Becoming Unoffendable

 

Read this article in other languages: Italiano

I was at a busy library in London a few weeks back when a quirky, middle-aged lady started chatting to me. About three minutes into the conversation she commented on the grand size of my nose. And then she poked at it once with her finger while laughing.

A few years ago, such an incident would have really upset me. I would have turned bright red and cursed that woman under my breath. Then I would have spent the rest of the day secretly seething, and feeling very self-conscious about my appearance.

But what actually happened a few weeks back was this: Nothing.

What I once would have perceived as an insult had no effect on me whatsoever. The conversation soon ended and I went on about my day quite happily.

Last week in Munich I had another (albeit small) opportunity to take offense, when a German chap mistakenly identified me as an Englishman…

- I’m actually from Ireland.

- Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.

- [smiling] Don’t worry, it’s very hard to offend me.

Tis true. It is very hard to offend me nowadays. In this post I want to share with you the type of mindset I’ve developed that makes me pretty much immune to insults.

And then you can go post nasty accusations in the comments to test me out ;-)

Refusing gifts

There’s a story about the Buddha that I like to keep in mind.

There was a man who constantly harassed and insulted the Buddha, throwing all sorts of verbal abuse at him. But the Buddha never seemed fazed by this. When someone asked why he didn’t take offense, he simply replied…

If someone gives you a gift and you refuse to accept it, to whom does the gift belong?

Last week in Frankfurt I was writing part of this very post while waiting for a train. An American woman approached and asked me for some spare change. When I returned a polite-but-firm no, she called me a jerk and moved on.

That was her gift, and I refused to accept it. I shook off the insult and got right back to work as if nothing had happened.

You always have a choice

I also like to keep in mind the words of Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning.

Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust and went on to found logotherapy. In the book, he recounts his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. He writes of the guards taking everything away from the prisoners, all of their human freedoms, in an effort to crush their spirit and destroy their will. But Frankl came to the realization that there was one thing that could not be taken away from him: his freedom to choose his reaction to what was happening to him. As Frankl himself put it:

Between stimulus and response lies man’s greatest power: the power to choose.

It’s easy to blame others for our misgivings.

– It’s his fault this happened!

– If only my boss wasn’t such a condescending bitch!

– I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky kids!

I see that as surrendering your power to choose. Even if you find yourself in a terrible situation, or if someone throws the mother of all insults your way, you still get to choose your response. Nobody can take away that power from you, but too often we surrender it ourselves.

Standing up for yourself

I should clarify that I’m not advocating you sit back and let people insult you repeatedly without response (sorry, Buddha). You have to stand up for yourself every now and then, lest folks start taking advantage of you and your unoffendability.

I was in a hostel in Munich last week, sharing a room with three other people. One of them had a real knack for waking me up. It was like he’d been preparing his whole life for that one task. He’d get up at 5am, turn on the light, and start making all sorts of noise as he got ready for the day, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there were other people in the room trying to sleep.

The first morning I let it go, choosing not to take offense. But the second morning, when it became apparent that this guy wasn’t going to figure out the whole empathy thing on his own, I called him on it. If I hadn’t, I knew I would have carried the resentment around with me for the rest of the day, and probably would have bitched about the guy behind his back.

Too many of us do this, methinks. We whine and complain about how other people mistreat us, but we never actually say anything to the offenders. Whining and complaining is pretty pointless in general, but it also becomes spineless when you haven’t brought up the issue with the offender first.

So, if you ever have cause to take issue with someone or something, instead of getting offended, take action to rectify the situation. If you’re watching a movie that sucks, stop watching and go do something else. If someone pisses you off, call them on it.

And if you can’t call them on it for whatever reason, the smart choice is to distance yourself from that person, or just learn to accept their behavior. No good comes from enduring an annoyance and building up all kinds of secret resentment.

The Stoic approach to insult management

I recently read a great book about Stoicism as a practical philosophy of life. There was a whole chapter on how to deal with insults. I’ll share with you here a few of my key takeaways.

Let’s say someone insults you intentionally. Their goal is to upset you. The best way to handle that is to simply refuse to become upset. This not only stumps your insulter, but it also makes them feel completely powerless. It’s like someone trying to kill you by shooting you point blank in the chest. How do you think they’d feel if the bullet just bounced off, superman style, and you responded with nothing more than a raised eyebrow?

If someone is trying to hurt you with an insult, it can also help to imagine that they’re a child. Because, really, such insults are childish. If you’re at a friend’s dinner party and his 3-year-old son comes up to you and calls you a poo poo head, you’re probably going to look at him in amusement, maybe ruffle his hair and then return to the adult conversation. You wouldn’t take the insult seriously.

Unless, that is, you are actually a poo poo head, and not all that comfortable being one.

Which brings me to another point: Sometimes we find ourselves taken aback by insults because there’s some truth to them, because they poke at our insecurities. Like if you’re losing your hair and someone makes a bald joke at your expense. In such a scenario, realize that your reaction says more about you than it does about the severity of the insult. If you have a solid foundation of self-assurance and are comfortable with your appearance, you won’t take offense.

See, if you’re really sensitive about your hair loss, that’s entirely your issue to deal with. Instead of wishing people would stop mentioning your receding hairline (out of your control), you could just learn to be comfortable rocking the bald dome (within your control).

“Anytime we think the problem is ‘out there,’ that thought is the problem.” – Stephen Covey

Likewise, if someone calls you fat and you get offended by it, I suspect that you’re not truly comfortable with your weight. Instead of resenting that person, you should use their words as a launch pad for exploring your relationship with your body, and making it a healthier one.

The Stoics actually welcomed insults, for two reasons.

