Leaning into crazy: dealing with impossible people
“Man, go ahead, beat me up! Shoot me! You’d be doing me a favor, please come over and hit me.”
Imagine saying that to this irate driver who looks like he wants to shoot you?
A response like this one not only calmed the raging driver down but totally turned him around. Dr. Mark Goulston explains.
If a dog has sunk his teeth into your hand, the key to getting him to release your hand is to push it even further into his mouth. When you do that, he’ll instantly let go. Why? Because he’ll want to swallow and to do that he’s got to release his jaw.The same rule applies when dealing with crazy people says Goulston. Not, of course, the serial killer type crazy but the guy who wants to murder you because you cut him off.
I’ve followed Eric Barker for years. Because he’s interested in the same stuff I am, not infrequently, I like one of his articles so much I write about it. Like this one on anger from several years ago. His pieces are guaranteed to be funny but also fascinating.
As usual, his latest, How to Have Emotionally Intelligent Arguments is jam-packed with good stuff. But you can read it for yourself.
It’s that opening gambit of Eric’s piece that hooked me. True I think because so many times in my life, I have believed that a simple explanation of the facts would mitigate the suffering of someone I loved. People get married to their opinions, even if there are volumes of facts to belie beliefs and behaviors which cause untold suffering. Thinking of these hurting folks as crazy never occured to me. Hence, it’s this guy, Mark Goulston we’ll visit today as he explains leaning into crazy: dealing with impossible people.
Practical and timely
A quick look at the Dr. Mark Goulston’s blog topics reveal timely, risk-taking topics, with practical advice. Like Surgical Empathy-The Save a Life Conversation. And How to be Thankful in a Thankless World.
Hence I downloaded the Kindle edition of his book.
To Goulston, these are the characteristics of “crazy:”
- They can’t see the world clearly.
- They say or think things that make no sense.
- They make decisions and take actions that aren’t in their best interest.
- They become downright impossible when you try to guide them back to the side of reason.
Do you know anyone like that?
Maybe someone you love dearly?
The anecdote above actually happened to Goulston, after a terrible day.
He did indeed roll down his window so that he could hear the screaming man better.
And then said to the raging driver, ““Have you ever had such an awful day that you’re just hoping to meet someone who will pull out a gun, shoot you, and put you out of your misery? Are you that someone?”
His mouth fell open. “What?” he asked.
Up to that point, I’d been incredibly stupid.
But in that instant, I did something brilliant. Somehow, in the midst of my brain fog, I said exactly the right thing…
And I didn’t fight back. Instead, I leaned into his crazy and threw it right back at him.
As the man stared at me, I started up again. “Yeah, I really mean it. I don’t usually cut people off, and I never cut someone off twice. I’m just having a day where no matter what I do or who I meet—including you!—I seem to mess everything up. Are you the person who is going to mercifully put an end to it?”
Instantly, a change came over him. He switched to being calming and reassuring: “Hey. C’mon, man,” he said. “It’ll be okay. Really! Just relax, it’ll be okay. Everyone has days like this.” I continued my rant. “That’s easy for you to say! You didn’t screw up everything like I did…”
Goulston calls this technique “assertive submission.”This won’t come naturally.
When someone is screaming their head off at us,
our normal reaction is either fight or run…flight. If attacked, the part of our brains that’s fairly primitive wakes up and can take over. If we allow it to.
The “reptilian brain” or brain stem powers the parts of our bodies which operate autonomously. Included in the brain stem is what neurologists are now calling the limbic sysyem are two almond shaped and about the same sized groups of nuclei on the right and left sides of our brains. They’re the amygdalae and when we feel that nausea, dry mouth, rapid heart rate, they’ve been hijacked.
When our patterns of thought are ruled by our brainstem, we get to crazy. Whether because of early abuse, illness or a myriad of possible reasons, rational thought isn’t possible. Problem-solving is reduced to blaming others. Speaking facts and reason to a person either momentarily or habitually crazy doesn’t help. Instead, it can potentiate the craziness.
We’ve all seen this. Maybe in a boss or parent or friend.
The primary solution lies in recognizing the problem: this person is incapable of rational behavior. Ergo, leaning into crazy is the solution. Critical so that you won’t allow the crazy one to pull you into crazy behavior
Next, identify her “M.O.” There’s a pattern, maybe whining, coldly logical and practical, emotional are some of the nine “M.O.s” listed by the author. All employed to make you lose control.
Before engaging someone like this,
Goulston advises, first ask yourself why.
…Before you tackle the bruising challenge of talking to “crazy,” make sure you have a good reason to go there. Sometimes you may decide it’s better to stop trying to get through to the irrational person than to drive yourself nuts trying to get that person to accept reality.
But if you decide you must do this to get it all out on the table, be sure to identify your own crazy. “Unless you’re the first entirely sane person on the planet, you’re carrying around your own suitcase full of crazy. And in order to successfully face down another person’s crazy, you first need to deal with your own.”
If about to confront a spouse, son or daughter or parent, Goulston warns, be sure we understand ourselves. We can be sure our son, wife or mother knows precisely what to say to provoke us.
Goulston provides a bunch of practical techniques and then moves on to the oxymoron of assertive submission. The equivalent of the dog belly roll, precisely what he did to the screaming guy who wanted to murder him. Leaning into crazy.
One of my visions is that we can heal the world one conversation at a time. And every time you’re brave enough to talk to crazy, you help make that vision come true.
Talking to Crazy
How about asking for help from our and their guardian angel?
I’t’s not possible to end this topic, dealing with impossible people, without bringing in the reality of our guardian angels. Each one of the mega-gazillions of souls who ever existed has a guardian angel, including each of the many millions of children we abort.
These angelic beings “always behold the face of my father who is in heaven,” Jesus tells us.
Last Thursday was the Feast of the Archangels. And today is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. According to the Catholic Catechism,”the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of the Angels.” (334)
“…serving the accomplishment of the Divine Plan.” (332)
“From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an Angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”(336)
Are there better aids than they in Leaning into Crazy: dealing with impossible people?
“In Journal of a Soul, Pope St. John XXIII writes that he often sent his angel ahead to speak to the person’s guardian angel. This was particularly the case if he expected the meeting to be important or difficult….”
“…Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous way to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are loyal, prudent, powerful. Why then are we afraid? We have only to follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell under the protection of God’s heaven.” St. Bernard Homily on Guardian Angels
Each of is here for a reason, a mission, despite or perhaps because of illness or infirmity:
Back during the years when I considered myself an atheist, I came across these words of John (now Saint) Cardinal Newman, and I believed them.
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.