How Not to Argue

06/16/2015 05:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

Many people often ask me, "Robin, how did you become so incredibly well-balanced, enlightened and wise?"

Well, I've done a lot of work on myself and bored many therapists to tears. Talking about myself is my gift.

Discovering how crazy I am has helped me to feel more sane. Being comfortable in your own skin is at once boring and enlightening in the most wonderfully undramatic way.

I rarely get into an argument. Proving I am right just doesn't deliver the same self-righteous glow of satisfaction it used to.

You can imagine my astonishment then, when, out of nowhere, I got into a disagreement recently -- shattering my long streak of peace and tranquility and proving to myself that even I am fallible to human folly. How spiritually liberating it is to be so humble! Here are my mistakes.

Mistake #1: Inflaming The Situation.

It all began innocently enough. Being a brilliant armchair psychologist, there's nothing I like doing more than pointing out to friends and clients my theories as to their psychological shortcomings.

I noticed that there seemed to be an underlying hostility in one of my friend's text messages. You know those "jokes" that are more insulting than funny?

"I think you were being passive-aggressive", I said to my friend. I assumed he would be delighted at this piece of free advice from the preeminent amateur psychologist of
our time. I was wrong.

"I'm not being passive-aggressive! That reminds me, you said something to me 8 months ago that really hurt my feelings and I've secretly resented your existence ever since!"

Classic denial really. It was so simple for me to see. Passive aggressive people don't like to directly express their anger. I kindly pointed this out. This smug observation only served to send him into a spiral of hysterical self-righteousness.

It seems it is easier to be self-righteous than self-aware.

Whenever you confront someone with passive-aggressive behavior they will undoubtedly deny it is the case. If they go into denial, you should expect this.

Point out the elephant in the room; don't aggravate it.

Mistake #2: Not Walking Away.

My friend had put himself in a box by doubling down on denial. By refusing to admit to himself that he could have possibly have been mean, he was trapped by his ego and left clutching, desperately, onto righteous indignation. He was stuck up on his high horse and his imagined moral superiority depended on him not dismounting. "The lady doth protest too much methinks," me thought.

If you continue arguing with someone who is raising their voice to you, is not thinking clearly and is not listening, well, that choice is on you. If you choose to engage in the crazy, that is your dysfunction.

You teach people how to treat you, period. I should have walked away. I own that.

Mistake #3: Allowing Yourself To Be Manipulated.

Unbeknownst to me, It was in fact I who was the total jerk and allegedly very offensive to him on numerous occasions.

It was shocking news. I always believed he had a good time in my presence (it is really hard not to). He had expressly told me and thanked me often for the pleasure of my company.

But, apparently, when he said, "I had a lot of fun thanks," what he actually meant was, "I'm crying on the inside."

Being of an angelic disposition, I immediately felt terrible and retroactively guilty for causing him so much pain by my past behavior and apologized profusely.

The more I apologized, the more he discovered I had to apologize for.

I don't believe he had intentionally misled me into thinking he enjoyed my company. I think that in the heat of the moment, he was projecting his anger onto situations in the past which fitted the narrative he was creating of him being a victim. You know, lying to himself.

This was basic manipulation at its finest e.g. "I was a jerk? Impossible. But, look at what a jerk you are, here's an example I just pulled out of the fog of memory!"

I had been conned by the old switcheroo.

Mistake #4: Trying To Win.

In an argument, it is often not usually about who said what, it is more about who felt what.

No one likes to be told they're wrong and the more you tell them, the more they become entrenched in their stance. It is like telling a religious fanatic they're beliefs are insane. The sense of control they have from not shifting from their position becomes of utmost importance to them.

Besides, there is no upside in getting the better of a dysfunctional individual.

Once you realize someone is being passive aggressive, it is on you to remove yourself from a no-win power struggle.

Even if you believe you are right (I have this problem a lot), give up on trying to prove it. Say your truth, and, if their reaction is negative, let it fall off you like water off a duck's back. Their hostility has nothing to do with you.

Mistake #5: Doubting Yourself.

This dabble with a futile argument taught me a few things. First, I need to keep working on my own self-esteem issues.

A passive aggressive adult is an expert in getting others to act out on their hidden anger by painting them as the culprit. Don't doubt your own good intentions.

Listen and relax when faced with a conflict and don't let your self-esteem be rattled. If you do happen to slip into a nonsensical disagreement, let the minor regression only serve to remind you of the giant steps in self-development you have taken. But don't be smug about it, that would be unattractive.