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7 First Class Responses to Second-Class Put-Downs

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Wouldn't it be great if people went out of their way to appreciate what you did right instead of berating you for what you did wrong? Wouldn't it be fantastic if people nixed their insults, squelched their criticisms and, instead, supported and encouraged you? Before you interrupt my starry-eyed fantasy, let me enjoy my moment of reverie.

Okay, micro-vacation over. Back to reality where people blame and criticize all the time - and that's on their good days! On their bad days, they throw in insults, curses, ridicule and humiliation. When you're on the receiving end of such put-downs, how should you respond?

Most people are familiar with only three strategies:

  1. Defend yourself by explaining or justifying why you did what you did.
  2. Respond offensively, attacking the attacker.
  3. Say nothing and silently stew.

Such responses end up as attacks and counter attacks or passive-aggressive behavior laced with blame and shame. Thus, it's a good idea to expand your repertoire of responses. Here are seven ideas for you to try on:

Agree with what's been said. But disagree with the negative value judgment. "Yes, I agree. My room is a mess. No need to call me names though. I'll clean it up this evening. Promise.

Respond to what's happening (the process), not to what was said (the content). "I can see you're upset with me. What did I do that upset you?"

Agree that you did something wrong and apologize. "Yes, I should have called earlier to cancel. I apologize. I'd like to set another date now if that's ok with you?"

Disagree but try to understand the other person's viewpoint. "I didn't think I did anything wrong but I see you're upset. Tell me more about what's upsetting to you so I can understand."

Enlighten the person about your sensitivities. "I feel demeaned when you use that tone of voice with me. You may think there's nothing wrong with it but it feels patronizing to me."

Offer the person another way to phrase what he said. "I don't mind if you call me 'sensitive' but it does bother me when you say I'm 'overly sensitive'.

Say what's upsetting you succinctly. Often, the less you say the more powerful your message. "The name you just called me is totally unacceptable. I don't deserve to be treated that way."

If you believe that you've been unfairly put-down, your goal should be to respond with valuable, constructive information in a confident, strong tone of voice.

Copyright © 2012: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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