The art of the insult is a dark talent and those who have it tend to use it above any other manner of persuasion. We’ve all worked, been related to or known someone who is adept beyond measure at exploiting a weak place in others. That doesn’t mean we can’t deflect these negative tactics.
Perhaps the hardest ones in our lives that might own this sword of words are childhood bullies, siblings (worse) and parents (worst of all!). Emotional pain can be more long lasting and mysteriously more daunting than physical pain. Which is why a well-aimed insult will yield bigger results than a well-aimed punch.
So how can you move out of being an insult sponge to a gleaming Teflon victor? Let’s tackle insults and find a way to navigate out of the put-down!
The first thing to consider as the recipient of an insult is that if you react emotionally, you are giving the person issuing the insult all the power – which is exactly what they want. So, unless you learn some offensive moves fast, the game is over. Let’s face it, everyone will face an insult, perhaps many in their lives. The misconception is that successful, confident people never get insulted. Actually, they do, they just don’t’ accept the insult.
If someone insults you, always pause immediately – even if you are agitated. Bullies can smell fear. So as soon as your pulse increases, even a little, know that you have to consciously slow down. You have to hear the words that are coming toward you. Look the person right in the eye – this says, I am an equal. For many lesser bullies this will be enough to stop them. The mother-in-law who casually remarks, “Well, you’ve got a man’s frame. That’s why you can’t get pregnant,” would have a much harder time saying that to your face. That’s why the worst insults are delivered casually, as an aside. This is the indirect approach – the coward’s way. And as you will discover as you build your strength, bullies are really just cowards in disguise.
Repeat the insult
This seems counter-intuitive. That’s because you are a nice, sane person and likely go by the idea that bad things are not worth repeating. So why repeat an insult? Well, the perpetrator wants you to swallow this insult and make yourself sick with it. But you don’t have to. Not even a word of it. So, when your neighbor says, “Well, it’s because of your political party that you can’t pick a plant that will grow in your garden…” You simply take a breath and say, “I just want to get this straight. Did you just say that my garden is wilted because of my politics?” And then look them straight in the face and wait for the answer. Nine times out of ten, they will back down. Or rephrase it in the light that they have a contender in the ring, thus effectively surrendering. People who must put someone else down can’t face up to anything. They shrink under examination – so cross examine!
So, they throw the insult your way… you repeat it back – thereby tossing it away. Now, walk away. The conversation is finished. The only words you are allowed to hear are an apology, but chances are, it will never come. There are simply people who are not worth talking to. You can try, but manipulative people (and all insults are manipulation) must make every situation a stepping-stone to their own power.
Don’t be surprised if the apology isn’t an acknowledgement at all. Ever hear this one? “I am sorry you are so sensitive. I am just not used to people like you who take everything personally.” This is just their attempt to have you back so they can over-power you again. If you walk away, the dynamic is over.
If this is someone you see often, you are going to have to stay centered at all costs. Keep conversations to bare necessity and use email as much as possible. Make your communication simple, cordial and to the fact. Manipulative people need to keep manipulating and an insulting email could get them fired up. They won’t put into writing what they might say when no one else is around. Just as they will not acknowledge what they said when you repeat it back.
Finally, it is not your job to convert the bully. It is not your job to prove to them the error of their ways. It is your job to stay centered and show respect to yourself and others. And the way to show resepct for the bully is not to give them a target. Actually, finding compassion for them is your best bet. Remember, they will never experience the quality of relationships that you enjoy – from not being a manipulative, insulting person.
On a final note, remember to move toward the people who love you and you will be loved. Go toward people who treat you badly and you will be badly treated. Be a peaceful warrior. You will win the fight by not fighting at all.
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