The first is best summed up by these words from Antisthenes (who was technically a Cynic and not a Stoic, but I digress)…

“Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”

The idea here is that insults can act as signposts. If there’s a grain of truth to them, then they help point us in the direction of our faults and insecurities, and we can get busy working on those and improving ourselves.

The second reason Stoics welcomed insults was because they believed they helped build a kind of immunity against criticism. A man who has been criticized regularly in the past is likely to shrug off future insults as no big deal, while a man who has never been insulted before will surely be left reeling when someone first likens him to donkey appendage.

Along these lines, a Stoic named Cato purposely used to go against the norms of fashion in ancient Rome, shunning the popular light purple tunic in favor of simpler, darker attire. As explained in the aforementioned book…

Cato did this not because he “sought vainglory”; on the contrary, he dressed differently in order to accustom himself “to be ashamed only of what was really shameful, and to ignore men’s low opinion of other things.”

This mindset has definitely proven beneficial to me. I used to get upset by negative comments here on the blog, or by people disagreeing with me. But not so much anymore.

I encourage folks to put themselves out there online, and in the real world, because you learn how to deal with other people not liking with you, or disagreeing with you, or thinking you’re a complete asshole. I believe it’s important to learn how to handle that. You’re inviting criticism, sure, but I see it as hardening myself against criticism, building a thicker skin.

Again, imagine the guy who never puts himself out there, never puts himeself in a position to be criticized. What happens when he falls into an unavoidable situation where criticism is inevitable?

Easy: He crumbles.

It’s (usually) nothing to do with you

Nowadays I tend to feel sorry for people who insult me. Granted, pity isn’t always my initial reaction, but give me a few seconds and I can usually reign myself in and realize that I don’t have to take offense.

Some people seem to be put out by the fact that I don’t drink, and they act a little shitty towards me because of it. I met a girl in England who openly mocked me about not drinking, and I understood perfectly once I saw her realtionship with alcohol. It wasn’t healthy, and she knew it. My teetotalling ways shone an unflattering light on her drinking habits, and she resented me for that. The quick and easy way for her to feel better about herself was to write me off as a weirdo, worthy of her best insults.

I once parted ways with a girlfriend, and a few months later she told me she was glad we broke up because I was “too free thinking and in love with the world.” She wasn’t being cruel — I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean it as an insult at all — but those words really hurt me at the time. Being free thinking and in love with the world are two of my favorite things about myself, and there was someone telling me that they disliked those qualities.

It took me a while, but I eventually came to realize that those words said more about my ex than they did about me. As long as I was happy with my world-loving, free-thinking ways, it didn’t much matter what she thought.

With that realization, I was able to let go of the hurt.

Fuck, and such

Some of us insist on getting really offended by profanities, like the word fuck. As my buddy Trevor notes, this makes little sense…

The only reason [some] words are bad is because we MAKE them bad… some people have chosen to interpret the noise of the air pressure of the consonant f, followed by the vocal chords making an uh, then more air pressure of the consonants ck, as poison to their ears.

And that’s really what it comes down to: a choice. Nobody can offend you without your permission. If you choose to interpret a word as offensive, that’s entirely your business.

Some people get upset when I use naughty words on this blog, or when I write about taboo subjects. Or they’ll get offended just because my opinion is different to theirs. And to those people I say: You do realize that thousands of children in the world are needlessly starving to death every day, right? If you’re going to take offense to something, I recommend you start there, not with what some random dude writes on the Internet, that little thing you disagree with, or wish your sensitive eyes hadn’t seen.

Stephen Fry said it best…

“If I had a large amount of money I should found a hospital for those whose grip upon the world is so tenuous that they can be severely offended by words and phrases yet remain all unoffended by the injustice, violence and oppression that howls daily”

(It must be noted though that Mr. Fry surely has accumulated a large fortune at this stage, yet still no such hospital. Color me disappointed.)

Now, all that said, I don’t advocate people go around shouting profanities from the rooftops. Best be considerate and refrain from asking little old ladies how their motherfucking day is going.

Practical steps for dealing with insults

Alright, I feel a bit of a summation is in order. Here’s a step-by-step approach to dealing with insults that I’ve found particularly effective.

1. Pause

When someone throws an insult your way, the first thing you need to do is take a moment. Just breathe. Don’t respond right away. Most people immediately let their lizard brain loose to respond to insults, fighting fire with fire, and that’s how they get themselves in trouble and say or do things they later regret.

So take a moment. With time and practice, that moment will become shorter, because you’ll train yourself to instinctively respond in an appropriate manner.

2. Consider the intent

Don’t even worry about whether there’s any truth to the insult just yet. Consider the intent instead. If you can figure that out, it’s easier to come up with an appropriate response.

3. Respond

If the other person is intentionally trying to insult you, or at least that’s what you suspect, there are a few things you can do.

One is to just completely ignore the insult, to pretend you didn’t even hear it. Just act like whatever was said isn’t even worth acknowledging because it’s so ridiculous.

But there is a danger to that. As noted earlier, sometimes you need to stand up for yourself and call someone out when they insult you. Because if you don’t, they may receive the message that you’re a pushover, willing to be their verbal punching bag whenever they need someone to pick on.

My approach is to ignore the first insult. If that doesn’t work, and the person persists in trying to insult me, then I call them out. You can say something like, “Yeah, I heard you the first time.” Say it while looking them in the eye and with an amused look on your face, and hold that for a few seconds before going on to talk about something else.

Another way to call them out is to name the game. Ask them, “You wouldn’t be trying to offend me now, would you?” Or say, “Wow, my view on that really makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it?”

Again, you remain calm and appear as though you’re amused by the childish game they’re playing. Because insults are a childish game after all, and you’re above that. So let them know.

