Online Trolls, Mental Health, & Social Justice

For the benefit of the majority of Americans who are capable of understanding what I’m about to say, I appreciate the opportunity to share some insights with you that might help you better frame how you think about current events and other people’s behaviors. For those of you who struggle to understand what I’m about to say, just know that the point is to find a way for you to still be included in the public discourse with as much understanding as can be achieved. We want everyone making thoughtful, informed decisions and not just reacting emotionally to things they don’t understand, which requires patience and understanding on everyone’s part.

Recent events have inspired this post/podcast, and they arose around other online content I’d already published and then promoted through Facebook Ads, which was probably just asking for it. Facebook has become a toxic environment in which conspiracy theories abound as they are passed around among our least informed and/or least emotionally stable members of society and boosted by Facebook’s algorithms.

Even though our content was supposed to be targeted to pro-democracy users, enough people on Facebook are apparently hate-searching the same hashtags as those used by pro-democracy activists and then posting hateful messages full of misinformation, which likely feeds the algorithm information about their user habits that increases their ability to engage with pro-democracy content without regard for how they are actually interacting. The algorithm is looking at the frequency and duration of a user’s involvement with content, not the qualitative nature of what that involvement looks like.

Hateful comments are just comments to the algorithm. Clicks are just clicks, regardless of the beliefs or intentions of the users doing the clicking. These algorithms are configured to increase the exposure of frequently clicked- and commented-on content based on its popularity with users, regardless of why it’s becoming popular.

This is how social media has been weaponized by bad actors to feed lies and misinformation to unsophisticated users who have no idea that their behaviors are being reinforced for all the wrong reasons, which effectively manipulates them into behaving in hateful ways with increasing intensity over time. My working theory about what reinforces trolling behaviors is that it’s automatically reinforcing because there is an internal adrenaline rush that users get when their posts and comments gain popularity and get shared, which gives them emotional validation. It’s a protest behavior that gets reinforced and maintained by attention from others.

It is only people who are starved for emotionally validating attention from others who seek it out online and fall into the deep well of online trolling behaviors to get it. If that’s the only source of validation and feeling “successful” in their lives, they’re going to do it. The solution is to give them a more appropriate functionally equivalent replacement behavior that still allows them to express their wants and needs such that they are validated with attention, but more importantly, that are met with more powerful reinforcers than the ones they receive by trolling. We’ve got to give them something more rewarding than what they get from spewing hatred while still giving a voice to their wants and needs, as well as access to appropriate solutions.

These are not our brightest problem-solvers. These are the people with arrested emotional development and limited coping skills who resort to name-calling and hostile behavior because that’s the best they’ve got. They feel trapped in a life they can’t handle where their wants and needs go unmet and they don’t know how to appropriately advocate for themselves. Emotionally speaking, they are simply very old children.

Thankfully, only a handful of trolls found our online content. All of them were adult males, mostly middle-aged or older and white, based on their Facebook profiles. All of them were triggered by a single word in the title of the program being promoted, which is our Social Justice group on Meetup, in which I conduct live events and share content with group members who are interested in learning how to participate in the advocacy processes of publicly funded programs to enforce their rights as program beneficiaries or the rights of other eligible beneficiaries who need help advocating for themselves.

In our Meetup group, I take my experiences working in special education, regional center, rehabilitation, and other publicly-funded programs for people with disabilities and generalize them to the same processes and procedures that exist within other publicly-funded programs that exist to benefit citizens with other other types of need than disability. Many of these other programs address social welfare issues, like housing, food, and healthcare.

Americans pay into these programs so that they are there for them if and when they need them. If we’re going to pay taxes to pool our resources as the Public to achieve economies of scale and efficiencies that we otherwise wouldn’t have on our own as individuals, then those resources and economies of scale better provide for us when we need them.

There is nothing un-American about expecting the American government to work and being worried and angry when it doesn’t. What is un-American is failing to abide by the rules already in place and making excuses instead of improvements as a public servant or a voter. If the existing rules create more problems than they solve, then responsible leaders in local publicly funded agencies raise these issues with their legislators and don’t stop making noise until the problems get fixed. They don’t go, “Oh, well. That’s just the way it is in the ‘real world,'” and fail to solve the problems.

