“She’s like an apple turnover that got crushed in a grocery bag on a hot day.” – Camille Paglia (about Drew Barrymore)
“She speaks five languages and can’t act in any of them.” – John Gielgud (about Ingrid Bergman)
“I never forget a face, but in your case, I’ll make an exception.” – Groucho Marx
That’s just a tiny handful of some of the best put-downs around, and a good put-down can have me laughing like a choir girl in a tickling contest. But put-downs aren’t always so funny or witty – sometimes, often-times, they just plain hurt.
What I’m talking about here is when you have a friend or loved one who habitually says things to put you down, someone who regularly seeks to diminish you.
It hurts when someone says something that diminishes what you’ve done or who you are. It hurts when someone demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect towards you.
Here are my thoughts on how to respond.
1. You have a choice.
Chances are you can brush off the odd flippant remark or throw-away comment. People sometimes say silly things (I know I do) and taking everything personally is going to turn you into an anxious, paranoid wreck.
So while one school of thought suggests that you should just brush off the comment and carry on regardless, there’s another school of thought that says you shouldn’t tolerate someone who puts you down.
To be brutally frank (and, frankly, brutal), I think that too many people take too many things personally when they’re not meant to be, but both choices have their place and I’m not going to say that one way is better than the other. What I will say is that if you’re told enough times that you’re not good enough it’s entirely possible that you’ll start to believe it, especially if the someone who’s telling you you’re not good enough is someone you care about or love.
In cases like this, where your self-esteem is on the line, leaving things alone and carrying on is definitely the wrong call.
It’s easy to feel powerless in this situation, but you have to recognise that you’re in a position to make a choice. You can choose to be a victim and to take what’s said as the truth, or you can choose to remember who you are and to stand tall.
Always remember that having someone who puts you down doesn’t have to define you. You have a choice about how it affects you. You can choose to have something better.
2. It’s them, not you.
The reasons that someone decides to put you down are many. They might be taking anger or bitterness from one part of their life and venting it onto you, for example, but frequently it’s about making themselves right. By putting you down they’re able to reinforce their own position; by lessening and damaging your position they’re able to achieve personal validation.
All of this – and you have to fully acknowledge this – is about them, not you. What they say isn’t truth and their method for achieving validation is just plain wrong.
3. Teach them how to treat you.
If the person putting you down has learned previously that it’s acceptable to do what they’re doing, they’ll keep on doing it. People are dumb like that, they’ll do what works until they have evidence that it doesn’t work. That’s why the emphasis is on you to make a choice and to let them know that you expect to be treated with respect.
Your responses to others’ behaviour teaches them what is and isn’t acceptable.
All the time you’re rolling over and taking it you’re making it easy for them to believe their behaviour is okay. If it’s damaging your self-esteem and self-confidence their behaviour is not okay – you need to teach them that through your responses.
This can be tough to do, especially as it means shifting the status-quo. It means you need to do something differently, and that’s scary. If you’re scared and don’t know how to stand up and tell them that their words are unacceptable, pretend that you’re the kind of person who finds this stuff easy.
Act like you’re comfortable standing up for yourself, like you’re someone who’s confident enough to ask for respect and consideration.
4. Make the hard choice.
If they continue to put you down when you’ve changed your responses and done your best to teach them how to treat you, then it’s crunch time.
When you’ve done what you can and they’re still putting you down, you need to consider 2 questions – “How else can I turn this around?” and “What am I prepared to do to turn things around?”
If, having considered those questions, you’re coming up blank then there’s really only one choice left to you.
You can’t reach into their head and change their behaviour or thinking, and it’s not your job to tolerate unacceptable behaviour. People either get how things work or they don’t, and there’s no way you should suffer at the hands of someone who just doesn’t get it.
If, at the end, you’ve done what you can and they’re still putting you down, you owe it to yourself to get out and get something better.