Meghan Markle recently paid a visit to animal charity Mayhew to meet staff and volunteers, when one woman she shook hands with suddenly motioned to her baby bump and said, “What a lovely lady you are… and you’re a fat lady!”
Markle has faced a slew of negative rumors and unflattering reports in the media during her time so far as a royal, but among the backlash, she has managed to stay true to herself and handle the bad press with a positive mindset. When she heard the offensive comment — one that would usually warrant an angry gut reaction — she simply turned to the woman, laughed it off, and said, “I’ll take it!”
“There isn’t one right way to confront someone who insults you,” Hendrie Weisinger, Ph.D., an expert on emotional intelligence and author of The Power of Positive Criticism, tells Thrive Global. “No matter how you respond, the idea is to take the power out of the insult, and back into your own hands.” Weisinger says responding on the spot can often be difficult, so it’s okay if you need to take a moment to think mindfully about how you want to react.
If you ever feel irritated from an off-the-cuff remark, here’s how to react in a way that is both productive and effective on both ends:
Step away from your gut reaction
According to Weisinger, if you have the chance, try not to respond right away. “When you’re overwhelmed by an insult, it’s easy to act on your gut reaction,” he explains, “But you’re usually better off taking a moment to evaluate what it is you want to communicate.” Instead, work on stepping away from your instinctual reaction and identifying how the comment made you feel. “By identifying your emotions, which are typically anger and hurt, then you can free up your creativity and think of effective ways of responding,” he says.
Consider the context
Oftentimes, an insult isn’t what it sounds like. The woman who lobbed the “fat lady” comment at Markle is originally from Jamaica, and taking into account cultural differences in the way we talk about bodies, the remark was likely meant as a compliment about Markle’s pregnant belly, not a takedown.
Other times, an insult might be a mask for an underlying feeling of hurt — and Weisinger says that putting yourself in the other person’s shoes can help you better develop your response. “Think about why the person is insulting you in the first place,” he suggests. “Instead of instantly acting defensively, try to tap into what the other person is trying to tell you.”
A little lighthearted humor can help us make light of a tense situation, and even help us shake off the offensive comment, Weisinger adds. “Make the insult work for you,” he suggests — and even reiterate the comment to own your insecurities, if you feel comfortable doing so. And like Markle’s quick-witted response, you can always shrug off the insult and keep going — it’s all about taking the power back into your hands.
Use mindful communication to help the insulter rethink their ways
Weisinger says that addressing the insult head-on can have the powerful effect of reframing the other person’s mindset. “By questioning the insult, and asking the person what their intentions were, you’re prompting the insulter to ask themselves, ‘Why am I doing this? And what did I really mean by saying that?” And while it may feel unnatural to directly ask someone why they insulted you, the strategy may help you feel better, and help the other person rethink their hurtful ways.
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