You can also respond to an insult with self-deprecation. If someone tries to make a joke at your expense, you add to the joke. Again, you’re sending the message that you can’t be messed with, that you don’t take offense to silly things.

4. Contemplate

Here’s where we switch from talking about outer response to inner response. Inner is more important, because on the outside you can fake a good response to an insult, or a good non-response, but you may end up secretly seething about it for months or even years afterwards.

And that’s not good. You don’t just want to appear unoffendable. You actually want to be unoffendable.

As mentioned, I don’t worry about whether there’s any truth to the insult when it happens (unless it’s an obvious falsehood and I can easily dismiss it). Instead, I focus on delivering an appropriate response and save the contemplation for later, usually when I’m alone and have adequate time to think. Only then will I consider if the insult actually has any basis in reality, and if it points to an issue I need to address. If not, I can just forget about it.

I’ve found that nowadays it’s almost impossible for me to get offended by false accusations. I’m secure enough in myself and I live in line with my values. If someone tells me I’m a terrible person, I know it’s not true.

And if there is some truth to an insult fired my way, I take that Stoic approach and try use it to my advantage. Not only does it help me discover parts of myself I need to work on, but it’s also good practice for handling whatever future criticism the world sends my way.

How do you handle insults?

This was a pretty long and comprehensive post, but I’m sure you fine folks can teach me a thing or two about handling insults via the comments. Have at ‘em.

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88 Comments

  1. It’s rare for someone to actually insult you in a real world situation.

    On the internet…all the time because anonymity allows people to behave like idiots.

    The last time I was actually insulted in real life was by a group of sales people at a job. I got on the wrong side of them and they behaved nastily towards me. Ultimately I just quit that job. Not always the right option and I sometimes question whether I should have been thicker skinned. I’m glad I had the choice to walk away though.

    • Very true about insults on the Internet, David. I find those have usually have the least basis in reality though, just bored trolls trying to feel superior. I’ve learned to never take their words seriously.

      And as regards your situation with the sales people, sometimes walking away is the smartest thing. Unfortunately, we can never know that for sure.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Hey Niall,

    Wanted to add with the English girl. People call out others who don’t have similar tendencies cause of their own securities with those tendencies. You = not a drinker, she associates herself as awesome BY drinking = will feel threatened by you not drinking. It’s a projection of her own insecurity so she’ll call you out on it to protect her own ego. Yay for Psychology.

    *Also do look into updating commentluv, current version not supported.

  3. Great article Niall. I feel like we are on a very similar path in this way – it’s getting harder and harder to bother me, and when I feel bothered, I figure out what is bothering me and address it (if possible) or release the feeling (if not).

    My most recent model of this – we talk about people being thin-skinned when they are easy to offend, and thick-skinned when the insults just bounce off. But thick skinned presupposes that there’s still some kind of insult that will get through, as long as it’s harsh and powerful enough. What about being no-skinned? – if there’s no “you” there to offend, then you permit the insult to pass over you and through you, and when the insult has gone past you may turn the inner eye to where it has gone and recognize there is now nothing. Only you remain, that you that you know is formless, completely safe, secure and free from all harm.

    (Bonus points for citing the inspiration of the second last sentence)

  4. “Now, all that said, I don’t advocate people go around shouting profanities from the rooftops. Best be considerate and refrain from asking little old ladies how their motherfucking day is going.” – best quote

  5. Hiya Shithead! Good post. Nice to know that I can now call you whatever I want!

    Hope the trip is going well, and that Munich was worth the trip. Some cool pictures there in the post.

    You in Zurich now? You take a train through the Alps?

    As for the insulting thing, I know what you mean. For years the idea that I had a big nose was something that really got to me… lots of people in school having a go at me… and then I relaised, that some of the people saying this to me, generally had their own strange quirks in their faces, be it buggy eyes, or big ears, or whatever. I don’t know when it happened, but it was definitely sometime around 1st year in college, when I really stopped giving a shit what people thought of me in the physical sense. I think what gets to me, and sometimes still does, is when someone doesnt like me for me. One of the hardest things in my job is to sometimes let go of the fact that I am going to get on with someone, and just be a dick to them to get the job done. Because the reality is that sometimes people are just rude… they have their own shit, and we got to just accept that, brush it off, and play them at their game (this is really only in situations where you are forced into dealing with someone – like my job – if someone comes at me in my job, I gotta deal with them… and sometimes for months at a time.)

    I think nowadays I am a bit more thicker skinned. I find though that sometimes I still trip myself up, and actually the only times I get noticably annoyed is when I say or do something that I don’t think I agree with myself… you know… when I don’ t take that moment to breath and think before I speak…

    Anyway… good post. Insightful.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Marc. Definitely get what you’re saying about having to stand up to people at work. Fair play to you for handling it as you do.

      And yup, arrived in Zurich today. I ended up needing seven different trains to get here from Munich due to a slight mix up, but all was grand in then end. Twas a misty enough day though so I didn’t get to see much of the Alps.

      Ah well, next time :-)

  6. Whoa that was a long post! And I thought I was the queen of long! LOL

    For me, the most important point of the post was to speak up when someone upsets you. I tell myself that I’m being considerate by letting it pass, but that’s not really true. I’m afraid of conflict. But as you point out, being quiet does no one any good. I remain on simmer, and they continue to cluelessly needle people (I really do believe most people are clueless rather than mean-spirited). This will be my new courage challenge, Niall. I do so love reading your big-headed blog. :)

    • Thanks, Jen. I’ve had to work on overcoming my fear of conflict, too. It’s still a work in progress for me, but I’ve made solid strides the last few years. It gets a little easier every time.

