Most people are afraid of confrontations for a simple reason: they fear that the other person will have a BAD reaction. Most of all, they’re afraid that the other person will explode – shout, threaten, accuse, humiliate and generally make things emotionally uncomfortable. In fact, there are some people, like psychopaths, Narcissistic personalities and other manipulators who use this fear against you, employing an explosive argument tactic known as “extinction”. In this video, I explore what the extinction tactic is and how to defeat it when you’re in an argument with an unstable person.
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I’ve had quite a few requests lately from clients and audience members alike on how to deal with someone during a confrontation when they suddenly kind of explode and have a really big really uncomfortable reaction, the kind of reaction that puts you off ever having confrontations, the one you’re scared that will happen.
We’re gonna talk about what this reaction is, and how to deal with it. So I’m gonna start by reading out an email that was sent to me by a brojo member, and it talks about him trying to confront his uncle. I won’t give you more personal details, but that’s enough to get us started. He says:
I prepared very well for this confrontation, knowing I was going to face a very mentally and emotionally unstable bully. I went through your podcast about confrontations and drafted BEIRD models for both topics I wanted to address on the call.
By the way, the link for that I’ll put below this video so you know what he’s talking about.
However, right after initiating and going through the first section of the confrontation, this uncle had already lost it and began attacking and interrupting me. In fact, I had to constantly bring the conversation back to the topic that we were meeting for, but he wouldn’t stop the interruption and attacks on me.
His interest was to score points against me and make the situation as if nothing was his fault. In the end, I congratulated myself for not having engaged in insults or devaluation, and for making it to the finish line after 27 minutes.
Don’t we just not want that, right?
Anyway, the finish line was about making it to the end of the BEIRD model on the two topics being discussed, in in my relationship with him given dishonest behavior, and setting a boundary related to stopping the disrespectful behavior towards my mother.
At the end, he was furious and took it out on her and my family. However, I focused on not deviating not firing against him staying calm and collected and getting through the bad morals. Looking back at the situation, I realized that the BEIRD model worked for me because I was able to confront him set the boundaries and get done with it without losing control or going into the mud to fight in there.
However, he took the boundary setting as a threat and doesn’t give a shit about the boundary. It looks like he won’t respect it going forward. Which makes me wonder: with such a dysfunctional individual in the family is it really worth it to have a confrontation based on the BEIRD model? What’s another way to set boundaries with these people? Shall we just inform them about the boundary without going into a long talk in which we’re just going to be insulted or criticized? Or shall we just cut them out of our lives without setting a boundary and/or without informing them about the cut off?
I think we can kind of sum this up as a classic dilemma that many people have: should I bother confronting someone when I know they’re going to react so badly that it just doesn’t feel worth doing? Shouldn’t I just cut them out, or sort of maintain the boundary without any type of confrontation with them?
Now firstly, what I would say is that a confrontation should always be for you. It’s not about changing the other person. Confrontation is about respecting yourself. It’s about practicing values like honesty, courage, assertiveness, responsibility.
How the other person reacts should almost be irrelevant. It’s like a bonus if they cooperate and improve their behavior. It doesn’t matter if they don’t. If you’re attached to their behavior, you’re never going to be good at confrontations. You’re either going to be controlling and manipulative, which will eventually backfire on you, or you’re going to be cowardly and you’re going to find it difficult to express yourself.
The only way you can really win in a confrontation is when it doesn’t matter if it works on the other person or not; it just matters that you get it off your chest.
Now, ironically, if you can get to that place, not just as a tactic but you actually believe it, you’ll also be much more effective in your confrontations, that is you’ll also have a much higher chance of changing their behavior.
But let’s look at the kind of reaction we’re scared off here. This reaction is called an extinction. It has its own term in psychology. It’s usually related specifically to people with narcissistic personality disorder and other mental disorders that cause them to be particularly cruel and manipulative and psychopathic.
An extinction is called that because it’s like you’re trying to kill everything all at once. It’s a huge reaction that destroys the likelihood that people will want to confront you again, or that you’ll want to continue with the current confrontation. It’s such an overreaction that it puts people off and scares them off from continuing further. So it kind of just blast the ground clean. Right?