I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again, here, that Project 2025, which articulates the literal plan for a white “Christian” nationalist take-over of all the bureaucratic mechanisms of government, is nothing new. It’s what I’ve been up against since I first started working as a lay advocate in 1991. It’s what I was up against when I participated in the most litigation of my career in the mid-2000s through 2012 as a paralegal, supporting attorneys in special education mediations and due process hearings, as well as court trials in venues ranging from state superior courts to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. It’s why I went back and got my master’s degree in educational psychology in 2013; I knew I needed to come at these issues from a more informed, expert position to be more effective.

The anti-everything-not-like-themselves by some of the least competent members of society who, through privilege and cronyism, have managed to acquire power, is nothing new to me. There is nothing more reckless than giving someone with low intelligence and emotional instability access to a whole lot of money. I’d have to go through the whole origin story of the public education system and how other public programs were modeled after its administrative design to explain how we got here, and that’s enough information to create an entire college course titled, “The History of American Public Education.”

Let me just cut to the chase and say it’s been a political shit-show from the beginning and that all of the laws that prohibit discrimination in the public sector are there because these knuckle heads have been in there undermining and sabotaging the system from within all along. They have been doing this so that they and their like-minded collaborators can point to the failures of the system they caused as “proof” that this system of government is a failure and should be replaced with something different, like giving them total control with no accountability.

These are the people who want to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and make it so that only wealthy elites can afford to educate their children, while depriving the general public of access to information and learning that will allow them to participate with understanding in our representative democratic government. There is a reason that the pre-Civil War slave owners didn’t want their slaves to learn how to read; a literate, intelligent, and informed group of slaves was capable of planning and executing an escape or even an overthrow of their masters.

By depriving the American public of a sound, responsible public education system these hostile elites would hoard all the knowledge and only use that of it which would give them an even greater unfair advantage over everyone else, while ignoring anything that potentially highlighted any errors in their thinking. This would prevent the public from knowing how to take back its own power, live freely, and thrive for its own benefit rather than only for the benefit of the elites, while elites choosing to only acknowledge the facts that suit their purposes run everything into the ground by failing to abide by reality.

It is the least educated and/or least emotionally stable among us who become the most useful idiot minions of the anti-American elements in this country, which are fueled by money from self-serving domestic billionaires and foreign enemies, and facilitated by domestic and foreign influencers using online propaganda to exploit social media algorithms, radicalize these people, and turn them loose on the rest of us like ticking timebombs. Our current-day lone shooters are our domestic version of the suicide bombers of the 9/11 era.

Statistically speaking, a certain percentage of the human population has disordered thought to such a marked degree that their participation with social media brings on the worst manifestations of their symptoms possible. In the special education arena, I’ve got one student on my caseload who is so screen-addicted that she engages in property destruction with full-on screaming rages at home if she’s expected to put down her device and go do something with her mother in the real world. I’ve got another student who impulsively, without fail, will immediately gravitate to any social media app that has a chat feature and start trolling strangers because she thinks she’s being funny and she’s cracking herself up, but then they come back at her with equal venom and she has a mental health crisis that can escalate to actual self-harm or attempted suicide.

These are real issues that I’m dealing with right now in the real world, and these two students are hardly the only ones. These are just the only two cases on my caseload right now with these issues, but this has become an ever-increasing issue for a lot of students who I’ve represented over the last 15 years as internet use has become more ubiquitous throughout public education. For the student with the chat app issues, the school district hired a cyber security expert to figure out how to block any of the kinds of content that she might misuse on her district-issued devices, while still giving her access to the online content necessary for her classes and without a human being having to actively monitor her device usage throughout each school day.

All of that is great for understanding the nature of the behaviors and the challenges faced by those who engage in them, but what does one do about it? For me, that’s still a work in progress, but I can tell you how I’ve handled it so far and whether I think it’s working or not. It’s early days with me and the fascist trolls, and there have only been a handful, but I’m already seeing trends in the data emerging, not the least of which is the older white male observation I mentioned previously.

I’m totally using Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to inform my responses to the trolls, as well as legal strategies I’ve learned from lawyers and judges over the years that can be generalized to other situations and contexts that align with the principles of ABA. One of those strategies is what I like to call “Jedi Mind-Trick Jujitsu,” in which I take control of the narrative by using their own language to defeat their own points, then redirect everyone’s attention to what my originally posted content is actually about and encourage people to join our group and participate in our live events.