  7. Hi Niall I love your blog but must admit that sometimes I don’t have time to read all the posts. Today I clicked on and am so glad I did. No insults here – I think this was a fantastic post and just what I needed to read about now. I liked it was long – you didn’t cut it back because f worry that it was too wordy and that in itself was a lesson to me as I often worry that people will get bored by what I write.

    I am moving house – moving country at the moment and in the course of clearing out stuff have been reading old diaries before burning them . I look back on so many years spent worrying about what other people think of me, worrying about how I behave and look and how I come across. I have been thinking a lot about being over sensitive instead of just being yourself and trying not to hurt anyone but knowing that sometimes it is unavoidable that you rub people up the wrong way for many different reasons.

    Your post was a great reminder to keep on track and that it is possible to grow a new skin which protects you from the slings and arrows of this world while allowing you to learn from experience too. thanks so much. I carry away with me today the image of superman/woman who smiles as bullets bounce off and rebound on the shooter. Take care and thanks Kate x

  8. Nice post!

    It also reminded me of a T-shirt I saw a while ago saying: I’m NOT a Facebook status, you don’t have to ‘like’ me.

    I have this one response when people go too far with their insults: Do you feel better now you’ve had the chance to reflect your insecurities on me? (And when they are really pushing it, I add: now let me get on with grown-up stuff.)

    Insults and the like never really bothered me. I guess I became think skinned at a very early age. (Happy, like the Hippo, which is an interesting fable from an unusual source)

    Besides, I live what some might call an Epicurean lifestyle. I enjoy the simple pleasures and know that sometimes bad things do and must happen.

    Have a great Motherfucking day!

  9. Awesome post, your writting gets better and better each time…

    There is one thing a friend once told me that I try to remember EVERYDAY: when someone does something GOOD for you, I like to give back DOUBLE the good to this person, this way you give the world good vibes, extra in case someone needs them ;) But when someone does something BAD to you, you should not keep it all inside, as this will harm you, but you shouldn´t give back double the bad, just a tiny litlle less bad. This way you get the bad out of you but don´t leave any extra bad into the world.

    It is freaking hard sometimes though… people whine and complain so much it´s contagious, and I just want to yell STOP IT ! and then hide, sometimes ;)

    I am a firm believer that as long as it is said out of respect, we can say anything; but I need to start believing more firmly that when people say things out of respect, I shouldn´t take rejection personally ;)

    Voy a practicar mas el no sentirme ofendido tras leer tu post :)

    Pistacho!

  10. Really feel that post was great; I will be looking for the book Mans Search for Meaning; your post took me to alot of sites which I will study. I have a question and would be interested in your viewpoint, even though I know that you do not have kids. I would, and can, treat others this way when I am insulted, purposely or not, but what if it is a teenager? My own teenager with whom I am in charge of teaching morality, civility, politeness, courtesy, etc.

    • I’m trying, but I can’t seem to come up with anything I’d consider to be a helpful answer to that question, Christine. Methinks I’ll have to wait until I have kids myself to really give any insights on something like that. I’m sure it’s not easy.

    • hey christine,

      as a mom, and a step-mom, this is something i’ve really had to battle through. (not that i have the ultimate answers, of course, but we’ve managed to make it work at our house) the first thing – which is an echo of what’s above – is to be able to not have the comments affect you internally. BE unoffendable. realize that when you’re teen screams at you, or slams doors or mutters things under his/her breath, or gives you the passive-aggressive sigh of discontent, that it’s not about you. this is what teens (and kids of all ages) do. it’s not (in most cases) a personal attack, so much as a tantrum against a world that isn’t falling into their lap just the way they wanted. and this is something we have to teach them how to deal with, as you mentioned. so number one is to let the offense itself roll off your back. if you’re upset by it, or feel angry in any way, take some time (as i’m sure you know) and let that go before approaching your kid. it’s never a good idea to try to resolve conflict when you’re coming from a place of insecurity or hurt or anger.

      now the fun part. :) i’m not the greatest at conflict. i’d much rather avoid it when possible, but with our kids, we can’t. that’s – as you noted – our job. and so i started looking at these moments as opportunities. opportunities to deepen our relationship, and teach them (by example through my own response, as well as in words) how to best approach life. we have a pretty open household, and are really comfortable talking things through, but even so, i am reluctant to jump into a conversation /lesson with an angry kid. it’s rarely effective. so i thought of some things that might diffuse the situation first. this is what works for us.

      with my teen(s) it’s usually the passive-aggressive sigh accompanied by an epic eyeroll. when this happens, i usually smile really big, and then tell them to do it again. i either sit and look at them with a really intense excitement, like i’m about to watch my favorite movie, and then say ‘go!’ and wait for a repeat performance. or if it was lacking, i’ll say, ‘that sigh wasn’t deep enough’ or ‘come on, you can do better than that.’ and then maybe i sigh really big and tortured to show them how it’s done, and by this time we’re both grinning, and maybe we can talk about the problem.

      with a slammed bedroom door, i do the same, ‘hey, you missed one’ and then i’ll go and slam the kitchen door as well. or the bathroom… or all the doors in the house. and it’s silly and it makes the act itself kind of ridiculous, and then we can move on. and have the discussion about respect and the world not revolving around them (or me, or any of us) etc.

      if it’s words, … words that maybe you don’t want them to repeat… i sometimes turn it around to something completely random and arrestingly off-beat. when they yell ‘i hate you!’ … respond with (in a matchingly loud voice) ‘i hate wtermellon-flavored bubblegum!!’ … it stops them in their tracks, and you’ve shown your willingness to put yourself on the line. to call them out for their childishness in a way that is non-confrontational and daring.

      in other words, the act or word of anger has to get addressed, just sitting back and letting it go won’t help either of you. but if it can be called out in a way that simultaneously addresses the issue and robs it of its power (by laughing at it together), then you put yourselves in a place to maintain a relationship that thrives despite bad days, and open up avenues to teach morality, civility, politeness, respect, etc.

      sorry to take up so much space, great post, niall. loved the brilliant mix of philosophy, and the awesome visual of superman deflecting bullets with no response save a raised eyebrow.

