Have you ever wondered how to not get offended by insults?
You’re sitting there, eyes closed against the gentle warmth of the golden sunlight, lapping up a peaceful moment before you return to the chaos of your day.
You feel joyful in that moment. Your lips curl upward in a soft smile.
Suddenly, out of the blue, sharp as a dart to the board, comes a scathing insult, lanced at you by your colleague.
So intrusive and malicious that your body instantly flips. You’re swamped by adrenaline. Your palms break out in a sweat and heaviness fills your gut as a burning sensation drenches your chest.
What’s going on? You were happy!
In that instant you wonder how to respond – be angry?
Answer with frankness about your colleague’s slapdash work ethics? Or save it for a scathing argument later?
The thoughts race around your head, swirling in a kind of jumbled confusion and you recognise that your happiness has been blasted from sight. Slaughtered, annihilated, gone.
There’s no getting it back now.
Ok, so that may be an invented example of being insulted. The truth is it could be from a friend, a colleague, a loved one or a family member. It might be that you’re often insulted or that it’s an occasional happening.
Whatever the situation, there are tools you can grab and add to your stockpile for keeping sharp in these situations. They won’t all be helpful for all situations, but they’re all useful for some situations.
Choose the ones which resonate with you most so that next time you get an insult hurled your way you’re better equipped to deal with it.
Never let someone else take away your power or make you feel less than them. And remember that the person who is insulting you probably has heaps of problems of their own.
It might not even be about you, personally.
Featured image by: 傅甬 华 on Unsplash
This is the most important – and universal to every single type of insult (unless perhaps, it’s of a dangerous nature or of a time-response urgency, in which case you should obviously act fast).
Train yourself to take a deep breath before you speak. (Yoga‘s great for helping you learn to breathe.)
Inhale deeply, exhale deeply.
Allow the silence to greet the insult (this in itself gives you more power).
Don’t let the quiet bother you while you take these essential deep breaths.
Deep breathing sends messages of safety to your body, indicating that all is well. That you are in control.
This helps slow down instant physical reactions like anger and retaliation, as well as slowing the release of stress hormone cortisol into your bloodstream.
Breath first and breathe deep.
#2 Consider the Motivation for the Insult
The next important step is to consider why the person is behaving in this way.
Does he or she regularly try to demean and belittle you?
Is it about a power struggle? Jealousy? Insecurity?
Or do they have a specific and legit issue with something you’ve done?
If the insult comes from a genuine source (person) and is about a genuine gripe, you might be able to accept the insult and talk through the problem calmly.
But usually insults stem from other reasons such as anger, alcohol, control, jealousy, disappointment, insecurity etc.
It’s worthwhile to recognise why the person is insulting you, as it will help you to choose the best response to the insult while keeping your integrity and equilibrium intact.
Remember that many people attack when they are feeling attacked, and many people try to put others down because they themselves feel unworthy.
Unravelling the ‘why’ might not be easy, but it could be instrumental in changing your response mechanism.
#3 Accept the Swamping of Emotions *Briefly*
Accept that you might feel swamped with negative emotions for a brief moment after the insult.
You are human after all. If you aim for perfection and beat yourself up because you couldn’t stay joyful after being called a *belching bat* (or whatever the insult), then you’re unwittingly adding to the problem.
Recognise your feelings and then shake yourself off and look for the solution. Accept that momentary sensation of feeling like shit for a moment and tell yourself –
All things pass. This is not important. I will find the solution and this will not steal my happiness any more.
When your negative voice pipes up in protest, tell it you are going to deal with this whenever you are ready. Ask it to sit down and watch from the sidelines and to put up a hand if it thinks you’ve forgotten about it.
That way, your angry/hurt/sad voice can be put on hold for a few hours and it’s more effective than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.
If it jumps in on your thoughts, visually direct it back to the side benches of the imaginary basketball/tennis courts or gym.
#4 Avoid the Mental Washing-Machine-Loop
The dreaded washing-machine where a thought goes round and round and round inside your head.
How can you avoid that though, if you’ve been upset by somebody?
Well the first step is to acknowledge that a bit of analysing will happen. It’s natural and sometimes even necessary.
The fact that the thoughts cross your mind isn’t a problem. No, the issue is when they form a loop and repeat over and over and over again.