And once you know that this is a tactic, a deliberate move, not actual outrage from a person who’s been genuinely rarked up based on your poor behavior, but a strategic maneuver designed to prevent the confrontation from going forward, you might actually start to feel more comfortable with it, even though in the moment it feels horrific.
The only reason it feels horrific is because you’re taking it seriously as if this isn’t just a trick.
Now it takes many forms, extinction, but the themes always the same. It’s the kind of reaction that everyone dreads, it’s the kind of reaction that puts people off having confrontations in the first place, because they’re worried this is going to happen. And it’s something that will put people off confronting them again. That’s the theme of an extinction.
So it can be screaming and shouting – just an extremely loud reaction.
It can be threats, you know, threats of violence, intimidation, tactics, threats of hurting your career, or cutting you off from people or so on, so forth.
Dreadful accusations: they counter attack you with awful things, true or not.
Public scenes, trying to make this as embarrassing as possible, or attempts to humiliate you in front of people, you know, trying to be like both outraged and really articulate and pulling out all of your faults and making them clear to the audience, you know, or splitting behavior, you know, trying to turn people against you in a really extreme way.
The key here is it’s extreme, it seems to be deliberately malicious and harmful, and it’s very off putting, you just don’t want to be in this conversation. And you don’t want to have conversations like this ever again.
One way to think of it is, it feels like a nuclear attack. If you’re in a war, they finally fired the big ones right there. They’re gonna kill everybody. They don’t care who’s left standing, even if it hurts themselves. In their mind, they just want to destroy everything. That’s what it feels like when you’ve got that.
You’ve got to think in your head: this is an extinction tactic.
Now, what’s the difference between this and a normal sort of build up to a big outrage – normal escalation, you might say?
Well, one of the things is it’s out of sync with the boundary. So you’re going to confront someone set a boundary with them, and their reaction just is not reasonable for the kind of boundary you’re setting.
So let’s say you’re asking someone to respect you, like I had a client the other day, she said that she confronted a person in her family and she didn’t want him to call her a certain thing, to use a certain word. She said, you know, “Call me anything else. Just not that word. It’s attached to childhood trauma. I just don’t like their word.”
And he blew up at her.
It’s quite a reasonable thing for her to ask, like, just don’t call me that certain assaulting word. I’m not asking much from you. I’m not asking you to compromise your life here. Just asking that you not use a word directed at me. And he blew up as if he hadn’t, like she had insulted his integrity or something.
You know, it’s where the thing you’re asking for does not really justify such reaction. You know, in the case of the guy who sent me the email, he was asking basically his uncle to be more respectful to his mother. Now, even if he’s wrong about the disrespect, this huge attack does not make sense to that boundary.
If anything, if he thought he was wrong, he should have been curious, like, Why do you think I’m disrespectful, I don’t think I am what’s going on here?” Not counter attack and try to harm the person. So it’s out of sync with the boundary you’re setting. You’re not asking people to give up a huge portion of their life, you’re not accusing them of being a terrible person or anything like that that makes sense to this reaction.
Another sign as it might be a zero to 100, you know, they’re perfectly calm and they don’t build up, they don’t go 12345. Over time, they just go zero… “RAAA!”, they just detonate. Whereas in a normal escalation, there’ll be like the person will try to restrain themselves and they’ll start to lose control slowly over time. When it’s an extinction tactic, the person just turns the dial up to 10, with very little kind of time to escalate, no attempt at trying to like restrain themselves or keep their anger under control.
There’ll be no attempt at reason. They won’t listen to you, there’s lots of interrupting. It’s like everything you say just hits a wall every time, or they hear you but they just use everything you say against you. They they pick on your examples, like a counter attack. It’s like anything you say, just gets weaponized or dismissed. There’s just no attempt on their part to connect with you or be reasonable.
It’s often a reaction to being called out. So you often see extinction as a tactic for somebody who’s actually been called out quite fairly for bad behavior on their part. And we’ll talk you know, I’m sort of foreshadowing here, but we’ll talk more later how when you see this, when somebody does this reaction means Hey, you’re on track, you must have called something out correctly, because they’re not going to react like this if you’re wrong.
And overall, the person will have a pattern of behavior like this. Okay. And not necessarily pattern of extinctions, but after time, you’ll start to see there’s just a pattern of basically treating people poorly, being disrespectful, being harsh and insulting, manipulative. You know, just not with everybody just with select targets. You know, if they’ve got a history of being cruel and unkind, nasty, vindictive, petty, then you can and reasonably assume that the extinction thing is a tactic.