  11. Long ago I came up with this quote: “A problem isn’t a problem, until you make it one.”

    Keep up the good work!

  12. It’s uncommon for me to receive insults but I confess that it does offend me when someone says something disrespectful, not for the thing said, but for that person who consider himself in the position of being allowed to insult or treat someone disrespectfully. I know, I still have a lot to learn about being more open minded in this regard: I understand opinions different to mine but I struggle to understand how someone could say something harmful or disrespectful to anybody and not feel horrible with themselves. I will follow your advices in your post, thank you very much! :D

  13. I love all of this. Buddha, Stoics, Frankl, practical advice for something that causes me a lot of trouble… Awesome post.

    I’ve gotten better at dealing with criticism from people I don’t know, but the hardest is dealing with criticism from people I do know, especially people I like. But those comments are usually intended to be helpful, not harmful. It’s like they believe that I’m a Stoic and will use what they said to learn, when I’m over here trying to patch up my extremely thin skin. Maybe next time I will remember to consider the intent.

    By the way, I think big noses are the best. ;)

  14. LMFAO. Spot on my friend. And as per usual you seem to be addressing an important topic in my life right now. I hope you are planning a new ebook in the future where all of your gritty wisdom can be rounded up. Put me down for a copy, please. Thanks again.

    Michael

  15. Hey Niall, allow me to be truthful: When I met you in September that was one thing that was going on in the back of my mind ‘ Damn, his nose is big! ‘ Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut as I didn’t want to cause offence, guess it was pointless after reading this! :P

    OK, that aside, being unoffendable is something I really need to work more on. Its something that used to bother me ( one incident where I uncovered people in college talking shit about me behind my back online comes to mind ) and while it doesn’t so much anymore, its still there. I guess it just something that will be worked on more and more as I go through life.

    Also, your CommentLuv plugin has expired, just letting you know.

    • Just to echo Adrian’s thoughts entirely – well, apart from the nose stuff.

      This “third party” form of offence, such as being talked about online without one’s knowledge, is one that’s the hardest to cope with. Being insulted face-to-face is one thing, and Niall handles it brilliantly in this excellent essay. But it’s hearing abuse being filtered back from other people that is hardest to cope with.

      How can I reject the offence, and laugh at it, if my accuser isn’t there to witness my rejection of it? It’s tough.

      • Great point, gentlemen. In such cases, that’s where your inner response really comes into play. If there’s some truth to the insults, then it’s up to you to take action and work on that side of yourself.

        If there’s not truth to it, and it’s just people being mean, you’re still left with the power to choose your response. You can take offense and get upset about it, or you can let it go, realizing that your insulters are the unfortunate ones, all caught up in their games of childish and cowardly abuse.

        Now I’m not saying it’s easy to let such things go, not by any means. But it’s something we can strive towards.

        “The best revenge is a life well lived,” as some wise chap once said.

  16. Great post!

    One additional insight for me has been to separate out “observations” from “judgements”. The two are usually delivered in a package…with the observation usually being quite obvious and the judgement often being unspoken / more subtle (a look, tone of voice…etc). When I can notice these as two separate things, I can accept the observation (e.g. “yes, I wave my hands around when I talk”) and consider what it is that I want to do with the more subtle judgement about what that waving supposedly ‘means’ (ignore, inner reflection, speak up etc) …

  17. Fuck, what a long post!

    Firstly, nice nose Mr. Brody. Secondly, I think I probably know the girl you’re talking about. I cringed at the time. I’d apologise for her but I doubt she’d want me to. It won’t surprise you to hear (if I haven’t mentioned it already) she’s the same person who told me she’d be “seriously surprised” if I make it to New York and do all the things I want to do with my life.

    They’ve moved out since you visited, and although I miss miss having HIM around, it’s worth it to remove the negative energy in the house.

    I hope you could make sense out of that. I didn’t want to find myself being caught out! I hope all is well in Zurich!

  18. Fuck you, Niall! All of the other posts will now feel inferior, as this is EASILY my favourite DTR post by a country mile!!! I’m going to admit something – I’m not as good as you at not being offended, but oh dear God I am SO trying.

    I 1000% agree with your observations to why people insult others, but I guess it pisses me off even more that someone would have a mean intention. I dare say that I am better than I was last year with this, I’m definitely improving with time and effort. I’m also really glad that you touched upon sticking up for yourself and allow me to add some advice.

    After calling them out, they persist to put you down – cut them out of your life. Simple. as. That.

  19. So, taking this in the other direction, does that mean you should try to not offend people or just be yourself in all regards?

    I ask because I’m writing a blog post on whether swearing is acceptable for business owners using online media, and I’m curious about your thoughts.

    • Good question, Kelly. I strive to be myself in all regards. At the same time, I like to consider myself a respectful person, so I don’t go around offending people intentionally. Treat others as you would like to be treated and all that.

      As regards business owners and swearing, I think it depends on the type of audience they’re trying to attract. Ashley Ambirge is a great example of a highly successful business owner who swears all the time, and her audience loves it. It’s part of her personality, and sure, it probably turns lots of people off, but everyone else does thinks she’s fantastic.

      I’m a big fan of letting your true personality shine through your business. So if you do swear a lot in your personal life, I say you should be comfortable swearing a lot while doing business. Otherwise you end up pretending to be someone you’re not just to get a sale. That wears on you.

