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Creative Comebacks to Petty Put-Downs

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Wouldn’t it be great if people nixed their insults, squelched their criticisms, and instead, did nothing but support and encourage you?

Wouldn’t you love it if others went out of their way to appreciate what you did right, instead of berating you for what you did wrong?

If you’re into space exploration, I hope you discover a planet in which people live that way. But on earth, people blame and shame all the time. And that’s on their good days. When they really have an ax to grind, they add insults, curses, ridicule and humiliation. Unless you’re extremely lucky, you, at some time, will be on the receiving end of such put-downs. How do you respond?

Do you get so wounded that you become tongue-tied? Do you silently stew, only to think of what you wish you would have said?

Or, do you become so enraged that you respond offensively, retaliating with your own nasty put-downs?

Or, do you respond defensively, explaining and justifying your actions, hoping that the person will understand and perhaps even apologize?

These three strategies, on occasion, may be okay. But you can do better by widening your repertoire of responses. Here are ten more comebacks to nasty put-downs...

1. Agree with what’s true but disagree with the negative value judgment.
“Yes, I've been working on this project for months. That’s not because I don't give a damn, however, it's because I want it to be really good.”

2. Respond to the process (what’s happening) not to the content (the specific words uttered).
“You’re really upset with me today. What happened?”

3. If it’s your fault, agree that you did something wrong. Apologize but don’t make it an earthshaking event.
“Yes, I should have called earlier to cancel. I apologize. I'd like to make another date now, if that's okay with you."

4. Disagree with the other person but try to understand his viewpoint.
“I didn’t think I betrayed you by speaking to X about your divorce but I see you’re upset. Tell me specifically what was upsetting to you so I can understand.”

5. Enlighten the other person about your sensitivities.
“I hate when you speak to me with that tone of voice. You may think there’s nothing wrong with it, but it feels patronizing to me."

6. Respond with humor, a joke or a bit of sarcasm.
“You’re right! I made a mistake. I’ve been working on becoming a perfect person for a while now but it looks like I’m not there yet.”

7. State succinctly what’s upsetting. Often the less you say, the more powerful your message is.
“I won’t tolerate being cursed at. Period. End of story.”

8. When someone says something mean or disrespectful, call them on it.
“That’s a mean thing to say. I don’t like it.”

9. Respond simply and don’t further engage.
“Thank you for your opinion.”

10. Offer the person another way to phrase what he said.
“I don’t mind if you call me ‘sensitive’. That’s true. It’s when you call me ‘overly sensitive’ that it feels like a put-down.”

If you’ve been unfairly put-down, your goal should be to respond with valuable and constructive information in a confident, strong (but not nasty) tone of voice.

Copyright © 2015: 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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