So who does this kind of thing, and why?
They are basically narcissistic personalities, and the reason they do it is because it’s strategically effective. You know, deep down people who are very manipulative understand human nature and human psychology very well. That’s why they’re good at it. And one of the things they understand that so simple and obvious, is that people just do not like awkward, uncomfortable, painful emotional experiences. And the easiest way to manipulate someone is to make them feel like they’re going into a painful emotional experience.
So the easiest way to change their behavior is to give them you know, a way out of that that’s in your favor. You know, if you guilt trip someone and they want to get away from the guilt by winning back your love, so you get them to behave loving to you, it’s that kind of tactic.
So everybody’s afraid of confrontations because they catastrophize and imagine that this extinction type event is likely to happen every time. Now, of course, it’s not going to most of the time when you confront people, especially if they’re healthy, you know, kind people, you don’t need to worry about this shit, that’s just not going to happen. But everyone is terrified that it will happen. Even the best confrontational people they hate the idea of a public scene, of being humiliated, being counter attacked, being accused, being made to look bad.
And so you know, manipulative personalities, they know this, and they know that if they need to, they can pull this one out because they don’t give a fuck, they don’t care what people think of them in the scene. So I mean, they do, but they don’t care about awkwardness, they don’t care about emotional discomfort.
If they’re really psychopathic, they don’t even feel emotional discomfort. All they really care about is winning. And they know that the best way to win is to be willing to go further than your opponent, to go lower than your opponent, to take more hits than your opponent. They understand that style of winning by attrition.
And so this is a tactic that they know will work on most people, because most people just don’t have the stomach for this, whereas they do. Especially because it’s fake.
Well, you got to understand this is a Hail Mary. Okay, it’s not real. It looks real, doesn’t it? It looks very convincing. They’ll appear very, very upset. You’re sure it’s genuine outrage. But this is what’s called instrumental violence.
Something I learned about working with correction offenders is violence being used instrumentally. It is a tactic. It is cold blooded. It is designed to achieve a goal. It’s not a overreaction to emotion. In fact, often under the surface, they’re trying their best not to laugh.
They might be serious, though. The point is, they’re not actually outraged. And even if they are outraged, they’re highly exaggerating it, you know, they’re turning a three into a 10 to get an effect. So I mean, a psychopath, for example, could be argued to always have a base level of rage, but what you’re seeing, the big blow up, is them just kind of springboarding off that with strategy. So most of what you’re seeing is an act, a performance that’s designed to manipulate your emotions. It’s not someone who’s genuinely upset.
Like I said, if it’s genuine upset, you’ll see the slow build up. This will be a person who doesn’t have a pattern of being manipulative, but maybe they do have a pattern of being emotionally unstable, and so on. It’s different.
Put it this way, if you were to watch someone else do it and you’re not involved in it or emotionally attached, it would look bizarre to you, like there was a big reaction out of nowhere, what the fuck, right? It wouldn’t make sense that they got there so quickly, and that they got there for this reason. And, you know, it just looks out of context with the discussion. You know, that’s when you know, it’s basically fake.
And when you know it’s fake and forced, it’s a convincing performance but it’s nonetheless just acting, you won’t be so affected by it. You’ll see it like sketches, they’re putting on a show. And that’s kind of obvious, actually, and it’s just pathetic.
Now can be quite scary in the sense like a person might genuinely upgrade all the way to violence. You know, I worked with gang hitmen and they would use this tactic all the way through to actually beating the shit out of you . They’re cold blooded. But with most people you deal with in real life, especially if there’s some form of audience, violence is very unlikely. In fact, what they’re trying to do is make you think violence might happen, so that you back down.
But the best way to respond is pretty simple: you treat it like a three year old throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, because they know that it works to get them lollies, okay, they’re not really upset. Or they’re upset only in that sort of basic fundamental way that someone who doesn’t get what they want is upset.
But the performance you’re seeing is essentially a way of showing you that they’re willing to go further than you so that you back down because it’s worked in the past. And when you see this, you apply the same approach that you would with a toddler having a tantrum, only maybe without so much love and compassion, okay.
