Strengthening Your Self-image

Comments and actions of others can have a profound effect on our own self-image. Dwelling on other people's actions can waste a lot of your time and your life. The irony is that the behavior of others is really more a reflection of who they are than who you are. Here are some practical techniques to defend yourself from verbal attack.

Self-image-defense technique #1:

Choose not to take it personally

What people say and do is a projection of who they are, not who you are. Many people verbally or emotionally attack others, because they have insecurities of their own. You are the same person after the criticism as you were before, so why should your image of yourself be any different after someone else's criticism.

The Dalai Lama, Spiritual leader of Tibet, was once posed with an incessant onslaught of insults and rude behavior. The Dalai Lama, however, appeared to be completely unaffected, able to remain happy. When the verbal attacker asked him why on Earth he wasn't offended, he simply smiled and replied something to the effect of the following: "If someone attempts to give you a gift and you do not except the gift, is the gift not still possessed by the giver?" The Dalai Lama did not accept the abuse. Therefore, the only thing the rude behavior accomplished was proving how rude the person exhibiting the behavior was.

To help you disregard someone's comments make sure you ask the following questions before letting it get under your skin...

  • How much of this comment is true, and do I really deserve this attack? If it's not true, your verbal attacker is no more than a liar. If you didn't do something to intentionally hurt this person, you probably don't deserve it.
  • What does this attack demonstrate about the attacker? Is the attacker obnoxious, rude, in need of attention, annoying, lacking self-control? The attacker may very well be damaging his or her own image more than yours.
  • Is this comment constructive in any way? If it is merely an attack with no helpful observations, there's really no reason to think about it.
  • What reaction is the attacker looking for, and does the attacker deserve to see that reaction? If the attacker is trying to upset you, does the attacker deserve to see you fuming. Probably not.

Still bugging you? Try this question...

  • What do I need to do, to feel better about myself and to move on? You might decide to stand up for yourself, to do something you really enjoy, or to do something you know you are good at to affirm your confidence in yourself.

Self-image-defense technique #2:

Plan ahead of time so you are more prepared for verbal attack

Planning ahead means defining how far you'll let others go before you stop them, making these limits clear to others, and having a game plan for when they are crossed.

  • Define what you will allow, and what you won't allow. How far will you let a date go sexually? What level of criticism will you allow others to give you? What physical actions by others make you feel uncomfortable.
  • It's OK to change your mind. If you made it clear to someone that it was okay to do something, but now feel uncomfortable with it, then let them know. However it's not okay to convince someone something is okay with you, when honestly it is not. Don't put yourself in a difficult situation. Be honest with your limits, and what you are comfortable with.
  • Make your limits clear to others. In casual conversation have discussions about things that get on your nerves or make you uncomfortable. Just like a Seinfeld episode, you can start with "Did you ever notice how some people..." and just fill in the blank. This makes for stimulating conversation and advertises your limits at the same time.

When the limits are crossed...

  • Let it be known. It may not be obvious to some people when they have crossed the line. In some situations, letting them know may prevent it from happening again. If they go ahead and do it again anyway, they can't play dumb.

How do you make it known?

Tell them. Say exactly what you feel in a serious voice. Say just enough to be perfectly clear and honest, and don't say anything more. Don't apologize for being honest. Don't beat around the bush. And don't smile or laugh to undermine the importance of what you're saying.

"It's not OK with me that you comment on my weight. I'd like to ask you to stop."

If they don't take you seriously. Make yourself clear.

"I'm being honest with you. I need you to understand that I don't feel comfortable when you comment on my weight."

If you aren't sure how you feel about a proposition, question, or action, give yourself ample time to make a decision you are sure about. Don't let yourself be pressured into making an important choice without feeling confident about your decision. To buy more time just say...
"Let me think about it."
"Let me sleep on it."
"Let me get back to you."

Avoid over-explaining why you don't feel comfortable. If they ask why, and there is an obvious reason, explain it once as simply as you can. Many times it isn't clear why we feel uncomfortable - we just do. In these cases, no explanation is necessary. If they ask why, simply say "Because this is how it makes me feel and I need you to respect that."

Back up your limits with action.
Stay firm in your position. If you've told them that something makes you uncomfortable, and they do it again, repeat your statement once. If they continue to do it, do not reward them with your smiles and company. Turn down their invitations, stop spending time with them until they understand and respect your feelings. If you give in, you invite them and others to ignore your feelings.

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