  20. You actually summed it up, it’s about putting yourself in the shoes of the other, why are they doing this? What is their problem? It may be as your said that they are criticising their own insecurities, or it may be that they are lacking empathy

    Oh and as a Scot living in France, really connected with the English thingy……

    Send me a mail, as I may just be on your route…..and ask Cocopop to delete this part of my message!

    • Dammit, Cocopop! Do your job, man!

      Sorry, Karen. He gets a little careless sometimes :-P

      Thanks for the comment. I won’t be back in France on this trip unfortunately. I’m in Zurich now, and will be heading to Budapest in a few days. Hopefully our paths will cross another time.

      • So this had been my project for 2011. Every New Year i envision what lies for me the coming year… And i make a wish. The first time i did that, was a couple of years back, i wished for ‘hot and steamy sex’ in my life (!), the year after that ‘to follow my heart’, and now this year was to ‘define my borders and flourish’. Strangely so far each year my wish has come true…

        Maybe because it becomes like a mantra, unconscious in the back of my mind, but always guiding me.

        And in this defining of borders, flourishing, comes a strong inside. I used to let everone step over me. Often understanding the insecurities of others, not wanting to make them feel bad. in fact this has directed my life up until lately. And now this year suddenly, i have borders. I don’t let people walk over me anymore. No matter what or who they are. I stand strong with myself. Still haven’t polished my reactions… I don’t often pause ;-) to me learning to be unoffendible and to express my power, is magic!! It’s been my long lost quest, the answer to change my life. I guess maybe a little like your shyness. So just wanted to say your blog came at the perfect time. Thank you.

  21. Hi Niall!

    I usually handle insults using Eckart Tolle’s rule: the only problem with people is a level of their unconsciousness. And it is not their fault that they were not given either consciousness or the willingness to raise it.

    We really are lucky guys only because we have a gift to understand and discuss these things, what 90+% can’t. Realization of this fact gives a vitalizing dose of humility.

    Many people noticed the length of the entry, me too. I like these deep, Steve Pavlina-style entries more that short only-one-insight twitter-style ones. Good work!

  22. I think this has been my favourite post of yours so far and despite reading your blog for the last few months I felt I had to comment for the first time.

    I’ve noticed that over the past several years I’ve become increasingly harder to offend. In fact, I often openly invite criticism because I feel there are things I notice about others that they may not notice from their perspective. This leads me to be believe that the same may be true of how others see me: as I consider myself a highly sceptical and analytical person, I think it’s only right that I apply these tools to myself.

    Now, when someone is clearly trying to insult/offend me for no reason other than to try provoke an emotional reaction from me, they soon realise that they won’t get it from me. If it’s so obvious to me, I’ll just ignore it. If it betrays something about them, which quite often it does, then I’ll point it out and if they then show an adverse reaction to what is, after all, just my opinion then they’ll have highlighted this insecurity of theirs and their attempted insult will suddenly pale in comparison.

    On the other hand, as I’m always open to having my opinions and values challenged and changed and think others should be, if someone highlights something about me that I might not have considered before, I’ll certainly try to analyse this and when I fail to come up with a counter-argument I have no choice other than to accept it and change my outlook accordingly.

    I have no problem offending other people if it means pointing out the truth as I see it and think it’s a terrible thing when we censor ourselves or others for the sake of sparing feelings. It would only be hypocritical of me if I got offended when somebody tried to offer some constructive criticism of me.

    • Thanks for the comment, Gavin. I need to work on being more assertive and not sparing people’s feelings so much. It’s easier in the short term, but I know I’m not really helping someone when I refrain from calling them on a shortcoming so as to avoid a bit of tension.

      • Indeed. Thanks for the response! I didn’t mean to invade your blog with such an essay. As I’m sure you know at this stage, the right thing to do isn’t always the easy thing and sometimes being so forward an honest has it’s drawbacks but I think the world would be better if people spoke their minds a bit more as well as stopped taking criticism so personally.

        On another note, I love what you’re doing with your life. I had the same sort of idea brewing in my mind when I discovered your blog and it’s really encouraged me to go ahead with it. Instead of using college as an excuse to delay it, I’m going to plan a little excursion around Europe this summer to see how I might fare, although I’ll most likely go with a friend. You’ll probably be far away at that stage but I hope to be blazing my own trail before you’re back here in Ireland. Maybe our paths will cross some day.

  23. Propecia stops receding hairlines although (curiously) many men are too proud to seek a prescription. Its also expensive but.to me worth every penny.

  24. I read this a few weeks ago and have just read it again and wanted to thank you. A timely post for me. I have been too unoffendable in the past I think at times, though in hindsight I think that was probably been me trying to appear unoffendable or trying to avoid conflict. In its essence though, I agree that being unoffendable is a powerful place to be. I like that you said about looking inward and dealing with what triggers you.

  25. This is a very thoughtful post Niall. As regards the criticism you receive for being vegan and a non-drinker, Bertrand Russell said: “Conventional people are roused to fury by departure from convention, largely because they regard such departure as a criticism of themselves.”

    Sometimes criticism says more about the criticizer than the criticized. Sometimes it is constructive. I take what I can use and ignore what I can’t in my quest to live a more meaningful life.

  26. Hey, I just wanted to say I know this post is old, but I just found it today. As someone who has been going bald for a while, I completely agree with your post. It took me a long time to become comfortable enough with my appearance that I shrug off the insults. Now I just need to move that indifference to other areas of my life that I’m self conscious about. On possibly a related note, you reference a number of books in your post – as someone always interested in new reads, any favorites?

    Thanks!

  27. When my wife tries to insult me I take a little of each from the above blog, but sometimes I find myself laughing so hard I forget about the insult.

    Her: “you’re incompetent, you’re so dumb” etc. etc.