In Jujitsu, there is a move whereby the enemy throws a punch, but you lean to one side, grab their arm at the wrist just below their fist, and pull them forward and down to the ground, using the inertia of their own punch and their own momentum against them while side-stepping the punch altogether. In “Jedi Mind-Trick Jujitsu,” with these trolls, I’m taking the energy of the insult or slur, mocking the ridiculousness of it as politely as possible by pointing out the truth in a friendly manner, providing immediate forgiveness to the offending party, following it with an analysis of why this person is engaging in this behavior and why everyone else should feel bad for the offending party rather than revengeful, and promising to pray for the offending party’s poor tortured soul or otherwise blessing their heart.

None of the trolls have replied back and no new hate posts have come in since I replied to the last one, though that could change. I’ve posted my replies to each troll’s posts almost immediately after they were made. None of my replies took their bait. They were looking to pick a fight with people who are just as emotionally dysfunctional as they are, and they’re not going to find that here. Engage in maladaptive behavior like that in front of us, much less in writing with a hot link to your profile, and we’re going to offer personalized forgiveness and explain why, then redirect readers back to the original point of our posted content.

We work with mental and emotional health issues and challenging behaviors every day. Trolls aren’t scary to us; they’re pitiful. They are victims of our country’s mental health crisis. They warrant our pity because they are so terribly troubled and broken and they deserve our effort because we need to keep them from becoming unsafe to themselves or others.

Trolls are mean to strangers online because that’s the best they’ve got. That’s a tragic way to live, and it’s not hard to see how people from this segment of society are easily radicalized into acts of violence over things that make no sense, particularly when the information they receive is manipulated to limit their understanding and provoke their anger through their strongest connection to the world: the internet.

The other data point that emerged from how the trolls responded to our posted content about our Social Justice group on Meetup, was, as I stated above, a single word. That word was “Social.” The tiniest minds think that this automatically means “socialism,” which they then equate with “communism,” the definitions of neither being known to them, which explains why one of them referred to me as “comrade” in his disparagement of our post.

Here’s the thing: The point of the post was to promote our pro-democracy group and teach people how to participate in the mechanisms of democracy at the local level, all in the pursuit of a just society in conformity with the Constitution of the United States. None of them actually read about what we were doing. They saw the word “Social” in the title and were immediately triggered. The irony was totally lost on them that they were using “social” media to spew their moronic hatred towards our use of the word “social” in the title of our online events.

For people who think anything that uses the word “social” automatically means “socialism,” and you oppose socialism, then you need to get off of “social” media! And, God forbid you attend the Sunday Ice Cream “Social” at church after service, or the commies will start kicking in the front door of your house before you even get home. It’s a freakin’ word with multiple uses, depending on context. The title of our group is also a play on words with a “social” justice education initiative being carried out using “social” media and online meetings to interact in a “social” way to talk about how to uphold democracy at the local level. Tinier, fragile minds didn’t get the pun or the point.

Those of us who are not so badly compromised as that have a responsibility to take care of those of us who are, not ignore or exploit them. We are our brothers’ keepers and it takes a village. Humans are social animals by nature, so we need to figure out better ways to socialize with each other than what we’ve got going on right now. We have plenty of existing psychological, sociological, anthropological, and historical information to make wise, informed decisions as a populous, but that information is not equally available to everyone and educational equity is necessary for the survival of our species.

We can’t figure out how to work together if we’re too busy being pitted against each other by those in leadership for their own selfish purposes. Looking out for each other and collaborating for the mutual benefit of everyone is consistent with the teachings of every great religious leader the world has ever remembered, and none of them preached hatred or violence. These same values are also consistent with the rules of our democracy.

One piece of advice that I can give to sane, rational people dealing with trolls is to not look at what they post as an overture to start an actual conversation and engage in any kind of legitimate debate. Don’t take their bait; they’re just looking for someone to disagree with them and call them names back. That’s their idea of two-way conversation and social engagement, but it’s all one-sided and they’re too impaired to see it for what it really is. They approximate and mimic conversational behavior, but they can’t actually hold a real conversation, at least not while they are triggered and escalated. The adrenaline rush of a heated exchange is often as close to getting emotionally engaged with other people as they can get.

Troll posting is a ritualized behavior that includes scripted speech, which is not the same thing as a two-way conversation. Two-way conversations require both parties to listen with comprehension and think about how what each person says relates to what the other person says, and negotiate in some kind of way to reach a mutually agreed-to conclusion about whatever is being discussed. Troll posts are nothing like that. Troll posts are one-sided cries for help from mentally and emotionally anguishing people.

