How to Build Immunity to Insults
Not a Fighting Strategy---but a Thicker Skin
When others hurt our feelings, what we may do in response could be as diverse as the people involved and the nature of situations. However, what we generally do is either protest, strike back, or bite the lip and secretly swear to get even some day.
What hardly ever occurs to us is to examine the possibility of ourselves having provided the fertile soil for an insult, while we are too busy feeling victimized as to also dump on ourselves something like a responsibility for the hurt. Moreover, if in that moment someone would suggest anything along those lines, we would probably add them to the list of those with whom we'll have to get even.
O.K., it is not one of those moments, so I trust that I am pretty safe at my insinuating such an outrageous proposition. As we are about to see, there are a few factors at play, other than an obvious and unacceptable behavior of the offender.
You see, just like "it takes two to tango", so it takes two to make an insult effective. Providing that a Latino doesn't understand any English at all, you could dump on him the juiciest insults from a redneck's vocabulary; and if you also say them with a sweet smile, he may respond with a "Muchas gracias".
Words are only sounds until we attach a meaning to them. Sometimes when you have nothing better to think about, try to figure who was the first person who "decided" that from now on this-or-that choice of words "should" make us feel hurt---after which the whole world sheepishly got pissed-off at the sound of them.
What if we secretly decided to debunk that resolution as nonsensical, and chose to develop something like a "thick skin", instead of having an arsenal ready for a counterattack.
Why Make the Offender Important?
I am aware that a decision like that would pull a whole different attitude which, in the book of values of many would mean compromising their self-respect. After all, isn't it "normal" to put an offender in place; to show them who they are messing with; to give them a taste of their own medicine; and in the first place to show ourselves that we can stand up for ourselves, for our honor?
Assertive approach is something that most of us would consider without thinking twice as the first in the line of responses to an insult. So, what could possibly be wrong about it?
But, wait a minute---are we sure we should defend our honor and all that? For, when you really think of it, aren't we honoring the offender by admitting that their opinion is so important and valued to us that their words have a power to hurt us?
And then, what really happened with our true self-respect, if we got our emotional push-buttons so exposed and available to every idiot to abuse them? You see what I mean? When we respect ourselves, we don't need anything like a "pride" to advertise it.
With a lack of self-respect we use others' words and behaviors to hurt ourselves, paradoxically making the offender true---because we may not deserve a better treatment if we are attaching some truthfulness to their words. For, if we don't feel them as true, how can they hurt us. If I tell you that you are a Martian, you'll just laugh at my silliness.
So, why would you choose to take my words seriously enough to be hurt if I say any other lie about you? At that very point it was so easy to discard my importance, and yet, you somehow found me and my lies as worth of an emotional response.
Inner Child to Be Honored
Self-respect is just a morally-preferred alternative expression for self-love, which in many ears just doesn't sound right. But, let's forget about moralistic take of something so deep and important to our nature. After all, we are not talking about a narcissistic love which could be symbolized by "kissing mirror".
There is that hidden child in us---many even call it "inner child"---who might actually lose any will to live without that self-love, causing us a low vitality, a fragile health, and a premature aging. There I read about this beautiful self-test which can tell us how we are feeling about that inner child of ours.
Suppose there is a knock on your door, and when you open it, there is this little 4 or five year old kid, in whom you instantly recognize that tiny yourself. Now the kid is looking at you with those big, tearful, begging eyes, just standing there and waiting for your response, shivering a little with fear of a possible rejection.
So, what do you do? Do you slam the door and say: "Go cry at some other door, don't bother me with your sensitivities!" Or, do you kneel down and embrace to your heart that lonely little soul, bring her in with a silent promise to be her best friend and protector from now on?
Well, every time we allow others' words or actions to insult us, in effect we are hurting that little kid as if saying: "You don't deserve to feel any better, and this person is right about you".
Intentional Self-Insults for a Sparring-Partner
When we go a little deeper into the fabric of insults, they are actually reflections of what we are secretly thinking about ourselves---otherwise they would not affect us. Remember that example with a Martian? We are not one, we know it, and so it doesn't sound anything like an insult.
But if someone would target one of our weaknesses that we may be carefully hiding behind a strong front, those words would hurt us. It wouldn't even have to be anything specific, but a bunch of those things that we don't care much to face about ourselves. Then picking on one of them would trigger a cluster of all.
In another article, maybe even two, but in a different context I described a self-made trick to develop a thick skin which I am talking about here. I recorded on the same cassette those most defeating remarks about myself and my happy belly laughter. After listening to it for a while, my mind internally associated laughter with those insults, resulting with their becoming ineffective.
Now, I am not saying that's the only way to develop a thick skin; but when alone, you may practice without recording anything. Just say something insulting about yourself and then laugh at it; say it again, and laugh at it. For the better effect, you may say it in front of the mirror. It doesn't matter that laugh is going to be phony---after a short while, your mind will start taking it for real.
Yes, you can count on it; our subconscious can't discriminate between real and imagined, and getting insulted is the very proof of it---we subconsciously process some words as hurting. So it takes a conscious intervention to build up new internal algorithms which will automatically channel insulting words to a response of laughter.
So, it's all about how we are processing those insulting words.
Others Can't Give Us What We Owe to Ourselves
"Love thyself like you would love thy neighbor", is an obviously reverse version of otherwise probably incorrect quoting of one of the Commandments. But in my own "holy book" it means a lot that way, since we tend to treat others better than we are intimately treating ourselves.
Please don't slap me with Mother Theresa's dignified example of doing exactly that all her life. Not everybody is cut to follow her example, which would hypothetically even be ridiculous, because since we would all be selflessly helpful, there would be no one in a need for our help.
Our solemn duty is to honor our own life, because only then we can be strong enough to be of some help. Two blind people won't get far. So we have to build our self love to the point where insults don't matter anymore, because there is nothing in us resonating as true in those insulting words.
We also have to recognize in ourselves, as well as in others, those tendencies to mask our weaknesses with some outer symbols of strength. Some folks amass wealth, fame, education all for a wrong reason---to quiet down that inner self-criticism, while scared that others may detect their weaknesses.
They may be on a quest to "deserve from others" something that they are not giving themselves. By having all those outside symbols of worthiness they deceive themselves that others' admiration may trigger their own.
And yet, as we know from so many unfortunate examples of celebrities, even admiration may hurt because now they are feeling as if they are getting something that they don't deserve. Standing ovation may feel as insults when in our hearts we are not one of those standing their in our honor.
Indeed, at some point our capacity to be insulted may be so pronounced that even a look in our direction may feel like an insult. I have seen a few drunk folks who went aggressive just because they were casually looked at.
Sovereignty of Our Personal Space
So again, let us junk that pseudo-sensitivity to insults by acquiring a thick skin---by loving ourselves more, which will automatically remove that readiness to use others' words and behaviors for our self-tormenting.
What may work is reminding ourselves from time to time about the purely physical fact that no one can walk into our brains to push some "buttons" there. We are in our own personal space, and so is everybody else in theirs. Their misbehaving is happening in their space, not in ours. Whatever they may say is doing something within their own physiology, their nerves, their endocrine glands---and it's all a part of their own inner drama of living.
Nothing of that is physically affecting us, and what we choose to do within our own space is our own business. Hypothetically, we could laugh at funerals and cry at receiving a reward, nothing out there is ultimately telling us how to act---as long as we feel free from our knee-jerk reactions learned from society.
Insults are an illusion similar to anything else that we may hear---and they only become something real when we choose so, not before.
Thus, let us be nice to that inner child of ours. Without that self-love and self-compassion all of us are nothing but orphans of this world.