Handling Argumentative Individuals and Yourself

By Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D. MFCC

You try to get a word in edgewise. Everything that comes out of your mouth is met with an argument.  Whatever you say is met with negativity and denial.  You ask your kids to do something and they always seem to be defiant and uncooperative.  They even call you names. People make obscene, put down gestures to you and say nasty rotten things to you ... things that you just don't want to hear and see.

That rush of rage come up. It's like a knee jerk reflex.  You want to physically kill and hit that person or persons.  You want to say nasty retaliatory remarks.  You want to pay back and avenge yourself for being treated badly.  You are on the verge of losing your judgement and temper.  You must get back at the perpetrator.  You 've reacted.  You 've stuck your two cents in when you should have acted more prudently.  You get scared.  You 're afraid of the terrible things that might happen now that you 've gone too far with your vengeful anger.


Welcome to the Club!


You are like so many other people. You react to insult, injury and provocation and question whether there is something uniquely wrong with you.  Well, relax! You're normal, although perhaps a bit unwise. There are people and things out there just waiting to jerk your string, push your buttons and provoke your rage. It's an unfair, cruel world and you are subject to having to deal with argumentative, defiant people. They are the "crazy makers". They will subject you to stressful responses that could be regretted after the smoke and fire have cleared.


You may be quick to anger and retaliate. You may wish and pray that you could always remain calm and turn the other cheek in provocative situations. Perhaps you admire and envy those people who seem to never get frazzled about anything. They always seem to be so gentle and incapable of "hurting a fly". Well, obviously you are not such a saint and you do get riled when someone gives you a hard time.


Let Me Give You Some Consolation


You are a good person. It does not have to take years of psychotherapy to get you to handle provocative, defiant, argumentative people. You do not necessarily have to explore your unresolved childhood traumas.  Too bad if your parents were defiant, argumentative and fought with each other. Tough luck if you were made to do and listen to things that you didn't want to as a youngster. So maybe you were a little bit defiant as a kid. You argued with your parents and siblings and your teachers thought that you horsed around too much. So what if you were suspended three times from school for mischievous behavior and your neighbors thought that you would grow up to be a criminal. Do you think that these things made you vulnerable to being seduced by provocative, defiant and argumentative people?

Well, maybe ... SO WHAT! There's nothing terrible about this situation and you are not a bad person. The trick is to learn how to control those rising, hot, angry reactions ... to change your feelings early so that you do not go out of control and make the situation worse. It is best to de-escalate the tension rather than heat it up by doing something that you will be sorry for later.


Steps to Staying Calm


The first step to defusing that upsurge of angry energy is to realize that it is possible to be provoked into an argumentative situation at any given moment. Defiant, argumentative people do not really want to hear, listen or receive what you have to say. They are poised and ready to spring into defiance and disagreeableness.  They are set to discount any, if not all, of your perceptions, thoughts or feelings. They are rejectors and life with them is usually punctuated with unpleasantness, fights and yes, even violence. These are the people that you just want to punch and throw through a wall. Real closeness and intimacy with them is virtually next to impossible.

The second step, if possible, is to avoid deep intimate relationships with such people. They will only cause you grief. Their attacks on your character will bring out sides of yourself that you will not like. It is best to form close relationships only with those people who do not trigger your intense, negative reactions.  There are so many wonderful, agreeable, positive people in this world with whom you can get along. So why struggle! You have a right to receive as much happiness, joy and pleasure as you can stand. Remember, entering into relationships with provocative people will only make you unhappy and could injure your self-esteem. Put downs are not a positive experience, so avoid vexatious people.  Learn how to control your angry/anxious reactions when in the company of such individuals. Your first response to such negative interactions may be to raise your voice. If this happens, it is an indication that you have a need that is not being met.

The third step to defusing angry energy is to realize that most provocative situations involve a competition for need satisfaction. You may feel that someone is being insensitive to your needs. The truth is, the other person also has needs to be satisfied you are both in competition. For example, there is a group of kids being very noisy in the next room. You are watching television and they are interfering with your need for relaxation and entertainment.  However, in reality, they are only trying to satisfy their need for playful fun and are not being deliberately provocative. They only want to satisfy their needs, the same as you. Your anger rises, but you immediately let it go and remain calm. You choose to postpone satisfying your needs for the moment. On the other hand, you could have satisfied your needs first by gently telling the children to keep the noise down. Either way of handling the situation prevents your getting upset and allows the kids to keep playing without disturbing you. Everybody wins and you have kept your cool.

When I was a young boy I saw two neighborhood fathers fist fighting over their kids and a rubber ball. A simple dispute escalated into full scale warfare between grown men. The fight started with their children but soon involved the whole neighborhood. In my opinion the quarrel should have stayed with the kids. Parents should stay out of such disputes and only enter to remove their children if the action gets too hot and heavy. That way, you protect your child and you do not get involved with your rage and violence. The choice of not fighting fits into your philosophy of not being able to successful get what you want in this manner.


The fourth step is avoid becoming triangled into someone else's quarrel and this method of choosing not to get angry keeps that from occuring. It is always better to send the antagonists back to each other in order to work things out. That way you do not make their problem, your problem. The rule of thumb: if two or more people are acting provocatively it is better to separate them by pulling yourself or your child out of the fracas. If you don't, you will be in danger of being provoked.  That situation will not get your needs met ... your goal is to get your needs met without being provoked into rage.


Negative and Irrational Beliefs

The question arises: what if I am one of those people who provokes confusion and anger in other people? Yes, I said confusion. If other people do not know what you need or want, how can they respond to you without confusion and anger? People with low self-esteem have irrational beliefs about themselves. If you are one of these people, you will frustrate others, because they cannot understand you or read your mind. It would be better to express your needs or wants in a non-competitive way.  You could say, "Right now I need/want something and I don't know what it is, so bear with me while I try to explain what I want.  I also don't wish to compete with other people here".  Then explain as clearly and directly as possible what it is that you want, no matter how difficult it may feel to you.

You may harbor a low opinion of yourself that was inherited from your past.  You may unconsciously believe that you are unlovable, unacceptable to yourself and others, ugly, stupid, boring and wonder how could anyone like someone as lowly as you are.  These are loser beliefs and they have to be challenged, confronted and disputed out of existence.  If your self-esteem is low, you will treat these lowly, evaluative beliefs as if they were facts rather than just an opinion of yourself. These beliefs are non-utilitarian and interfere with your pursuit of happiness and high self-love.

First, non-compulsively believe that these negative beliefs that you create have far too much power over you and that they can be changed with vigorous hard work and effort. They will not disappear overnight, but you may be pleasantly surprised how fast you can get rid of them.

Second, remember that these negative self-evaluations have been firmly fixed in your pre-conscious by years of repetition. Their effect has been very strong in determining your behavior and self-esteem. Fortunately, you can use the same repetition method to dislodge such self-effacing beliefs.


For more information, feel free to contact:

Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., MFCC, 10170-4 Larwin Ave., Chatsworth, CA 91311, (818) 882-7404.

Email:  phannigphd@socal.rr.com           Website:  PsychotherapyHELP -- www.nvo.com/psych_help