So if my daughter has a tantrum like this, I sit there with my arms wide open, I wait for her to come with me, I acknowledge how she’s feeling and how she didn’t get her way, and how frustrating that is. Now we wait for you know the air to go out of the balloon because she’s genuinely upset, she has worked herself into it, this isn’t manipulation. This is a child whose emotions are not moderated and managed, and then they grow away from it.
But when an adult is doing this, and I know that it’s a tactic, not so much compassion and love, but same technique, and the technique is rolling with resistance.
Rolling with resistance is something you can actually Google if you want to get into the depths of it, and I recommend you do if you’re the kind of person who wants to get good at confrontation. Basically, it’s combination of not pushing back so you don’t resist, but you don’t back down either. It’s a third option, okay, which is you just acknowledge, and you return to the point.
Okay, so it’s like they’re throwing punches, and you’re just moving your head out the way but you’re not walking backwards, you’re just just dodging the punches. Okay. And the way to do this verbally, is you just acknowledge what they say.
So you always fucking do this.
Yeah, I can see you’re really upset about that.
And I’m not actually agreeing that you should be upset about that. I’m not defending myself. I’m not resisting that you’re upset about that. I’m just sort of calling it out, like not letting that punch hit me.
And then I get back to the point. It’s kind of like, yeah, heard. And now we’re gonna go back to the point, which is you crossed this boundary. So everything they say it just gets a kind of, yeah, hey, I understand what you’re saying, but because you know, it’s a tactic, you’re not gonna go into it, because it’s bullshit.
But you’re also not going to call it bullshit, you’re gonna give them the benefit of the doubt. Partly because you know, calling it bullshit doesn’t help you, you’re just resisting against something fake, that’s not going to take you anywhere good.
And there’s always a slight chance you’re wrong. Maybe what they’re saying is real. Maybe this isn’t a tactic. So you kind of keep yourself safe by acknowledging it. Yeah, look, maybe this person genuinely upset, so I’ll treat it as if they are, but I’m not going to condone attacking me. Neither am I going to resist it.
You know, I used to have this in Corrections all the time. Somebody would say something like, Oh, these rules are too fucking strict. You’re a fucking cunt bla bla bla, bla, having a go at me about the rules. And I’ll just say something like, yeah, it must be hard following these rules.
So I acknowledge what they’re saying, but I’m not saying the rules are bad, and I’m not defending the rules either. I’m just saying, Yeah, I can see that you’re struggling with it. You know, I’m just, I’m like a mirror.
It will almost seem patronizing, almost seem annoying. But that’s just a risk you have to take. They might feel patronized, but then again, they’re trying to manipulate you so I wouldn’t have too much guilt about the way they’re feeling here.
What this is really about is endurance, you got to understand that even if this is fake, they cannot keep it up forever. You know, I’ve worked with some of the angriest people on the planet, I promise you that is not an exaggeration, some of the most violent, just aggressive, rage filled psychopaths that have ever walked the earth, you know, and even they run out of energy. Even they run out of ammo.
The human body cannot pump cortisol and other hormones that long, that hard, without going into remission. So I just outlasted them. And what it became the kind of mindset that I found really helpful for these kinds of interactions was just, I’ll take as long as I need. I’ll almost relax into it like, well, I guess I’ll just clear my appointments for the afternoon and just let this guy blow out the lines. My job is just to not resist or back down.
Alright, no matter what nasty shit they said, no matter how unfair accusations, you know, slight on my character, I’d just say I can see you feel that way. So you think that I hear you. I wouldn’t defend myself. But I wouldn’t say Oh, that’s right, you know, I have been unfair or whatever. I wouldn’t back down either. I just acknowledge and let the punches just fly pass.
And after a while you just… you’re calm. And they cannot outlast your calm. You know, if you’ve got rage coming into a room, either one person is going to become enraged or the other person is going to calm down, but you will not maintain that difference for very long.
It might feel like a long time, in the same way exercise feels like it goes forever. But we might be talking seven or eight minutes.
The guy in the email said 27 minutes. Sounds like a long time but it’s actually kind of not especially because the next time it’s not going to be 27 minutes, because the guy has learned his lesson now. Like, Fuck, this guy can last longer than me how much longer do I really want to keep this up if I know I’m gonna lose?