So, once you’ve given the situation a little bit of attention (as much as you deem to be necessary), then apply the brakes. Hard.
No more of those thoughts, please.
It can help to share your feelings with somebody close to you, somebody who understands and supports you. Not in a needy way, and not in a gossipy way.
This is just a share with someone who knows you and cares for you.
If you’ve practised meditation, you’ll be familiar with watching your thoughts.
As you see the unwanted thought entering your mind, breathe into a quick meditation and start counting backwards with the breath from twenty to zero.
If the thought pops back in before you reach zero, start again at 20.
What if you’re busy (at work for example) and the thoughts are still occupying your mind?
The best cure in that case is to work on all the other points here. By generally improving your response mechanism you’ll find the loop-thinking will reduce on its own.
You can’t always directly remove the thoughts in the heat of the moment but you CAN train your mind – so that next time they don’t get you.
#5 Recognise It’s Just Your Turn – Sometimes People Mess Up
Everything we live though brings us a lesson. And we’re going to have negative moments in life whether we choose to or not. The negative forms part of the whole picture.
It gives you a great advantage if you can accept that. It takes the sting out of it.
I found this to be hugely empowering.
I was doing a meditation when this image came to me: it was an image of a circle which represented everything that is (in whatever topic you choose).
Within the circle was a smaller circle and this represented the negative part of everything that is. This negative part exists within the larger circle and to experience the topic you had to experience both the big circle AND the small circle.
So if somebody insults you and it isn’t about something important to you and it isn’t from a loved one, you can just see it as statistics. It becomes irrelevant what they say or who says it. It was just your quota.
Sure you can try self-improvement if you think you’ve done something wrong, but the point is that it’s just statistically your turn.
You walked across the smaller circle today.
I know that this isn’t actually true in one sense, as it’s possible to experience pure love with zero insults if you’re enlightened (and you live in a cave on a mountain top in a magical forest).
But for most humans, there will be a statistical number of negative experiences which we need to go through. And we need those experiences in order to grow. Whether we like it or not.
So this person is just the messenger giving you the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and learn from it!
#6 There’s Always a Choice
You can’t control other people or their actions. It’s impossible.
But you can control your reactions to external events.
You can make a choice of how you’re going to feel (or in the beginning – try to feel).
The words of a person don’t actually hold any power in themselves. It’s only the reaction to (and the intent behind) the words which cause conflict.
If somebody walked into a room full of meditating monks for example, and accosted them with insults only to find that the monks didn’t break breath or even open their eyes, would the insult create offence?
But unlike the monks, you’re going to have to hear the insult and find a tool so that it doesn’t get through to your inner core and doesn’t steal your happiness.
So, remember that it’s up to you whether you choose to be offended or not. It isn’t weak to be not offended by rude words. It’s the opposite. It’s a sign of strength.
#7 Choose Your Words (or Silence)
If it’s appropriate to answer the insult, because for example the person is someone you care about or the accusation is something you feel you should comment on, don’t answer by reflex.
Responding in a knee-jerk manner usually brings about a mess which will leave you feeling worse.
Instead, if you choose to speak, make sure you select your words before you say anything. Know what you’re going to say first.
And otherwise, choose silence.
#8 Remember You Have 2 Layers of Protection!!
This is a brilliant way to protect yourself from losing your equilibrium when insulted.
It’s from Wayne Dyer.
He says that you have two layers of protection. One is your uniform (clothes) and the other is your body.
Remind yourself – if the person is insulting you in a work capacity, it’s actually your clothes they are talking to (a uniform – your post) and that can protect you because the person knows nothing about you.
Let it go over your head.
If it is a deeper insult, then your body can protect you.
Because the real you is residing within your body and the real you is not the person being insulted. The person is merely insulting your form and you can feel safe, knowing that their insults won’t get through to the real you within.
You have these two layers of protection, always.
The inner kernel is safe.
How to Free Yourself from the Effects of Others – Wayne Dyer
#9 Think of the Person Who’s Insulting You as a Rescue Animal
This might sound strange but I used to rescue abandoned dogs.
Most had been severely abused and were either terrified or aggressive. Never ever did I feel dislike or judgemental towards those dogs. In fact I adored them. If one snapped at me, I understood that he was scared. I knew that he couldn’t trust me yet.
I still felt sympathy and empathy and love towards him.
