“You need not attend every argument to which you’re invited.” – Anonymous
It is pretty much your knee-jerk reaction, and was mine for years. When someone attacks you verbally, whether accusing you or upset with you for some reason, the natural response is to snap back at them. That’s also the absolute worst thing you could possibly do in most situations.
When someone is angry and venting, they have basically yielded their self-control to pure emotion, and that emotion – anger – is like a fire looking for more fuel to expand and burn hotter. It also invariably does more damage when you answer anger with anger.
Over the years I have encountered many instances of wisdom warning against engaging in this destructive exchange. Of course, Jedi Master Yoda cautions Luke Skywalker that “anger, fear, aggression, the Dark Side are they,” but also in books like Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhārtha Gautama, even in just the example set by my own amazing Dad – I was surrounded by warnings against anger long before I actually adopted the practice of silence.
The next time someone is venting anger at you, take a deep breath. In that moment, you are in control and the other person is out of control. In that moment you have a choice whether to give up your own control and join in the exchange, or to maintain your control and simply wait for the other person’s fire to burn out. Trust me. It will happen. If you don’t engage, the other person will eventually give up. They will probably get frustrated with you for not helping them expand the raging fire of their anger, but sooner or later they will walk away. They may curse you, call you names, even slam the door on their way out of the room, but they will eventually flame out.
Being angry is punishing yourself for the mistakes of others. – Various
Once they leave, observe the silence. Embrace the silence. If you have been holding back your own anger in your effort to choose silence, now you can release it into the infinite silence and get back to what you were doing before the other person invaded your peace. You may also think of this as forgiveness; forgive the other person for their words and actions.
When you refuse to respond, when you refuse to internalize the unthinking words and actions of others, you will find an inner peace beyond words. The more you practice, the better you’ll get, too. It can be very hard at first, but give it a try. Once you’ve done it successfully a few times you will quickly train yourself to mentally step away from those situations that used to cause you much anguish and frustration.