    Me: (Laughter)

    Her: “Stop laughing. It’s not funny!”

    Me: (more laughter)

    Her: “Stop laughing!” (chuckle chuckle)

    Me: “I’m laughing because you’re laughing.”

    Her: “I’m not laughing!” (chuckle chuckle)

    Me: “I just heard you laugh”

    Her: “No I didn’t!”

    Then it usually turns into something else or I change the subject. But really, when my wife starts laying into me, I try and find as much humor in it as possible. I think it’s because she takes herself so seriously when she does it.

  28. I often offer people $1,000 if they can offend me. Many have tried but I still have all my money. It is real easy to be unoffendable if you are truly humble and secure. I am there to the max. I love your writing. thanks Ken

  29. I know this is an older post as well, but I just want to let you know that you really inspired me with this. I had just been insulted about every aspect of my being by a former friend and stumbled upon this, luckily. I was absolutely devastated, but now I am at peace. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this–I’m sure it’s helped more people than you know.

  30. The only person who gets to me is my dad simply because of the sheer amount of insults I receive from him. Who knows how many 10? 30? a day. “you’re sick because you don’t eat meat.” He loves to insult me on matters that are deeply important to me and it’s very tiring. 90% of the time I don’t let it bother me but I have anxiety and at the end of the day I simply want to smack him.

    • I find it interesting that you write about your dad insulting you all the time, and then use “poop” as your name when you comment. Maybe there’s something to that, or maybe not. I don’t have much to go on.

      Back on topic, have you ever read Byron Katie? You might find her books helpful.

    • Poop, I think you should, if possible, move. Change homes, change cities, states, countries, whatever it takes to not still be around your verbally abusive father. Then “hide” his status updates on Facebook.

  31. Wow… It happened again… I posted last week regarding being sober for 4.5 years and sometimes having difficulty and or resentment at being in social situations where alcohol is prevalent… I just googled my general issue and found your site/blog… I just googled “how to respond to insults without being offended”… Or something like that… Not sure of the exact phrase I used… But BANG! There you are again…. I just read some of your posts and listened to your video… It’s funny how sometimes you get just what you need at just the right time… You’re making a difference my friend! Keep up the good work!

  32. It seems like it all boils down to being okay with who you are and how you look, speak, dress, think, et cetera

    Where can I find the chapter on that?

    Because I always think I am a freak and the rest is “normal”

    • You probably are a freak, as am I :-)

      And that’s perfectly fine. Normal people tend to live boring, uninspiring lives and die with much regret for never having expressed their own uniqueness.

      You don’t want to be normal!

      Being okay with who you are… that’s something that comes with time, but your surroundings also make a big difference. Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with people who value and encourage your uniqueness. Worst thing is to be surrounded by a bunch of “normal” people who are always telling you to stop being different and try fit in.

  33. Thank you for this blog. It helps a lot. I get offended easily and I keep thinking about it so hard and I beat myself up for not having a better comeback.

    It does make me feel better.

  34. I noticed a profile pattern of behavior in people who were born to abusive parents, alcoholic parents, abandonment issues:

    Untrustworthy
    Angry
    Bullies
    Insecure
    Miserable
    Loyal to the abuser
    Liars, Cheaters
    Selfish
    Greedy
    Enormous ego
    Not a nice person

    All this I feel stems from fear of not surviving. Dying.
    Think what happened to these adults when they were just 5 years old. Makes me feel bad for the child but not for the adult. No matter WHAT life has handed people, some people rise above it and become happy people and some stay mean, vicious and miserable.

    I have stayed away from an abusive mother and gravitated to a loving father. The father who saved the soul of his wife whom is a bully, inconsiderate, cold, insecure, vicious, devious and has an abusive father. I look for a man who’s mother had a nice father. Chances are, she is nice to her son and he would be nice to me.

    The things on people’s list of possible spouses is laughable: good looking, wealthy, good career. None of that matters. It’s nice icing on a cake of no abuse in the childhood, or risen above it.

    People who are abused look for a safe place to dump their anger. I live and work in L.A. “Mecca” for the abused. I’ve been a doormat myself and boy I have to say, if it’s in the family, (and my sisters are bossy, egotistical, self absorbed, criticizing), you have to deal with it there and then out in the world.

    So how I’ve dealt with it:
    1.) Fantasized I knew of a crime boss to call and take someone out.
    2.) See the psychology of damaged goods immediately. Know the bully is coming.
    3.) Totally ignored them completely. Wouldn’t give them the time of day. When I have to work with them, I was kind and focused on the work. Their reputation was already known to others. They were wrecking it for themselves and I’d sit back and let them self destruct.
    4.) It’s pain staking not to be a bully back and I truly love a bully who’s on my side. I love when someone sticks up for themselves. Why can’t I do it for myself? Be insulting? Put someone in their place? Have a huge ego myself?

    I am of higher mind. I have a high emotional I.Q. even though, I was a bit angry in this post. I’m not a flower child or anything. but the abused suck energy. They’re toxic. They’re going down and need to control someone to go down with them.

    How do I snip it in the bud and like a lion tamer, crack the whip once, hurt them and end any possible brewing situation???

  35. As a former easily offended person (who has learned to be less easily offended thanks to Internet trolls and having worked at law firms) I find that there are people from my past – mostly family – still assume that I am that same person, similar to them, that they have to walk on eggshells around and constantly apologize to. How does one announce to ones family members that while they still may be finding offense in every nuanced comment, you’ve moved on? Without offending them, of course.

    • I don’t think you need to announce it. They’ll just eventually realize that you’re not giving any attention to such petty things any more and adjust accordingly.

      One thing I often say when people apologize to me unnecessarily is, “Don’t worry. It’s very hard to offend me.”