What has made all the difference for me when I encounter these kinds of behaviors in any social context is to recognize that this isn’t a conversation, it’s a ritualized behavior that includes words, at which point I can’t take whatever is being said seriously because it’s only function is to get an emotional rise out of me and engage me in a dispute. I’m only interested in a real conversation. I have no reason to reinforce that behavior by giving the person what they were looking for and engaging in a heated dispute with them.

That would give them my sustained attention in the form of an attempt to convince them they are wrong, which they would never do, which would make them feel powerful and leave me drained and exhausted with time I’ll never get back wasted on the whole endeavor. If I took the bait and wasted time I can’t spare to argue with a troll, then I’d be kicking myself afterwards for letting myself go there, and the troll is still living rent-free in my head. Hell, no!

By understanding that the function of the behavior is automatic reinforcement by way of making the troll feel powerful when they bully someone into submission, you can redirect them to a more functionally appropriate way to feel powerful without acting like an asshole. If I took the bait, it would be an open invitation for them to visit their wrath upon me, so I’m not taking the bait. However, I will take the opportunity to reclaim the narrative and redirect other people’s attention back to what actually matters. I can turn a troll post into a marketing opportunity for my event by using their drama to get other reader’s eyes on the back and forth, and further pique their curiosity about our live online Meetup events.

One of the motivating ideas behind trolling behavior is to come on strong so as to presumably present as a strong person. But, truly strong people don’t actually act like that. Truly strong people don’t give a shit whether people are impressed by them or not; it takes too much energy to care and there are far too many other more important things to worry about in life than that. Truly strong people just take care of their business and don’t have a need to come on strong when they disagree with other people.

These trolls are weak people acting how they think strong people act, as seen through their eyes as people who are regularly ignored or exploited by others who are stronger than them. They can’t actually conceptualize what stronger people must be thinking or feeling; they can only observe the outward presentations made by stronger people and attempt to emulate what they think they are seeing.

People who are lacking in competencies have historically found themselves on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing more than once in their lives for making mistakes that a more competent person would never make. From their perspective, it may seem that yelling at people and accusing them of being deficient is what being in charge is all about. Therefore, according to their logic, if they go around yelling at people and accusing them of doing bad things, they should be put in charge.

This strategy sometimes actually works for them in the short-term, but their actual lack of skills dooms them to ultimate failure. They can’t actually handle the responsibilities that come with the power they manage to acquire and their efforts to fake it until they make it blow up in their faces because they are literally faking it and have no idea what they are doing. Dressing for success is pointless if you don’t have actual job skills.

A good public-facing example of this is Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is being investigated for financial improprieties with public funds and who, with each new investigation or investigative finding being reported in the media, passes new statewide executive orders that violate the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by banning the use of certain “woke” terms like “Latinx” or “pregnant people” in State documents. She’s apparently getting all the “mam-maws” and “pap-paws” riled up over nothing so they don’t notice her robbing them blind.

It has been alleged that some of the taxpayers’ money in Arkansas was used to send Governor Huckabee Sanders to Paris, France with her girlfriends to party and charged off to the State as a credit card purchase in an amount just shy of the $20K reporting limit on State employee credit card purchases as an allegedly fraudulent purchase of a customized speaker’s lectern that has yet to make a public appearance or ever be used to anyone’s knowledge. This alleged “Lectern-gate” matter is still being investigated, given that over $19K was spent by the Governor on a lectern with no actual lectern to show for it, the Governor allegedly bought it from a company owned by one of her girlfriends who went with her on the Paris trip, and said friend’s business does not sell lecterns as part of its normal course of business.

The abuses of authority alongside Arkansas’ long-standing low performance statistics as a state, such as with poverty, healthcare, crime, and education, reveal an entirely dysfunctional state government that is dependent upon other, better managed states that produce more tax revenues than they need to supplement Arkansas’ own tax revenues in order for Arkansas to function in any capacity at all. By contrast, for example, California has the 5th largest economy in the world and could function as a self-funded nation-state, if it had to. If Arkansas were cut off from the tax revenue it gets from states like California, there wouldn’t be enough money in the till for the Governor to steal.

