HOW DO YOU REASON WITH IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Whether it’s a husband, wife, child, psychotic, democrat, republican or terrorist, it’s often impossible to have a rational discussion with a person who is absolutely certain that his way is the right way.

As a young psychiatrist who trained during the era when Harold Searles MD and Frieda Fromm-Reichman MD were doing analysis with schizophrenics, I  believed that logical discussion and perseverance was what a good psychiatrist should do to treat a psychotic patient. It took a few years until I reached my own conclusion that without using antipsychotic medication, my task was just about impossible. I still use all my psychotherapeutic skills to connect, build a sense of trust, and discuss the myriad of options that a patient can choose, but I also do everything possible to make sure that my patient is on the right medication.

There’s a science to dealing with neurotic and  psychotic patients, but what does one do outside of a psychiatric office? The answer is perhaps simpler than you imagined.

Have the courage to express your opinion, but don’t expect your spouse or child or friend to agree. In fact, they may do just the opposite.

A few years ago, my wife and I had a fight about something (whatever the something was, I have absolutely no recollection) and I refused to attend an event with some friends. My wife tried to reason with me and gave me some examples explaining how I was dead wrong. But, being the consummate professional, I refused to accept any of it. Finally, she shook her head in frustration, picked up her pocketbook, and left.

It took a few hours of feeling angry and self-righteous until I finally got around to examining the issue and figured out what was so bothersome. When my wife came home, I sheepishly apologized, shared my theory why I did what I did, and called our friends to apologize.

What impressed me, and still does years later, is that my wife tried her best to dissuade me from being unreasonable, but when it failed, she carried on without me and made sure to have a good time. Unreasonable people shouldn’t have to make reasonable people suffer. I was unreasonable and lost my opportunity to have a fun experience.

So what do we do about a republican or a democrat who is so myopic that he won’t examine an alternative way of looking at an issue? Easy… Accept that he has the right to his opinion, enjoy your meal together, and change the subject. Follow your own reasoning when you cast your ballot.

What do we do about a terrorist who is determined that his religion gives him the right to kill a non-believer? Don’t waste your breath trying to be reasonable. Kill him before he kills you.

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11 thoughts on “HOW DO YOU REASON WITH IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. Ok Right Mr.artsmuklermd Thanks for your elaboration. I would 1st try to treat such psychopath people,the last option for me will be killing them. and for your kind information its QURAN not Koran..


    1. It’s difficult to treat a psychopath with kind words and reflections on their childhood. Especially when they have a bomb strapped to their chest and are willing to kill any human in their path. It’s impossible to talk a psychopathic religious person out of their mindless reverie about only one holy, almighty god/godess. So it gets down to the matter of survival…if you seen a glint of powder leaking from a vest in the dead heat of summer, shoot first. If it’s the snowy banks of the Hudson River and the psychopath is sweating as he approaches you on the street with a knapsnack strapped to the front of his chest, shoot first. The survival of the fitness….all mankind must try to conquer evil.


  2. I’m jumping up and down!! Right on, Right on….and I’m not a psychiatrist who dares assume your saniety or mine! I so agree with your logic, your sense of being on target on a particular subject or addressing-dealing with- unreasonable people, myself included, who won’t change their mind. As far as politicis or hot issues, it took years, years for me to just walk away, my own views intact. If I would have known how easy it was to avoid an argument with my spouse over issues neither one of us wanted to deviate from, I would have avoided many days of misery. Do I still have a hot button? Of course. Can I still recognize and enemy? Absolutely! We are not protecting those we love, if we continually ‘turn a cheek’. …..You can’t use logic to reform a fanatic! Thank you for sharing your views. (I’m sure we’ll disagree at some point….makes us stronger individuals.)


    1. Each has a goal…not necessarily compatible. But it does take ‘a new face’ to project an image of strength. Doesn’t happen often when a fragile ego clashes with reason and the desire to get a job down..


  3. Bravo, Art! This is the kind of interesting column I’ve been longing for–one that applies your specialized knowledge! Thanks, Carson For majorly cool graphic art prints priced at only $25 each (free shipping!),please stop by carsonbuckingham.blogspot.comand check out the workof my Featured Artist for October,Ms. Bree Orlock–you’ll be glad you did! Think Christmas! Think Birthdays! Thinkgift for yourself for no reason! At these prices, you can buy more than one! My blog: My editing services:



  4. One of the other ways I deal with someone who thinks they are right is to say, ‘You are my friend.
    I value our friendship and want to remain friends so I am not going to be discussing politics, or
    religion with you.


  5. Outisde of friends and family I’ve found the best thing to do is let other people voice their opinions first then I know whether I want to carry on talking or back slowly away while mumbling something about a prior appointment I’d forgotten about.
    It isn’t just the Koran which is used in this way, many wars have been fought with the Bible as an excuse to pick up arms. Mosques have been attacked because people wrongly think that they are all harbouring terrorists.
    Sadly terrorists of whatever type prefer their ideals over that of human life. One day, maybe the thought that taking a life is wrong no matter what the reason, will become the norm… And that goes for governments as well as individuals.
    Sorry for the rant… good blog Art 🙂


  6. Hi Mr.Smukler, Your writing is very well.I realy appriciate it but one thing i observe here is you mension the religion and terrorist together, Could you please tell me any one religion which gives permission to kill an annocent human,


    1. Thank you for your very appropriate comment. I was referring to the distorted way that fanatics interpret the Koran. To them, non believers are perceived as enemies.

      Sent from my iPhone


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