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When Someone Insults You: Effective Come-Backs

Updated on January 13, 2018
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green is interested in propaganda techniques and how thought control is used as a means to unduly influence the unsuspecting.

Shocked by a Insult?

Have you ever been taken by surprise when someone insulted you?

Put-down artists and psychological bullies know they have the best advantage when they can catch someone off-guard. In fact, they count on this. And if you have been a victim of insulting remarks, innuendo, or sly hinting that you somehow don't measure up, you know only too well that you were probably at a loss for words and only after the fact, thought of things you wished you'd said.

One of the reasons for this is that when someone insults us, we switch into victim mode. We have just been "done to" and we react based on that, instead of taking a step back and switching into "doing" mode. We are so busy feeling surprised and hurt, and reacting emotionally, we rarely objectively see the other person's behavior for what it is: uncalled for, unfair, and oftentimes outrageous. Because of this, we usually don't call them on it.

Even if you do manage to point out that what was said was hurtful, your persecutor will no doubt turn it back on you by either claiming you read too much into the remark, you are too sensitive, or he or she was "just kidding." No matter what, an abusive person is a master at playing games, so it should come as no surprise that they will try to make it about you or try to rationalize their behavior away.

While some would say, turn the other cheek, when dealing with someone who gets off on putting down others, turning the other cheek rarely works and is often perceived as a sign of weakness. Once you are perceived as an easy target, the abusive person is emboldened to further humiliate you. Striped down to the bare bones, this is a power play. Once you know this, and you understand why and how someone operates, you can take steps to stand up for yourself and protect yourself. You will be better equipped to send a message, loud and clear, that you will not tolerate maltreatment from anyone.

A good way to do this is to be prepared, so you aren't at a loss for words; and thus, you can effectively deal with insulting remarks dished out to you and the people who belittle you.

This article includes come-backs that turn the tables on abusive persons. And as will be seen, some of the same tactics they use, such as catching you by surprise or questioning your decisions or capability, can be used effectively on them. Thus armed, the next time someone tries to put you down, you will be equipped to put them in their place.

Verbal Bullies Often Deny What They're Doing

How Do You React to Put-Downs?

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Nip verbal attacks in the bud with these effective comebacks. Turn the tables on the person trying to derail your self-esteem and attempting to make you appear foolish.

"I see you've put on a little weight..."

A relative once commented that I was putting on weight, I said, "We're so much alike that way." She was struck dumb and just stood there looking at me. She never mentioned my weight ever again. and I felt so good for standing up for myself.
A relative once commented that I was putting on weight, I said, "We're so much alike that way." She was struck dumb and just stood there looking at me. She never mentioned my weight ever again. and I felt so good for standing up for myself.

Return Like for Like

If someone has just made a disparaging remark about your weight, this come-back is the humdinger of them all. “We are so much alike that way"


This works equally well if someone has criticized you in some other fashion. Try this the next time someone downgrades your appearance or your behavior.

If someone says, "You're so short," you come back with, "We could definitely be twins."

If someone says, "Wow, you sure talk a lot," you laugh and come back with, "We're so much alike that way."

The great thing about using what they've said and turning it back on them is that even if it isn't true of them--say the insulting person isn't overweight or short--it doesn't matter, because you are merely offering an opinion.

They've Questioned You, Now Question Them

Someone says something insulting and you come back with, “Have you always been this way?” This is effective because it shifts the focus away from you and back to the other person, thus returning the ball to the one who just served it. This cryptic question will have the person wondering what you mean. And it will not escape their notice that there just might be some type of insult behind those words. They may try to dismiss this but one thing is sure, you will have effectively derailed their attempt to undermine you.

Ask, “Do you always mask insults with humor?” Many times put-down artists are too cowardly to come right out and insult you, so they will use humor as a round-about way to do this. By exposing exactly what they are up to, you shine a spotlight on their tactics. While they are busy trying to deny that this is what they were doing, this effectively undoes what they were trying to do.

Ask, "Do you suffer from low self-esteem?" When they ask what you mean, make the observation that people who put down others, do this because they suffer from low self-esteem. A put-down artist wants to derail your self-esteem, not have his or hers called into question.

"Can you repeat that?"

We were at a party in a hotel room and this guy wouldn't leave me alone. When I didn't return his attention, he insulted me, so I pretended I couldn't hear him and kept asking him to repeat himself. He gave me a disgusted look and got up and left.

They've Tried to Make You Uncomfortable, Show Them How That Feels

Ask the person to repeat what they just said. "What was that? I didn't hear you. Can you repeat that?" If they do, ask them to repeat it again. Tell them you still didn’t quite get their meaning and keep asking for more details. Nothing defuses a verbal shaft better than someone having to repeat it. It was sent out as a quick arrow and rehashing of it, weakens its power. The idea is to make the other person feel uncomfortable or best-case scenario, feel like a complete fool.

Thank the person profusely for pointing out what’s wrong with you and lay it on thick until the person gets uncomfortable. Your abuser will know what you are doing and won't like it but since they started the ball rolling, they will only be getting what they deserve. This also works well if they have done this in front of an audience. They sought to embarrass you in front of others but instead of reacting the way they had hoped, you are now using their remarks to embarrass them in front of that same audience. This is one case of where "let the punishment fit the crime" works remarkably well.

Laugh (purposely misunderstand) and confide that you are going to tell all your friends about their funny remark. They don't want you to take their insult as a joke, so this isn't going to give them the satisfaction they hoped for. As the very least, this may confuse the bullying person. Which is fine. Anything to show them that their verbal arrow didn't hit the intended target or produce the anticipated reaction.

