How do you handle people in your life who are being a pain in the ass?
Well, for a start, we know that we have no free will. So we’re going to handle them however our current neural state handles them. Our neural state is the current structure of our brain, the way our memories, experiences and genetic pre-dispositions have been encoded in the synapses and chemicals of our brains.
However, something you read or hear today can change that neural state for tomorrow. The brain it plastic. It changes over time with every new experience or insight.
So – we know we have no free will. We also know that the other person has no free will. They are behaving exactly as they have to, based on their own neural state. They are an actor on a stage, forced to read certain lines, to play a certain part. And it’s hard to stay angry at someone who has no control over their actions. You can’t be angry at the sky for being covered in rain clouds. You can’t be angry at tree for shedding its leaves during winter. And you can’t be angry at a person for obeying their nature. It’s like the old story of the scorpion and the frog (Google it if you don’t know it, and try to find the version told by Orson Welles).
If someone is acting badly towards you, it often means they aren’t happy. Happy people, with healthy self-esteems, usually don’t treat others badly. They try to build the people around them up, make them feel good about themselves. They lift people up, they don’t knock them down. So if the person treating you badly is unhappy and doesn’t have any control over their behaviour, they are probably upsetting more people around them than just you, which, in turn, makes those people dislike them, which makes them feel worse about themselves – and the cycle continues.
So when someone is lashing out at me, I normally feel sorry for them.
On top of that, we also know that the concept of “identity” is problematic. We have realised that there isn’t a “me”, a distinct collection of atoms that is separate from the rest of the universe. So when someone is being mean to me, who, in fact, are they being mean to? They are being mean to the universe, to themselves. Now – do you think the universe cares? Does someone on the other side of the planet care what this person thinks, says or does? Does a tree care? Does a dog? No? Then why should I care?
They can’t be attacking “me”, because there is no “me” to attack. As Bob would say, there is no “reference point”. It’s like water off a duck’s back. Insults and attacks slide right off. The hardest problem I have when being insulted is to fight back a smile, which itself is unkind and can make the other person feel worse. But it’s actually quite amusing when someone exposes their pain and anger so openly by turning it on someone else. Not that the fact that they are hurting is at all funny, but just that their behaviour is so transparent and immature. It’s like when my five year old gets angry about something and tells me that he’s the boss of the house. His defiance is hilarious but if he sees me smiling, he gets even angrier. It’s the same with mean people. They can be unintentionally funny. So try not to smile. Even when it’s blaringly obvious that their anger towards you is an indication of their own issues.
So, once we understand that we shouldn’t take their insults and attacks personally, how should we handle the situation?
Usually I’ll try to think about what they need from me at that moment. My goal is to initially defuse the situation, then try to turn into something positive, where there are no winners or losers. But that’s hard to do, even with the Three Illusions, because our brains are designed with a “fight or flight” response to threatening situations. When we are being attacked, our subconscious defense mechanisms kick into gear – adrenaline courses through our veins, and our conditioning kicks in. Even after 30 years of completely accepting that I don’t exist as a “me”, my F/F system still kicks in from time to time. But it gets nipped in the bud pretty quickly as my post-Three Illusions wiring kicks in. After a few seconds to a few minutes, I’m usually thinking about how to defuse the situation so it doesn’t escalate. And I’m still not great at this part of it. My instinctive response is to think “I don’t exist, they don’t exist, this is all just a story going on in my head, it’s all just atoms” and to disengage. Which honestly probably isn’t the best way of handling these situations. So I’m trying to get better at it.
People’s egos usually want to be assuaged and they want to be heard. So it’s helpful to say something like “I see where you’re coming from, let me think about it some more and come back to you with a more thoughtful response. Can we park this issue for now and talk about it more later?”
Buying some time for both parties to calm down.
The important thing is that I’m not left with any anger, resentment or anxiety over the confrontation, because I know neither of us has any free will and I feel empathy for the person who is attacking me. This helps me think about what the other person needs from me and how to create a positive outcome for everyone.