How to deal with insults and keep calm?

In the pursuit of a quality life, I realise that one could not have one without a calm mind. That led me to explore the criteria of a quality mind and how to achieve it. While reading ‘Status Anxiety‘ by Alain de Botton, my favourite modern  philosopher, I realise that a lot of our anxiety arise from our fear of what other people think of us.

It is worst, when their low opinion of us is verbalised and made known to others. Indeed, one of the many things that can steal our peace is insults.

In the olden days – from Renaissance in Italy until the end of the First World War, hundreds of European died in duels to protect their ‘honour’.  Alain de Botton told of a story of two barons who both died in a fight when one gossip that the other’s moustache was thin and floppy, and that it could apply to other part of his body too.

Yes, then men would rather die than live with insults. This ‘honour’ is not exclusive to Europeans. It permeates all culture – it’s timē in Greek, sharaf and izzat in Muslim and Hindu community respectively.

status anxiety and how to live well

Even until now, we are still overly concern about what people say about us. While we are no longer as affected that we would gamble our life in defend of our honour, insult still makes us feel vulnerable and has the ability to make us feel upset for days.

Here’s a few ways to put up with put downs, with good advise from A guide to the good life by William B. Irvine and Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton.

1. Be less sensitive 
The  best defence is not feel insulted in the first place. Sometimes, even a mere glance can be construed as an insult. How sensitive we are! Perhaps, that person has no intention to insult us and we mistakenly thought that he did.

2. Think positive
When the insult is indirect, and can be interpreted the other way, then think of it as the other way.

E.g “What you like gardening?!” could mean “What a boring hobby” or “Wow! That’s interesting!”. Give that someone a benefit of doubt and think of it as the latter.

3. Pause and consider if it’s true
When insulted, the stoics suggest that we pause and consider whether it’s true or not. If it is true, why shall we be upset?

E.g Someone mock that you are bald and so you are. Seneca said: “Why is it an insult to be told what is selfevident?”

4. Understand that praise or insult does not affect your character/ achievement
When someone comment on your character or achievement, know that it doesn’t change any of it.

Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said “Does what is praised become better? Does an emerald become worse if it isn’t praised?”


5. Understand that the person is mistaken and make it known
Sometimes, people have the wrong perception on us. When someone say something that not-too-nice to you and it is not true, then tell them so. Explain calmly instead of being angry.

E.g “You’re so materialistic!“. Explain that while you appreciate quality goods, you are not excessively crazy about shopping, and do not care more about things than people.

6. Realise that you may think lowly of them too
If you think highly of someone, you hope that that person think highly of you too. But if you have little respect for that person, does what he says about you really matter?

William B. Irvine said “When a dog barks, we might make a mental note that the dog…dislike us, but we would be utter fools to allow ourselves to become upset by this fact and to go through the rest of the day thinking, “Oh, dear! That dog doesn’t like me!”

7. Avoid low company
If there’s someone in your life that keeps hurling insult on you, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the relationship or reduce the time you spend with that person. Unfortunately, words do have affect on us. If you’ve tried all the above, and find that incessant insults from someone affects your mental health, perhaps it’s time to let that person go.



Final thoughts
Thankfully, I grew up with my brother hurling ‘insult’ on me just for fun. So I rarely treated anything negative said about me as really bad. Even when someone verbalise their for dislike me, I try to make sure I live in such a way that it is through no fault of my own.

Perhaps that’s why a lot of my friends often asked “Aren’t you angry?”. Why should I? Getting angry is a waste of my effort. There are too many things to do in life than gaining approval of people and getting upset over things that we cannot control.

When insulted, keep calm and carry on doing amazing things!

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