That Was The Last Time He Threw His Weight Around

My landlord liked to throw his weight around by giving his tenants a hard time. I got sick of it, so when he next tried this on me, I patted him on the shoulder and asked him if he was on medication. He looked rather stunned and denied it. After that, he was as nice as pie and I had no further trouble with him.

Implying They Have Emotional or Mental Health Issues

When someone insults you, remark, “It’s obvious you are under stress. Is there anything I can do?” A good patronizing tone goes well with this one. Someone who has just launched a put-down, will not be expecting an assessment of their own status. Just as they count on the element of surprise, so too, you can use the same approach. An abusive person wants to be perceived as having the upper hand in any exchange with you and coming across as the stronger person, so usually, the last thing they'll want is to be perceived as coming from a weakened position.

Give a pitying look and ask if you can get the person a Valium or some soothing tea to calm their nerves. This will be so completely different from any anticipated response from you, that they won't know what to make of it. And they will be aware later that their dart failed to hit the mark.

Ask, “Are you on medication for that?” This is another humdinger, especially if you shake your head sadly while asking. While the other person may have started out trying to make you question yourself, you will have undermined their efforts and now turned the situation into a question about their mental health.

Put Them on the Hot Seat and Make Them Feel Uncomfortable

“Oh, that reminds me, I’ve heard of a program for people like you. It’s a communication skills course. You'd most certainly benefit.” It is likely your abuser will not have been expecting a reply like this, since they believe themselves verbally facile.

"You're hiding something."

I saw her at a convention and she tried to make me feel small. I knew of her shady dealings, so instead of acknowledging her insults, I accused her of hiding something. She looked near-panicked and scuttled away.


When someone tries to insult you, make some unrelated remark that has nothing to do with the situation at hand, and remember, it doesn't have to. "You're hiding something" or "You seem confused" or "You must have me mistaken for someone else," are good responses. You sabotage their efforts by introducing confusion into a situation they are trying to control. Psychological bullies enjoy creating chaos, so tit for tat, and return back to them the confusion they are trying to create in you.

Two Can Be Surprised

Like a Train Stalled on the Tracks

I noticed that a girlfriend had a habit of undermining me as we visited on Skype. I would be relating something and she would start questioning my actions or intimating that I had wrong motives. I only got caught once or twice then started just smiling at her and I just wouldn't respond. She was trying to derail me but she ended up like a train stalled on the tracks. She didn't know how to respond to that.

The Silent Treatment

Smile Mysteriously: If someone has a habit of picking apart your actions or always questioning your decisions or your motives, smiling leaves them in "no-man's land." Remember, as an adult, you don't have to defend your decisions or your actions to anyone. As long as you are comfortable with them, it doesn't matter what someone else thinks. They want to put you in a position where you feel defensive. Don't fall for it.

No Reaction: Give a big yawn, looked as bored as possible, and glance at your watch. They see that their remark failed to spark a reaction. A "button presser" gets off on your reaction, whether it be your shock, your hurt, your anger, or your trying to defend yourself. By not reacting, you refuse to play their stupid game and deprive them of the anticipated thrill.


Each time someone insults you, try to take a step back and instead of worrying about your own behavior, evaluate theirs. It can help greatly and you will feel less intimidated when you realize that it's not your behavior but theirs that is so questionable and offensive.

Yes, You CAN Nip Verbal Attacks in the Bud

Nip verbal attacks in the bud with these effective comebacks, turning the tables on the person trying to derail your self-esteem or trying make you appear or feel foolish.

What Do You Think of These Come-backs?

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© 2016 Athlyn Green


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    • profile image

      Sanat 3 months ago


    • Athlyn Green profile image

      Athlyn Green 14 months ago from West Kootenays

      Thanks, Raine.

    • Raine Sky profile image

      T S Sky 14 months ago from Saint Louis, MO.

      I love the comebacks. Cool. :)

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen A Szklany 16 months ago from New England

      Thanks for these great ideas.

    • profile image

      Setank Setunk 16 months ago

      Socratic logic works well. Its like using "The Force" on the weak minded. I must admit however that I sometimes use it for sport.

      If it really gets rough you can always use the "Your Mamma's so," line of attack. This can be brutal for the uninitiated.

    • Athlyn Green profile image

      Athlyn Green 16 months ago from West Kootenays

      Yes, anything that derails the game they are playing. That's a good one, swatting at a mosquito, as if you are focused on that and not on what they just said to insult you.

      It's sad that turning the other cheek rarely works, nor does trying to get in the person's good graces. Some have tried that and seen that no matter what they say or do, someone who would treat them in this fashion rarely changes their opinion or their tactics.

      A sad truth is that often, someone who is hurting others, has issues they need to address. We can feel sorry for them but at the same time, act to stand up for ourselves, rather than allowing someone to intimidate us and enabling them to continue their maltreatment.

    • profile image

      Setank Setunk 16 months ago

      Creative physical gestures work as well. Swatting at an imaginary mosquito as he or she speaks is a good one. Breaking eye contact and picking your nose will often do the trick. The best is to yawn and stretch your arms ending with a series of lip smacks, check your watch and then walk away as if you did not know anyone was there.

    • Athlyn Green profile image

      Athlyn Green 16 months ago from West Kootenays

      My personal favorite is, "Are you on medication for that?" or "We're so much alike that way."

    • profile image

      Setank Setunk 16 months ago

      I had a friend a long time ago who walked a narrow line between self-administered sanity and something a bit darker. Upon having his intellect or character impugned, his response was "Ever ate corn on the cob without any fricken teeth." Throw-downs typically followed.