How to respond when someone calls you names
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How to respond when someone calls you names

Words are powerful. They have the ability to shape our perceptions, distort our realities and change our beliefs. But they don’t define us. That’s especially true in the case of name-calling.

If you’ve ever been at the receiving end of someone else’s name-calling, chances are you know how awful it feels. So, the question is: when someone calls you names, how should you respond? Should you leave the room? Launch a counterattack? Or sever the relationship for your own mental health?

As it turns out, there’s a middle road for dealing with name-calling—one that allows you to stand up for yourself, protect your mental health and preserve your relationships with people who’ve wronged you. Here’s what to do when someone calls you names. 

How to respond when someone calls you names 

Take a deep breath and let go of the words

As human beings, we hold onto phrases. If someone calls us mediocre, lame, ugly, boring or arrogant, it stays with us. But should it?

Here’s a thought exercise: imagine someone calls you a “zucchini.” Does that make you a vegetable? Heck no! This is a silly way to remind yourself that just because someone assigns a label at us or hurls insults at us, it does not mean that their words hold any truth. Like a zucchini, their words may be inconsequential to our true nature. Embracing this principle empowers us to detach ourselves from hurtful words and maintain a positive self-image. 

Once you’ve done this, you’ll be in a better headspace to deal with the name-calling situation at hand.  

Hold back judgment and blame 

When confronted with negative behavior from others, our immediate reaction might be to judge and blame. However, by restraining from judging others, and instead assigning positive intent to them, we’re encouraged to approach the situation from a different perspective. 

Instead of assuming the worst about someone's name-calling antics, we should strive to ascribe good intentions to them. By considering the underlying motivations behind their behavior, we can foster understanding and empathy.

For example, maybe you offered to pay for dinner for your friends, and one of your mates takes advantage of your hospitality. After they rack up $150 on the bill, you tell them you’d like them to contribute to the check. In return, your friend calls you a cheapskate and a liar. (This actually happened, by the way!)

That might make you pretty mad. You might think, “Sure, I offered to pay for you, but I didn’t know you were going to take advantage of me and spend a fortune!” And that might all be true. But does fighting with your friend solve the problem at hand?

Instead, consider their perspective. Try to understand how this situation might’ve embarrassed your friend. Maybe they never get to eat at fancy restaurants, and this was a very special experience for them—one they now feel defensive about.

By assigning positive intent, you can take a step back, consider your friend’s perspective and hash things out. You can communicate that the reason you’re asking for payment is because you didn’t expect the bill to be so large, and you can’t reasonably cover the whole check. You can also reassure your friend that down the line, you won’t commit to paying a check that’s over a certain amount. 

See how it works? Without judgment and blame, communication becomes possible. 

Assume good intentions 

Similar to assigning positive intent, assuming positive intent involves approaching every interaction with the belief that people generally mean well and come from a place of goodwill. 

It requires us to be mindful of our inner dialogue and consciously suspend any negative judgments before engaging with others. By assuming positive intent, we create an atmosphere of openness and receptiveness, allowing for better communication and connection. It helps us understand others on a deeper level and prevents us from jumping to negative conclusions about their intentions.

Stop name-calling in its tracks by fostering understanding

In the face of name-calling or hurtful labels, it’s easy to lose your temper, get frustrated or sever relationships with others. But there’s ways to combat those feelings.

Letting go of the words others hurl at us reminds us that names and labels don’t define us; they’re just reflections of other peoples’ perceptions. Assigning positive intent in others allows us to cultivate more empathy and understanding than we might’ve had before. And assuming good intentions helps us build up healthy relationships that lead to less name-calling in general. 

Want to learn more about tools to prevent name-calling? Get up to speed on our latest podcast episode of Am I The Bleep?!

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