And you create this long term kind of strategy for yourself, which is I’m going to make it clear to them that this is not worth it. They’re putting on this performance. It’s just a waste of their effort and time and that I always outlast them. And that I never react. And then it’s going to create a kind of attrition and entropy where over time, they do this less and less and less, because they just realize it’s a waste of their time.
You know, it’s narcissistic and psychopathic personalities are all about efficiency, they hate hassle. So one thing you’ve got against them as leverage is they can’t be bothered, right. So if you can be bothered more than they can, they give up, it’s as simple as that. So it’s all about keeping this going until they run out of ammo and energy, and they will run out, you’ve just got to be prepared to wait it out.
Remember, this is not about changing them, but this is about developing your own endurance, like if you can get through this it with a guy like this, somebody blows up at you, and you can take 27 minutes to get through it, if that’s what’s required, and have that confrontation 15 times in a month, if that’s what’s required, then you can fucking handle anything. Wouldn’t it be great to know that you can handle anything?
That’s why you should have these confrontations. That’s why you should start the boundary setting with people like this, even though you know it’s gonna go badly. Because this is about a long term piece of work on yourself, where you prove to yourself that no one can fuck with you. Right, because there’s nothing harder than these, right. If there’s nothing more difficult in a confrontation than an extinction tactic, you won’t get a worse reaction than that ever, so if you can handle that, you’re solid for everything.
So if I’m you, I’m seeking these out.
I got lucky working in corrections, you know, these came to me. But if you haven’t had them, if you have somebody you’re scared to confront, because it’s gonna happen, fucking run towards it. Run towards it, not to win, not to change them (you’re not going to), but to last longer than they can to show yourself that you can survive these things.
And then in normal, healthy confrontations with regular folk who don’t do this kind of shit, will just feel easy compared to this.
Now, a couple things to note:
When it’s working, they’re actually going to get worse. You think they’ve blown up? No, they’ve still got some in reserve. Okay, they haven’t fired off all their nukes yet. They do an initial attack with nearly everything they’ve got. And then they save some in case they need to keep going, in case you’re actually going to fight back.
So if you just start rolling with resistance, and that didn’t go well, you’re on track. That’s exactly what should happen. All right, it’s going to be very counterintuitive. All the stuff you think is wrong is actually right. So if they keep getting worse, and the reaction seems really bad, they’re accusing you of being a bad person, so on, because you’re just being assertive and holding the line and being patient, you’re winning. Okay, they are running out of missiles, they can’t keep going forever, and they’re getting desperate by just firing all their shit at you.
So you will see an increase, a final attempt to get you to back down. And if you can survive that increase, they’re not going to have much left in the tank after that, even though we might be talking about 27 minutes of harassment and interruptions and so on.
One of the reasons the guy who wrote in had it for 27 minutes rather than, say seven minutes, is because he kept trying to set the boundary rather than rolling with resistance. He kept resisting which gives them something to push against, it actually escalates them and gives them sort of more ammo, gives them energy, gives them hope of winning and so on, gives them something to push against.
For someone to run out of energy, they got to push against nothing, and they stumble with that momentum. So he’s like,
What have you got to fucking say for yourself?
Nothing. I can see you’re upset.
And they’re just trying to get you to give themsomething in a fight against .
Yeah, I’m gonna wait to run out of energy first.
And you can use statements like, yeah, I can see that really upsets you. We’ll get back to it when you’ve calmed down.
You know, and yeah, it does sound patronizing. But you gotta remember they’re manipulating you. No guilt here. And you’re actually just being honest.
Yeah, I will come back to that point, if it’s a legit point. But not while you’re like this. You’re really sending us a message of, we don’t have a debate while you’re like this, but I’m gonna wait. You don’t get to turn the debate off. You can delay it if you want. But I’ll wait, I’ll wait as long as a fucking statue. You don’t get out of this with this kind of performance. So why bother?
Remember, this is not about changing them. It’s just about showing them that this tactic is not going to work on you. That fighting with you is a pointless hassle. They shouldn’t bother with it.
And mostly, it’s about holding up your own self respect. And I keep repeating this point, but it’s because it’s the most important point that most people just don’t get about confrontations. It’s not about them. It’s about you. If you make it all about your self development and you’re living by values, then you’ll actually do well in confrontations.
