The most common form of social aggression is verbal bullying. People insult us or criticize us, we get upset and they continue to do it. Often, they even laugh at us while we’re upset.

Without emotional resilience, being insulted over and over can be so painful that many people say they’d rather be beat up. There is an old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” Many people today, including experts in bullying, are saying that the “sticks and stones slogan is a lie.” Today they say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can scar me forever.” If you are being insulted day after day, you, too, might agree with the new version of the slogan.

Yes, insults can make you feel miserable. So how can you get people to stop insulting you? First, I want you to forget the new version of the sticks and stones slogan—the one that says words can hurt you forever. If you believe it, you’ll get super upset when people insult you. You’ll look like immature and then they’ll insult you even more.

Think about it, do you really believe insults are worse than broken bones? If so, let me give you a choice: I can either insult you or hit you over the head with a stick or stone? Which would you choose? The insult, right? The old “sticks and stones” slogan was never meant to be a statement of fact. Of course, words can hurt terribly. The slogan was meant to offer a solution to children being hurt by words.

The slogan expresses the fundamental difference between verbal attacks and physical ones. If you hit me with sticks and stones, will my attitude influence how much I am hurt? No, it doesn’t matter what I think. If you hit me with sticks and stones, you will physically hurt me.

How about insults? Does my attitude matter? Completely. The value I place on the words will determine if they hurt me. So, if you insult me and I feel hurt, I really hurt myself. This may sound crazy to you, but let me explain. If we believe that it’s terrible to be insulted, we will feel terribly hurt. But if we use the Golden Rule, insults won’t hurt us anymore.

Instead, we should treat the person insulting us like a friend. It doesn’t mean we have to believe what they say to us, or to do what they tell us, we only need to treat them the way we want to be treated and to refuse to let their words wound us.

Here are some examples. The first shows someone treating you like an enemy.

Example 1
Insulter: You are the dumbest person I’ve ever seen!
Me: No, I’m not! Shut your mouth!
Insulter: Yes, you are!
Me: No, I’m not!

That’s not going to make them stop. Now I’ll respond like a friend.

Example 2
Insulter: You are the dumbest person I’ve ever seen!
Me: You know, sometimes I do really stupid stuff!
Insulter: You sure do!
Me: Yep! How about you?
Insulter: Yeah. I guess so.
Much better this way, isn’t it?

Often, people get ridiculed about their weight. If you get mad when people pick on you, they’ll think it’s humorous and they’ll keep on doing it. Instead, handle it this way:

Example 3
Insulter: You are so fat! You look like a whale!
You:  How do you stay so thin?
Insulter: I exercise and eat healthy.
You: I should probably do the same thing.
Insulter: Yes, you should.
You: Right on, thanks!

You can also answer with a joke, like “Oh! You think I’m fat? You should see my mother!” The insulter will probably laugh, and will appreciate me for not taking myself too seriously.

So, try it. Next time you are insulted, respond like a friend. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

I hope you also come to realize that when people insult your differences, they don’t do it because there’s something wrong with you. They do it because you get upset about it. If you don’t get upset, it’s no fun for them and they stop.

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