Broken people may briefly attain power, but they usually don’t have the skills to hold onto it for very long. It takes a fleet of broken people working together from positions of power to do serious harm over extended periods. We generally regard these kinds of folks as being part of a conspiracy when they collaborate with each other to achieve dysfunctional ends on a large scale. But, as with “Lectern-gate,” these folks really aren’t all that good at covering their tracks and tend to leave a wake of destruction that serves as a mile-wide evidence trail. We’re seeing it happen right now with all kinds of folks from what’s left of the Republican Party, a great many of them being attorneys.

They’re banking on the rest of us being too exhausted to deal with their bullshit and just letting them go do whatever so we can stop and rest for a minute. Those are the moments they seize to do real harm. They wear us down to create exactly those kinds of exploitable moments. It’s like an emotionally abusive partner who always picks a fight right before bedtime that goes on for hours into the night, night after night, leaving the other person too exhausted from sleep deprivation to make rational decisions. A sleep-deprived person is inclined to cave in on everything just to keep the peace and impaired beyond thinking clearly about getting out of the relationship. This is also how unethical employers trap people in high-stress, physically demanding, low-paying jobs for decades on end.

Abusive people tend to do poorly in unstructured situations. The more the environment is configured to discourage abusive behavior by imposing structure, the easier it is to keep people busy doing things that are productive and healthy. One doesn’t have the time or motivation to go rob a bank if one is happily employed and well paid, for example. Not everyone handles unstructured time well and, when given too much freedom and left to their own devices, some people use their employer’s credit cards to go party in foreign cities with their friends.

The bottom-line take-away from this post/podcast is that everyone deserves to live in a just society that treats them fairly, no matter who they are, and not everybody is healthy enough to appreciate what that means. We can’t take it personally when someone else doesn’t have the ability to get it, and we serve ourselves by looking out for that person and helping them meet their needs instead of shunning them and cutting them off. We need to take a serious look at the wants and needs of the people who pose the biggest threats to our democracy and then figure out the most appropriate ways to see their needs met so that they aren’t feeling “othered,” ostracized, and vindictive towards the rest of us.

Trolls’ behaviors seek attention for a reason and we’ve got to give them more appropriate ways of calling attention to their wants and needs without causing harm. I suggest we start by responding to the hateful comments left by trolls in the most loving ways possible, without being afraid to poke fun at how silly they are making themselves look with their hateful comments. React the same way you would to a 4-year-old who didn’t get what they wanted for lunch, and now they’re packing a bag in their bedroom while crying and threatening to run away.

Acknowledge their suffering because they’re upset, but be willing to chuckle at how silly it is to be running away from home over cucumber slices. You’re laughing at the behavior, not the underlying reason why it happened. It’s okay to hate the behavior, but try not to hate the person. You need to mentally separate the person from the behavior because they are two different things. They’re totally related to each other, but they aren’t one in the same. If trolls were better equipped to deal with life, their behavior wouldn’t be so bad. Nobody is awful on purpose just to inconvenience you. No matter how much Hell they visit upon you, it’s infinitely worse for them living in their skin. You can get away from them, but they are stuck with themselves forever.

Trolls only come on strongly because they are lacking the amount of strength they are attempting to project; it’s a lie and they are actually cowards. Standing up to them with logic and facts generally shuts them down. Your alternatives are either ignoring their comments and leaving them to poison your posts, or getting baited into a heated, emotional exchange intended to exhaust you and wear you down. Shutting them down quickly with logic and facts appears to achieve a respectable degree of damage control and refocuses other people on the actual messages that you’re trying to convey.

That isn’t to say that an entirely deranged hothead won’t resort to stalking someone who dares to shut them down online, but these kind of people aren’t the majority of the people spewing hatred online and even the stalkers usually leave an evidence trail a mile wide. Most of the online haters are cowards who will never show themselves offline to the same degree they expose themselves online. Name-calling and profanities are the best they’ve got.

I’ll save my name-calling and profanities for my private conversations with clients and colleagues, as well as occasional comedic bits in my online content, about the characters in public office we encounter who are obstructing the legitimate functions of our democratic government every day. We all need to vent and there is a time and a place for everything, including venting.

What you will never see us do is go out on the internet and post hateful comments on other people’s content. We may disagree and provide our reasons for disagreeing if we come across something that jumps out at us, and we may point out the potential adverse consequences of acting according to another party’s online advice if we think that advice is bad, but that’s not the same thing as name-calling and hate speech. There’s polite, informed dissent and there’s raving like a lunatic.