One of my most loyal dogs was a 3 legged dog – she was 3 legged because when I found her she had bone sticking out of her body where the leg should be. She had been tied up to a log and thrown away like rubbish. When the leg eventually rotted away, she was able to bite through the rope and walk down the road on her two front legs (she was extremely light because she was so very, very thin).
And that’s how I found her. A skeleton walking on her front legs.
And when she recovered, she would bite strangers if they tried to stroke her, but we never blamed her, because it wasn’t her fault. We never made up big bad stories about her reactions. They just were.
We would advise any visitors not to put a hand out to her. And as long as they didn’t, all was well. She was scared of hands, you see. Unknown hands were a trigger for her.
I don’t mean that your insulter is scared, or that you should excuse them because of their trauma or whatever.
I just mean remove yourself from it and think of it as THEIR problem. Just like my gorgeous dog Chica had a problem with trust.
When someone insults you, they have a problem, not you. Because if they didn’t, they’d find a more constructive way to talk about issues rather than hurling insults.
Maybe you hurt the person and they are retaliating. Maybe somebody else did. Maybe they don’t have enough self-love. Don’t make a big story up.
Allow them to be imperfect and brush off the insult as though it didn’t matter (because it doesn’t).
#10 Don’t Accept the GIFT
You’ve probably heard the story of Buddha and the gift. Even though this is apparently not the original quote from Buddha, it serves the purpose well and is a great story for helping anyone to overcome insults.
So to paraphrase the story completely, a young man came across the Buddha teaching his disciples under a tree, and instead of listening, he began to insult the Buddha.
The Buddha remained loving and unruffled. He turned to the man and asked him a question:
‘If someone buys you a gift and you refuse to accept it, to whom does the gift belong?’
The young man thought for a while, and then answered, ‘To the person who was giving it away, as they bought it in the first place’.
‘Exactly’ replied the Buddha. ‘And I do not accept your gift of anger, so it remains yours. And in giving anger you are giving it to yourself.’
I haven’t been precise with the story (and it isn’t original in the first place so does it matter?), but it illustrates the point beautifully.
When somebody insults you, you don’t have to accept the gift.
#11 Accept the Insult
According to Psychology Today, accepting an insult is actually the strongest response possible.
It points out that if the insult is true, there’s no need to be offended. Instead, you can work out what to do to fix it.
If, on the other hand it isn’t true, then why bother being offended by it?
Ultimately, if you accept the insult, the person who is insulting you is met with a dead-end wall so they aren’t empowered to increase their attack.
But there are some situations where it might not feel right to simply accept the insult, especially if someone is playing power games with you, at work for example, or trying to make you look small in front of your boss.
#12 Give a Witty Repartee (But Beware)
If the insult is within a very light context, and IF you’re sharp at giving quick repartee answers, then you might be able to give a witty response to cut back at the insult.
This can work in a few situations but it isn’t a response to rely on, for many reasons. Firstly, not all of us can come up with witty responses when we’ve just been insulted, but even if we could, this could leave you open to further attack, escalating the problem.
It also has the negative aspect of bringing you down to the same level as your attacker.
So overall, this would only be of any use in a small amount of situations.
#13 Use Humour for Light Situations
Again, like #12 this would only be any good if the insult is half-joking. Then you could certainly outwit your insulter by making a joke of the original insult.
It can be a great way to deflect the insult back to its origin without any loss of power or face. But it would only really work in a situation where there was nothing much at stake.
#14 Have a Quiet Word
Having a word with the person is always an option, especially if it’s someone you work with, because then you have no choice but to be in their zone.
And you might need to make your boundaries clear so that they don’t repeat their disrespectful behaviour.
Choose a moment away from the insult, so that you can control the situation and deliver your message without emotions.
#15 Remember You Can Control Your Reaction
The most important of all, along with number #1 is to remember that you can learn to control your reactions.
Your aren’t just a victim at the hands of your emotions. It may not be instant or easy, but you can learn to change the way you respond to negative stimuli.
Worrying about what people think of you can be a reason you give up on something too soon. But just as you can learn not to give up on a situation, you can learn to deal with offensive situations differently.
Self hypnosis is a great way to practise this, as is meditation.
And with regular practise you’ll notice yourself becoming calmer in the face of the storm. Don’t give up on changing your behaviour! You got this!