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You Can’t Argue with Crazy

How could a radio interview of an Iranian journalist held captive in Iran for three months (then released) possibly relate to you and your eating problems? Here’s how. The interviewer asked the journalist about his interaction with his guards and interrogators. This led to talking about the journalist managing these relationships by choosing to react as if these people were crazy—what I’d call irrational, not necessarily mentally ill. So let’s stretch our minds a bit and consider your difficulties responding to people who also act irrationally and how some of these interactions drive you to mindless eating.

If I’m recalling the story correctly, the guards and interrogators in this situation insisted that the journalist was a spy because he’d acted in a sketch on US TV in which he’d played a spy. Who knows if they really believed he was spying or were using the show as a pretext to keep him locked up? Doesn’t matter—either way, the journalist saw their actions as irrational. So he, being smarter than his captors and working off the premise that they were a bit off the mark mentally, proceeded to interact with them that way.

And this is where his story and yours coincide. When you’re with people who act irrationally, do you treat them as if they are rational and try to reason with them? I bet you do. Because you think what they say should make sense, you get bogged down arguing with them. As one of my Food and Feelings message board members once posted, “Just because someone says you’re a car, do you sleep in the garage?” Get the point: If someone insisted that you were a car, you would immediately think there’s something wrong with them. You’d know it. So how can you recognize irrationality when people make similarly wrong-headed comments to or about you? How can you know it as automatically as you know that someone calling you a car is flat out crazy?

Start by not assuming that everything people say is rational and worth serious consideration. What makes them expert on you and your life? Are they doing so fabulously with their own lives that they can give advice? It pays to be skeptical about much of what people say. Sure, if you trust someone because you know they’re mentally healthy, you’ll likely want to take them seriously. But, even that doesn’t mean they are always rational or right. Whether you’re with new people or folks you’ve known a long time, don’t always assume that what they’re saying makes sense. And never get caught up in trying to respond rationally to irrational statements or questions. The more skepticism you have about the validity of what others say, the less distressed you’ll be and the less need you’ll have re-regulate your emotions.