I hope this has helped you organize your own thoughts around how to work with people who don’t quite get it with a little more compassion, which has greater chances of helping you achieve healthy outcomes for everyone involved than ignoring them or attempting to argue with them about the flaws in their logic. Proactively, going forward, I encourage you to frame things with “I-statements” when presenting an opposing point of view, such as, “I hear what you’re saying, but I’ve always understood it to be the case that XYZ, and what you’re telling me doesn’t really explain that. Why do you think that is? What am I not understanding?”

When you put a single unaccounted-for variable in front of them and ask them to account for it, whatever faulty logic they were trying to assert falls apart and they realize they’ve left something out of the equation. When you see that they’ve realized they don’t know how to resolve what you’ve pointed out, that’s your chance to continue with your logical explanation for XYZ with language like, “Aw man! So, what I’ve been thinking this whole time is that, because ABC and 123, XYZ happens. Does that make sense? Am I missing something? I thought I had it figured out, but maybe I’m wrong. Am I wrong?”

At that point, you take ownership of the doubt they are unwilling to let themselves feel about their own perceptions of things, and the troubled troll starts to put things together logically in their own mind based on the simple explanation you’ve given in an effort to remain the voice of authority by giving you an answer. This allows them to arrive at the correct conclusion on their own by thinking it through without being told they are wrong and getting emotionally triggered.

If you impose structure on the thought process by identifying only the variables that matter and leaving out the extraneous fluff in an emotionally neutral way that shifts the element of doubt onto you, then ask for their opinion of what you’ve just said, you’re just asking for feedback on what you understand to be the case and correction where you’re wrong. There’s no reason for them to feel threatened by that and a lot of times it actually buys trust because then they’re able to say, “Well, when you put it that way, you’ve got a point,” or “I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you mention it …” and a rational conversation is more likely to happen.

One of the trolls who posted on my content asserted that it isn’t justice if it’s prefaced by an adjective like “social,” there’s only justice. That made absolutely no sense, but I was willing to entertain the idea, so I replied with, “Fascinating perspective! What evidence supports that argument?” and never heard back. That’s not a hostile response, but I’m also pretty sure there’s no actual evidence to support that argument. I’m willing to be wrong on that, but I guess only time will tell if he’s going to come back and educate me with some real evidence that proves me wrong.

In the meantime, I hope you are able to cope with trolls better after reading this, whether they show up in your life online or in person. All of this can be generalized to dealing with nasty people everywhere, but for our families who rely on us for advice about special education and disability resources, generalize it to every nasty person who stood in your way when you tried to get appropriate services and supports for your loved-one with special needs.

Ronald Reagan is given credit for saying, “Trust, but verify,” when it came to dealing with other heads of state and government officials. I think using that approach whenever anyone attempts to convince you of something. particularly if they are emotionally passionate about it, is always a best-practices way of dealing with them.

Ask for evidence in support of arguments that seem unlikely. Ask for their advice as to how to weigh contradictory information against what they’ve just told you. Don’t accuse them of anything or call them names. Treat your exchanges like dignified conversations, set the behavioral example, ask pointed questions about their assertions, and sincere express interest in understanding their point of view. They do have a communicative intent to express an unmet want or need, but it can be difficult getting to the actual underlying message through all the behavioral chaos and word salad.

One of the parents I used to represent called the scripted speech from her daughter’s emotional outbursts “throw-up words” because they were just verbal barf that came with all the other out-of-control behaviors, not a real conversation. In the moment, she didn’t know what the Hell she was saying, and she usually felt terrible about it afterwards. The moment you can discern “throw-up words” from real conversation and stop caring about what is being said and then focus on why it’s being said, that is the moment you regain control of the conversation. The words are the symptoms and you need to treat the underlying disease, metaphorically speaking.

Express caring for their welfare and forgiveness for their crude behaviors. Forgiveness means they aren’t living rent-free in your head once you’re done responding to them; it’s for your benefit, not theirs. Let them stew in their own juices if that’s what they really want to do, but that shouldn’t affect the quality of your life.

Sometimes, all you can do is say, “Bless your heart, you poor tragic creature,” and move on to your own bliss without carrying the dead weight of their opinions or the living with the consequences of their behaviors. There’s no reason to feel bad about that. Love is doing what’s in the best interests of everyone involved, including yourself. And, so, on that note, thank you for hearing me out and, until next time, peace be with you.

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