Are You Feeling Easily Insulted?

Being complimented and well-thought of evokes positive reactions, a pleasant physiological feeling and often a smile and a positive response. The affirming view of others, helps one feel accepted, respected and valued. Conversely, feeling de-valued by another’s discounting comment, evokes a negative, embarrassed or shamed feeling reaction by the listener. Some individuals are very sensitive to negative comments about them, even when the intent was not there. Why do some people react with strong defensive responses while others may overlook the same comment about them?

It is understandable that being well-regarded is likely to affirm the listener and create a pleased reaction of acceptance and safety, and may even be responded to by the listener with a returned affirmation of the speaker. All individuals feel more positively toward those who affirm and like them. As in childhood, we felt safer and accepted by those who viewed us positively. A negative comment feels very rejecting and excludes the listener from being a desired company. Since most people are not born feeling secure or insecure, this self-perception is gained by the consensus of others’ view of them.

Every child intuitively desires to please his/her parents, who are the source of one’s survival and wellbeing. With time, a young child learns that social exclusion by peers is also hazardous to his/her social acceptance. These “lessons” are rarely taught, but are instinctively aroused for one’s physical, emotional and social wellbeing.

A research published in Social Neuroscience describes a study conducted by Dr. Marte Otten and colleagues, who asked 46 participants to read 60 compliments and 60 insults regarding them, while exhibiting a silhouette of a crowd responding on the bottom of the screen, while the participants EEG brain waves were being recorded simultaneously. This was akin to being praised or discounted in front of others. The researchers found that the compliments were heard and dismissed quickly, while the insults lingered a lot longer. Also, the insults were later rehearsed by the participants much longer than the compliments.

It stands to reason that threatening words become imbedded in our brains more strongly than positive affirmation. An intuitive, self-preservation act by our brain implores us to remember and avoid negative input that is discounting of us, much more than words of praise and compliments. The survival instinct highlights for humans the potential hazards more emphatically than the self-pleasing messages.

There are also individuals whose past has been stained by critical parents, teachers, coaches or peers, who carry the shame and lower self-view for life. This choice hinders those who emphasize and re-hearse their weaknesses and spend less time embracing their talents, strengths and successes.

When confronted with an insult:

  • Determine whether this person is worthy of your time and friendship. If not, withdraw.
  • Ask the insult deliverer whether he/she truly believes you to be the person worthy of this discount? If the answer is affirmative, withdraw and refute this assertion.
  • Capitalize on your realistic positive self-assessment and live by it!

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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