How to Deal with Insults and Protect Your Emotional Well-Being?

Setting boundaries: 4 ways to deal with insults and protect emotional wellbeing

Insulting words or behaviour can be really difficult to deal with. But once you realise that an insult is actually not about you but about the other person’s deeper complexes, it gets better. Setting clear boundaries so that certain topics are not talked about, is a great way to keeping relationships healthy.

My 8 year old daughter came from her school extremely upset one day, almost on the verge of tears. After some gentle coaxing, she revealed that one of her classmates had made fun of what she had carried in her tiffin box that day. It had made her feel hurt and insulted. As a parent should, I explained to her that it was her friend’s opinion and didn’t mean her tiffin was bad. No food is really bad. My daughter felt a little better after listening to me. I also told her that her choice may not be her friend’s choice but this didn’t mean that the latter could be hurtful about it. That evening, my daughter understood that there are boundaries to be maintained, even in friendships.  She assured me that she will be more assertive here on.

Not just children, adults too face similar situations, where people we know or even do not know very well, say insulting or demeaning things to us. Hearing negative words about ourselves – our body, finances, behaviour or anything else triggers a reaction of shame, lowers our confidence and even urges us to go into a shell. But to safeguard ourselves from other’s words, judgements or views, is our own responsibility. We have to set boundaries to ensure our emotional wellbeing.

We know how mulling over insulting words or reactions often lead to a bad mood, unnecessarily engaging our mind into a negative spiral. It impacts our creative capabilities and even lends itself to a negative self-image.

So if you are hurting due to an insulting behaviour of someone, decode what and how much that behaviour should mean to you. Also reflect on the ways that could uplift you to feel better without being impacted negatively.

Acknowledge your reaction and feelings

You have just faced an unpleasant and insulting behaviour and are feeling hurt, upset and angry. Rather than shrugging off those thoughts, let them run through. Feel and process them. If you keep pushing away the thoughts that are painful, they may erupt repeatedly, troubling and keeping you in a state of underlying anger.

For instance, those you thought were your ‘cool’ buddies, may have just intentionally or unintentionally commented on your body weight. While you too may not be happy with your increased body weight, a friend making a remark about the same might make you feel humiliated. Instead of ignoring these feelings, acknowledge and accept them. Once your initial thought of being insulted cools down, you may take it as a challenge and a wake-up call to shed those extra kilos. What you initially considered a humiliation can turn out to be an opportunity to keep you motivated and work towards reaching your optimum weight.

Do not take it personally

“It can be extremely painful when someone insults your body size, intentionally or unintentionally,” says Emma Kobil, a licensed professional counsellor and an expert in helping people with eating disorders, based in Denver, US.

The truth often is this – when people show insulting behaviour or say humiliating words, it is due to their own ignorance, suffering or pain. We need to realise that even if hurtful words are directed at us, its actually not about us. By taking it personally, we make it painful and keep revisiting it, giving it permanence.

However, understanding this basic behavioural concept will let us tide over the situation with a calmer frame of mind. Doing so repeatedly will even make us readier and better equipped for future.

Be prepared to respond properly

Once the awareness sets in that most insulting behaviours are due to the other person’s mental state, we are better prepared to face  intimidating behaviour.

For starters, we can come up with an assertive response like, ‘If you can explain what you just said a bit more, it would help’ or ‘What makes you say something so extreme?’, the one making the hurtful statement may either explain or simply back off, not expecting this reaction from us. There may even be an apology from their end, implying that they have realised their mistake and might not cross such boundaries in the future.

Set solid boundaries

“No one can insult you without your permission,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the US and an activist. These words are sure to resonate with many. When we set clear boundaries with our peers, co-workers, neighbours and family members about the conversations that we can or cannot be a part of and are comfortable or uncomfortable with, we define our boundaries. We take a decisive call on which topics can be broached.

It has also been seen that we tend to feel more insulted when those who are close to us say something hurtful. Setting clear boundaries help in not getting caught in such situations with loved ones. It is always advisable to have a talk with our friends and family about what we appreciate and what we don’t.

Finally, instead of dwelling upon hurtful words and behaviour, it is better to reason it out. Never let insults impact your emotional wellbeing as such behaviour occurs due to many factors, and may not be about you at all. Also, once you set clear boundaries, it is much easier to deal with hurtful or intimidating behaviour. Always remember that communication is key to happiness in life.


Why do people show insulting behaviour?

Often people show insulting behaviour or say humiliating words due to their own ignorance, suffering or pain.

What happens when we hear insulting words?

Hearing negative words about ourselves – our body, finances, behaviour or anything else often triggers a reaction of shame, lowers our confidence and even urges us to go into a shell.




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