Dear Adrienne

There is a member of my extended family who is driving me crazy! She is the queen of the subtle and not-so-subtle put-down. If I'm excited or happy about something, she will find a way to burst my bubble. She belittles everything I say and do. I would love to tell her off, but I don't want to cause a rift in the family. Unfortunately, it's impossible to avoid her since we all get together often, and I don't want to stop seeing everyone else just because of her. How can I get her to stop this awful behavior?

JK , New Jersey

 

Dear JK

Forget trying to get her to change her behavior. It's almost impossible to get ANYONE to change. Even people who have been in therapy for years find it challenging, so it's a waste of your time trying to change someone who doesn't even see anything wrong with her behavior!

What you DO have the power to change is yourself: your attitude, perspective and reactions.

Generally, people who habitually insult others and put them down are extremely insecure. They are emotionally bullies with the same characteristics as physical bullies; i.e. usually, there is a deep self-loathing and cowardice. They are easily intimidated by those they perceive to be "better" (smarter, better looking, having better skills, nicer things, greater success, more money ,etc.) Their goal is to knock others down to their level (or below) so the dynamic, to them, feels more equal. This is how they make themselves feel more powerful in the world. If you see them objectively, it's easy to understand how pathetic they really are.

Unfortunately, the world is filled with such people. You have to remind yourself that if they didn't feel inferior to you, they wouldn't feel compelled to bring you down. Thus, when they insult you, it's really a back-handed compliment. Their words are not important; only that they are trying to change the dynamic between you; to gain more power in a situation where they feel weak. Usually, they will insult the very things in you about which they feel the most vulnerable, themselves. If you pay attention, you can quickly see the structure of their weakness.

Next time she insults you, instead of being hurt or upset, recognize how sad it is that this is the only way she knows to help herself feel better about herself; the only tool in her emotional arsenal. See her as a sad, frightened, probably lonely person who doesn't know how to relate to others. See her weakness for what it is, and hold on to your dignity and strength. The more she goads and baits you, the more evidence you have that you are the stronger one. Soon, her cruel words will roll off your back (or even become funny to you!)

 

 

 

 

 

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© 2010 Adrienne Gusoff

August 2, 2012