Insults and offenses are commonplace; in life we often find ourselves interacting with people who, unable to manage their emotional loads, tend to unload them on others.
Whether it's a family member, a work colleague, a friend, or a stranger, I guess you have also been there, you have also been insulted and offended.
Recall a time when someone attacked you, offended you, or called you names; did you impulsively react or did you stay impassive?
Taking offense is not easy, many of us are inclined to react with anger; however, we must remember that we decide whether to be hurt by the insult received or not.
To make my point as clear as possible, let me share an enlightening story. This short, yet insightful Zen story will make you wiser. After reading this story, you are going to change the way you look at offenses you’ll receive from now on. As a result, you will no longer react but respond cleverly. You will know how to handle insults and offenses.
THE GIFT - ZEN STORY
One day Buddha was teaching a group of disciples, when a young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kinds of rude words.
Buddha responded with utmost tranquillity, remaining still and silent.
When the man left, one of his disciples, outraged by the young man's behavior, asked Buddha why he had let that stranger abuse him in such a way.
Buddha answered serenely, “If I give you a horse as a gift, but you don't accept it, whose horse is it?”
The student after a moment of hesitation replied, “If I didn’t accept it, the horse would continue to be yours”.
Buddha nodded and explained that, “Although some people may decide to waste their time insulting us, we can choose whether we want to accept their insults or not just as you would with any other gift”.
If you take it, you're accepting it; otherwise, whoever insults you will simply be left with an insult in their hands.
You always have a choice. You can accept or reject these gifts. As simple as that.
We can't blame the person that hurts us, because it is our decision to accept their words or leave them on the very lips they came out of.
“Nobody can hurt you without your permission”. - Mahatma Gandhi
TAKE A MOMENT BEFORE IMPULSIVELY REACTING
It is in the nature of the offense to upset the recipient, so take a moment before reacting.
Consider the bigger picture and the relationship you have with the person who insults you.
If it's a stranger, not reacting is by means the wisest choice ever.
Shake their words off as you would do with annoying dust.
It's not as simple when the offenses come from an emotionally close person.
In this case, try to understand their perspective without internalizing the offense that moved you.
Understanding another's perspective is not a way to excuse or mitigate rude behavior, but it is a weapon for you to understand how to defuse future offenses.
Offense triggers anger and a sense of injustice, which is why when it comes from a loved one it shouldn't be internalized but should be contextualized.
WHAT DOES TO CONTEXTUALIZE MEAN?
To contextualize means to resonate with someone.
If you are on the road and a driver overtakes you in a risky way, honking the horn, you may be inclined to attribute this behavior to a way of being of the driver.
You may end up cursing him thinking that surely he is a reckless guy.
But, let's assume that the driving behavior is not linked to the driver's way of being but to external factors.
His partner is in hospital, fighting between life and death and he wants to run to her to say goodbye before she enters the operating room.
What would your response be then?
You would probably pull over to allow him to get to the hospital as soon as possible; a bit like you do when you hear the fire brigade or ambulance siren behind you.
You see, in everyday conflicts, contextualizing means understanding what the external factors that led a person to be rude are, without internalizing the offense.
In this way you are able to maintain the clarity of resonating with who you are dealing with, avoiding the escalation of emotion.
WHY INSULTS TRIGGER AN INTENSE EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
When we are insulted we usually automatically react by becoming defensive.
We get angry and stressed, so we not only have to deal with the insult but also with the unpleasant emotions it generates.
Being impulsive is strongly linked to our emotional reactivity, but has nothing to do with our more rational aspect.
That's why before answering you should wait for the emotional volume to drop and listen to your feelings.
Instead of letting emotions take over, we need to activate our logical thinking by focusing on the facts.
If you stop, instead of reacting, you give yourself the opportunity to see things for what they are and not for how you feel.
Emotions spoil the way you see the others you deal with and don't allow you to contextualize.
Once the emotional volume has dropped, then you can really understand your intentions and choose either silence or words and behavior leading to constructive conversations.
In our responses, we need more of the prefrontal cortex and less of the amygdala!
AMYGDALA VS PREFRONTAL CORTEX
When we are attacked, reacting is a natural instinct.
On a neural level, it is the amygdala that pushes you towards action (reactivity to emotional stimuli).
However, we have an equally powerful structure, the prefrontal cortex.
When you feel overwhelmed by the offense, slow down, wait and trust your frontal cortical structures where the higher cognitive abilities reside: reflection, impulse control, reasoning, planning, and working memory.
The prefrontal cortex is your best ally when it comes to responding to offenses.
A careful reflection could avoid dragging you into an even more painful discussion than the offense you suffered from.
If you resist the urge to instinctively react, this gives you a chance to validate your needs in a functional way.
BE A BETTER PERSON THAN THE ONE WHO INSULTS YOU
Marcus Aurelius, a famous Roman emperor, thought that we should not give the opportunity to manipulate our emotions to those who insult us.
He once wrote, “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury”.
Ignoring someone's insult is the most powerful way to fight back!
It shows self-control and prevents us from falling into their game.
The key is to wait a moment before reacting - breathe, think, and then decide what to do.
When we increase the time between the insult and our reaction, we can give a more thoughtful response.
As a result, we can resort to logic and go beyond the initial emotion.
SEEKING THE POSITIVE IN THE OFFENSE
Whenever someone insults us and we manage to control ourselves, it's a personal victory.
Responding to an offense with another one, on the contrary, implies reproducing the chain of human anger, immaturity, or stupidity and will not change things, but make them worse.
If we react calmly and gratefully, or with humor instead, we'll take the person who insulted us by surprise, so they are more likely to reflect on their behaviors.
This strategy brings to my mind an image of martial arts.
The person throws the punch but the opponent defends himself by dodging the blow. The person falls under the push of his own punch while the opponent preserves his own mental and physical energy.
This happens when you use calm and humor to respond to an offense.
Rising above name-calling is a more mature choice that will allow you to protect your inner peace and avoid wasting time and energy.
After all, there's little point in arguing with an idiot;)
"Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience". - Mark Twain
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