How to Handle Being Insulted

Angry responses can lead to more insults.
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When someone insults you, it is common to feel an array of uncomfortable feelings, including, anger, shame, humiliation and general unease. One of the most common responses to insults is retaliation. When someone attacks or offends you, you may want to strike back to even the score. However, returning the insult is not the best way to handle the situation, notes psychiatrist Neel Burton in the Psychology Today article “How to Deal with Insults and Put-Downs." There are alternative responses to being insulted that make a stronger statement.

1 Ignore the Insulter

You can’t control someone else, but you can control how you react toward him. If you are insulted, you can decide not to take offense at the remark. By ignoring the insult, you make the powerful statement that you find the insulter too insignificant to warrant a reaction, notes Burton. Walking away without a retaliatory statement may feel like you’re not standing up for yourself, but actually it shows that you are a strong person who will not be controlled by someone's rudeness.

2 Humor the Insulter

Using humor or laughing off an insult can be an effective way to handle it. This kind of response undermines the insult and diffuses tension. It is better than reacting with anger because it doesn’t give credibility to the insult or the insulter; humoring the insulter shows that you didn’t take the insult seriously. However, using humor as a response can be difficult because it requires that you react quickly and cleverly. It is common for insults to catch you off guard, which makes responding with humor a challenge.

3 Recognize the Shame

Someone who makes insulting statements is often riddled with shame. Shame is an evaluation of oneself as bad --- unworthy, unlovable, insignificant. A person who lives in a state of chronic shame often criticizes and humiliates others, notes psychologist June Price Tangney in “Shame and Guilt.” If someone insults you, keep in mind that she likely insults you because she feels terrible about herself. Being mindful of this process can make it easier to ignore the insult.

4 The Painful Truth

Sometimes the truth hurts; the insult might have some truth to it. If the insult comes from someone close to you, consider the statement’s accuracy. The insulting statement may be true, but the verbal delivery may have been unnecessarily harsh and rude. In this case, it is best to accept the insult, suggests Burton, but it is also appropriate to explain to your insulter that his tone was insensitive and that there are better ways to communicate painful truths.

Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn is a clinical psychologist in private practice and author. Her published books include "In the Therapist’s Chair," "Bare: Psychotherapy Stripped" and "Borderline Personality Disorder: New Perspectives on a Stigmatizing and Overused Diagnosis." Her new book "In the Long Run" will be released in 2015.