their viewpoint and approach to life and others. If you can see beyond their behavior and arguments to recognize the hurt, then it’s easier to have compassion. Let’s not forget that truth, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. If we are really honest, aren’t we all a little crazy when faced with life every now and again? No matter how evolved or conscious we may strive to be, I can guarantee you that others think we’re crazy at times.
Lastly, find the humor whenever possible. I don’t mean laughing in order to provoke a person but to find healthy humor in how you approach the situation and how you talk about it with others. Humor can be our savior when dealing with crazy people and situations. So, do your best to find the funny. It’s far better than the alternative of tearing yourself up with anger, stress, and disappointment.
Now, of course, there are people that are actually mentally ill and some that are truly dangerous. That is a whole other topic, but I will say that we, as a society, need to work together to provide easily accessible resources for people who need psychological and nutritional support so that we can end the cycle of domestic violence, tragic shootings, and the unacceptable rates of homelessness.
To sum things up, here are the steps you can take to add a little more peace to your life and the rest of the world:
1. Instead of being immediately triggered or stressed by crazy, instead expect the behavior. Crazy is as crazy does.
2. See the vulnerability or hurt behind the behavior. This will help bring a bit of compassion to the table.
3. If at all possible, have a sense of humor about the person or situation—not to provoke them but for your own sanity and perspective. It’s better to see the funny.
4. Ask yourself if there is a lesson in any of this. What can be learned through this person or situation?
5. Find any piece of positive behavior or trait that you can focus on that helps you feel less triggered by this person’s behavior and attitude.
6. If at all possible, consider spending less time with anyone that depletes you.
Note: This article was written by Michael Woolson and his wife Rachel Avalon.
Michael Woolson has become one of the most prominent and respected acting coaches in Los Angeles. He is recognized for his unique ability to cultivate depth and authenticity from his students in an environment that is nurturing and inspiring. Woolson has worked with thousands of actors from talented up-and-comers to award-winning celebrities. He is the author of The Work of an Actor and Emotion on Demand: An Actor’s Workbook for Mastering Emotional Triggers.