  36. Tahnks man.Your post helped me a lot..Actually you know,I am from a town-city and I recently came to a metropolitan after getting a scholarship….but here things are not as they used to be in my town….Here,in hostel boys insult and slang the innocent fellow…..I was on the verge of ruining my scholarship this sem. as I could never conc. in studies (courtesy-their constant insults).Man they slang in every other word(and I do not know what morality is that),bad vids and alcohol come in abundance in the hostel(once they even tried to force me to drink alcohol), they critisize me for being ‘old fashioned’as they put it(why-because I do prayers and fasts regularly)…..I was on the verge of commiting suicide but your post really gave me confidence.Yes,I WILL TURN DEAF TO THEM AND CONC. SOLELY IN MY STUDIES and in the end emerge out as the winner…………….Thank you man..thx a lot.

    • Hi Deep,

      Wow, so glad this post helped you. Thanks for you comment. Definitely keep your head up and don’t let those guys get to you. If they’re really making you feel bad remember that you can always move away from them. Life’s too damn precious to let some small-minded people drag you down.

      Keep being awesome :-)

  37. Hi,

    I just stumbled upon this post, and would like to add a couple of suggestions that have worked really well for me.

    1. If the person tries to embarrass you by asking very personal questions that are none of their business:

    Smile slyly and say, “Sorry, but that’s classified information.”

    This confuses them, and makes them look powerless in front of any other people who may be standing nearby. If they ask what that means, just respond, in an authoritative manner, with, “Well, to be privy to that information, you have to be at least a Level Nine, and you’re only a Level Two.”

    This usually shuts them up.

    2. If they utter any other sort of insult:

    Smile and say, in a calm, friendly-yet-superior way, “If you’re trying to hurt my feelings…you failed.

    This puts them on the spot. They either have to admit that they were trying to hurt you and failed (which they probably won’t), or they have to say something like, “I was just joking.” If they say the latter, you can either shrug and walk away, or, if you are feeling snarky, you can pick one or more personal attributes of theirs and reply with something like, “Oh, I see…so if I say to you that your ass is huge, but that I’m only joking, that would be okay?”

    This usually shuts them up, and, if others are around, embarrasses them to the point where they will probably think twice before insulting you again.

    Thanks for your post…I’m now off to read some others.

      • hi niall…I am egyptian….Can not thank you enough for this blog ….. you made my day really..
        Behind every word there appears a personality with great amount of information , insight, inspiration ……and humorous wit.
        I am very lucky to have come across your site.
        I need to receive every bit of information from you, pls neil
        good day, and thanks again…for every word .
        It looks like human nature does not change…inspite of different cultures, languages .and religon

        I consider myself very lucky to have come across your site…..

  38. I tried to focus on the article, but I couldn’t get past the size of your nose!
    :v)
    It needs its own blog! It’s beautiful!
    —————————————
    I have a gut which people seem to think is appropriate to touch even though they’re meeting me for the first time. Luckily, getting my stomach touched by complete strangers is a fetish of mine.

  39. Dear sir
    I found this article very encouraging after not really been sure how to handle a subtle and joking continuous comments thrown at me by a colleague. I replied with a calm and honest gesture. On returning home the comments continued to burn in my head. Reading your article and especially the phrase – “Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”

    “The idea here is that insults can act as signposts. If there’s a grain of truth to them, then they help point us in the direction of our faults and insecurities, and we can get busy working on those and improving ourselves.”

    This write up helped settle me down and deal with my colleague in a calm and responsible manner. Thank you.

  40. Niall,
    So what do you do now if they insult you on something true or not true a 2nd, 3rd or 4th time? do you still ignore it or do you confront them?

    • Depends. If they’re knowingly insulting you, you can either stand up to them (if you think that will help resolve the situation), or just walk away with your head held high.

  41. I’m sadly known for the way I use (what I call funny) humor to insult and belittle people. Not sure what I gain from it but I know I do it to deflect any conversation about me – it’s a mask – which I have become comfortable wearing. I do feel regret and often apologize – but I do let the jokes and banter go on. I’m going to re-open my mind to what you have said and maybe it will change the way I converse with and tease people.

  42. What do you do when someone is insulting others to you, but you know they are really referring to you all along. For instance, talking to me about short people-I am short (5’3″), and how much better it is to be tall. Why is it that some people get pleasure in putting others down? Is it simply jealousy? How do you handle it if it is family that does the insulting (in-laws)? Do you address it, or do you simply ignore it?

    • At first I’d ignore it, but if they persisted I’d say something like, “Okay, that’s several times now you’ve said something mean about short people. I’m not exactly tall myself, so how do you think it makes me feel when I hear you talk like that?”

      Hopefully that would make them realize they were being mean and insensitive. If not, it’s time to distance yourself from them.

  43. Thanks, my daughter was offended at something I did not do, and I was offended that she was offended…. we are all too sensitive in my family! So it was weighing on my mind and I looked up some wisdom and found yours. Thanks, it helps. :)

  44. I’m desperate for a tip here. My soon to be ex wife (have been living apart for 1.5 years now) insults me at each opportunity she gets, specially on text messages. Sometimes her text messages are two or three pages long of insults and most of the time I don’t bother to read when she’s in that mental state. I’m now in a relationship with a very pretty, younger girl and as you would understand I couldn’t care less about her insults about me being “an old, deformed, homosexual short man”. Except for the fact that we are parents to a wonderful boy, and therefore I HAVE to communicate with her. Is there a way to stop someone from communicating with insults? Any ideas?

    • Hi Manfred. Sounds like you’re really frustrated with the situation and would like to find a way to foster respectful communication between you and your ex wife. I highly highly recommend you check out a book called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. That will give you some effective tools for handling this situation.

      All the best.