To simplify this, what I’m really saying is, I’ve heard you and now back to the point. That’s the most simple way I can say rolling with resistance. In fact, you can even say right after this way and say yeah, heard, and then just wait. Wait as long as it takes for them to run out of steam.
If they interrupt you, just stop talking, wait for them to finish and then finish your sentence as if they didn’t interrupt. You’ve just got to have patience and this ability to just roll with it. Like, yeah, they can physically affect you by being louder or whatever, but you just carry on, like this tantrum won’t last.
Couple of don’t do’s:
Don’t try to disprove them. Okay. As soon as you start talking about what they’re talking about, you’ve lost because this isn’t real content. These aren’t real points they’re making. They’re trying to distract you. They’re trying to pull out some resistance from you. They’re trying to get you into the mud to fight them.
So no matter what they say, it doesn’t matter how wrong they are. You just acknowledge that they think that.
They might be like, Well, you always do this to me. And in your head you’re like, I never do this. Ignore it. Okay, so you feel like I always attack you.
Let’s say you just give it back to them. Like you feel this, you think this, sounds like you believe this? Just give it back to them. You say, This isn’t mine. This is yours. Here have it back.
You’ve got nothing to disprove right? The burden of proof is on them. Not you. You don’t have to disprove anything.
And of course, you don’t have to prove yourself either. If they’re like, Well, why should I listen to you? Sounds like you doubt me. I’m not going to prove that you should listen to me. I’m not going to answer questions while you’re like this.
There’s great show called Mr. In between when the cops come to him, he just says I don’t answer questions. And you can apply that with someone who’s like that. Look, when you’re outraged like this, I won’t be answering any questions. We’ll come back to it when you’re calm. Right, or I noticed, I heard that question, but I can’t answer it when you’re like this, so I’ll answer it later.
Yes, they’re gonna react worse when you do this, but not for long. Don’t try to defend yourself. Don’t try to call out how they’re being illogical or unfair. Don’t try to outsmart them.
We’re going to keep this simple. You’re dealing with a tantrum here, not a complex, nuanced debate with an intelligent person. You’re dealing with jabs, right? This person’s just trying to hit you, they’ll use anything they’ve got. They probably know that most of what they’re saying is bullshit, right, they don’t care, they’re just trying to get you into the fight. Your job is to stay out of the fight without running away.
And the final point is, you’re gonna have to do this more than once with this kind of person, unless you only want to do it once and you’ve achieved whatever self development goals you want to achieve. But they’re not going to back down after the first loss. In fact, they’re going to come back for revenge, they’re going to want to regain the title. And you’re gonna have to do this again. And again.
You know, like I said, I’ve worked with some of the worst, I’m telling you right now, the worst, the very worst of the worst people you’ve never even met. They’re so horrible, right? Because they spent most of their life in prison. We’re not talking about your family manipulations and the conflicts in the workplace. I’m talking about people who murder people and shit, okay, I’ve worked with them.
And in total, it takes maybe a couple of hours before they just give up.
Okay, spread out over a number of confrontations. And so the first one might be 35 minutes, and it seems like that they just never ran out of energy. Second time’s 20 minutes and then at the end, we have a reasonable discussion. And the next one’s ilke 25 minutes because they just pull out the last weapons. And then the next was like five minutes because they realized it’s fucking over.
And then every now and then they spike again. But it doesn’t last long because they’re so used to this calm statue of a guy every time. He just kind of patronizes them with reflections that just are annoying and don’t get anywhere. Eventually they go you know, it’s actually in my best interest to just play along here because this is fucking pointless. That’s the kind of effect you can have on them.
You’re not going to make them a good person, but you can make them easier for you to deal with by just being stronger than they are. That’s it. If you want help with this kind of thing, get in touch. email@example.com
Confrontations are one of my specialties. I can teach you to be an assertive beast without needing to be disrespectful or harmful or manipulative. This kind of stuff is simple but hard to practice and it’s got a lot of kind of mental depth to it. A lot of fears and insecurities we need to overcome, I can help you with that.
Hope this was helpful. Go try it out if you can, you’ll only believe it when you see it happen in real life. And of course it’s going to be messy and it won’t go perfectly and you’ll make slips and you’ll accidentally defend yourself or get a bit you know taking something personally and it never goes perfectly don’t worry about that. Just keep trying to come back to that calm rolling position. You know, even if you fuck up just bail out