wikiHow to Win a Gotcha War

A "Gotcha War" involves having an argument with someone who is taking out their anger on you in order to minimize or avoid their own inner uncertainties and fears. For the other person, it's easier to identify you as the problem and to take out their frustrations on you rather than accepting that the real issue resides within their own inability to confront the problem. A Gotcha War argument tends to leave you feeling stupid or crazed, despite the fact that you're more in the right than the person arguing with you.

Those particularly adept at "winning" the Gotcha War argument include adolescents, control freaks, and addicts, all people who can suffer a fair amount of uncertainty and fear about where their lives are headed. It is possible to extricate yourself from such an argument though, and you win when you prevent your emotions from controlling your response. Here's what to do to win a Gotcha War.


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    Learn to identify when you're being drawn into a Gotcha War. You might not be sure what is happening, but you know you're getting more and more emotional and a bit crazed. Or you might find yourself trying to say "No" when the other person only wants to hear a "Yes" and you're beginning to feel uncertain that your insistence is correct. Such an argument usually occurs when someone wants you to do something you don't want to do.
    • A large part of the problem is that the person arguing with you plays on your shortcomings and enlarges them; while you're well aware that they're exaggerating things all out of proportion, there is just enough truth in what they're saying to make you feel defensive and want to retaliate because you hate feeling persecuted like this, or being made out to look like a fool.
    • You'll know that you're entrenched in a Gotcha War when you feel uncertain about being right (even though you were right) and guilty or angry wrong for responding in the way that you did. The following illustration details the progression of a Gotcha War:

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    If you're in an "argument" that drifts from whether something is correct to whether someone is correct, it's probably not a legitimate argument but a "Gotcha War".[1] Much that is said about "winning" an argument without regard to truth is really about how to "win" a Gotcha War. In a real argument, you can win even if you "lose" or aren't sure who won because you each understand one another's positions and the world better afterwards.
    • In a Gotcha War, you can lose even if you "win" because you'd just prove you're better at using harassment and manipulation which you probably didn't even cleverly develop yourself.
    • The other person will usually find out, and you will reduce the overall level of trust that lets you and others work together smoothly and productively. There's no shame in simply extricating yourself from a Gotcha War or avoiding a situation that's heading toward one.

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    Know who is most likely to draw you into a Gotcha War and for what sorts of reasons. Examples of common situations where you may feel pressured include:
    • A teen wants you to permit some behavior you don't want to permit such as buying beer for a party of his underage friends.
    • A date or friend wants you to drink more than you want to drink.
    • A mate wants you to spend money you think is sensible.
    • An addict wants you to support his or her habit.
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    Put a stop to the argument. As soon as you realize you're being drawn into a Gotcha War, stop trying to convince the other person you're in the right. It may feel as if you're denying yourself the chance to set things straight, but bear with it; withdrawing to minimal responses is the best approach.
    • Read How to take a feeling temperature for how to check your feelings. It's important to calm yourself, soothe your feelings, and to avoid being wound up any further.
    • Realize that this is about them not about you. They need to let off steam; you just happen to be the current target who needs to remain stalwart. Stay calm and polite throughout the remainder of the encounter.
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    Be aware of your posture and body language. You want to be both strong and relaxed.
    • Keep your shoulders pulled down.
    • Do not make fists.
    • Keep your face calm by making sure you don't pull your eyebrows together; keep your eyes open wide, your teeth unclenched, and your jaw relaxed.
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    Respond as little as possible to anything the other person says. Soften your facial features and look at the other person as if to say "I know where this is headed and I'm not falling for it but I respect your need to vent." In other words, look as compassionate as you can - bemused, surprised, tolerant are words to keep in mind. The following responses are minimal responses:
    • Nodding your head. If the other person has come back at you for the way you're now looking at them, shake your head briefly and appear even more compassionate.
    • Shrugging your shoulders. This indicates letting go of the challenge they're presenting to you.
    • Saying "huhuh" or "mmmmmm." These are suitable non-confrontational, non-confirming replies to aggressive questions.
    • Informing them: "I hear what you are saying."
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    Maintain the minimal response approach. If asked a direct question, continue to make minimal responses. For example, "Can I go to the party?" could be responded to with either:
    • "Yes" if you agree.
    • "No" if you don't agree.
    • If a simple "Yes" or "No" isn't working, try "You want me to do (fill in) ___ but I can't/won't."
    • As a general rule, it's best to presume good faith: unless you're sure you're being asked a question just to harass or pressure you or out of aimless rambling, provide a brief and non-confrontational but meaningful reason. The other person may be genuinely confused in addition to being upset. You won't help the situation by being abrupt,[2] but it's often best to cut off discussion and leave a deteriorating situation before it gets worse.
      • For instance, if your friend over-drinks, and wants you to join because, as you gather, he thinks you'll enjoy it too, you might say "Thanks, but I prefer the feeling of having had just a little". Then, if he persists, firmly refuse to participate or leave.
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    Wait for the conclusion. There are several things that may happen:
    • If the person is running out of steam, that's a sign the war is ending. Either remain quiet and let them have the last word or ask: "Is there something else you need from me?"
    • If the other person is heating up and getting angrier, suggest a time out to think things over.
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    Let go of it. When the war is obviously over, do not refer to it again. It's over and done with. And they'll have learned that you won't allow yourself to be wound up in this manner again.


  • Use self soothing tools:
    • Calming breaths
    • Soothing self talk
    • Thinking of a safe place.
  • Some people only look at things from their point of view. They don't really understand anyone else's way of seeing, and would want to be right as much as possible. If this is the case, try to reason rationally with them. If you see the opponent is actually right, be mature and deal with it. No one is going to be right all the time.
  • Let them know your reasons and explain yourself rationally.
  • Create and use an anger feeling thermometer to help you decide if you need to ask for a time out.


  • Most Gotcha War players are not violent, but if you're dealing with a person who is prone to violence and that means has acted violently in the past, be alert to signs that their anger is growing.
  • If the other person does not agree, say, "I'm going out, I'm afraid either one of us might get so angry we'll do something we regret. I want to solve this but right now we're just going in circles.
  • If you are worried about being physically hurt, suggest a time out. Say "I need time to think about what you are asking. Right now our arguing is making it hard for me to think."
  • When dealing with someone who is violence prone, counseling is a must. Your safety depends on it. And be sure to exit immediately, for your safety.

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