Illustration depicting a set of cut out printed letters formed to arrange the words handle with care.

Continued from: (Don’t Let Politics Divide Your Family this Holiday Season)

Dealing with rude or difficult family members requires the use of good comebacks.

Having quick comebacks prepared is essential for situations where you are being put down or insulted- they are an effective way to let the other person know that they haven’t gotten the better of you. They can be as simple as;

  • “Yeah Right” (Very Australian),
  • “Whatever” (very American),
  • Or the cross continental, “Was that meant to be funny?”

These simple but dismissive expressions work so powerfully because someone who puts other people down is trying to make themselves feel superior. They will only continue to do this with people they feel they can ‘stand on’, just to give themselves a little more height. Instead, if they feel deflated every time they choose you as a target, you will find the insults stop. This works so well that often just having a comeback prepared will let that person sense you are no longer a soft target.

No matter what comeback you choose, primarily it must demonstrate you are not a people pleasing doormat! Your comeback should make it clear that anyone trying to put you down or make you feel stupid, is instantly going to get the same in return.

People pleasers are not good at leaving other people feeling uncomfortable so this really may take some practice. 

A people pleaser is likely to deliver a comeback as a whining kind of question, which usually really sounds something like, “Leave me alone”. This won’t work and neither will asking them to do something. For example, saying “Stop” or “Get over it!” still hands this person power, and that is the opposite of what is needed to make the put-downs stop. Instead, you need to show them that you are in charge and that you don’t mind leaving them feeling uncomfortable and with nothing to say!

A good comeback is a conversation ender, and should leave the person nothing to argue with. For the conversation to continue after the comeback — it should require the subject to change.    

I will be giving more examples and workshopping good comebacks for specific situations (in our private group); this week and right through the holiday season.

These situations are best dealt with as they happen in the moment. If you don’t get it right this time, there is always time later to practice handling the same situation better in the future. Don’t try to confront someone about their rudeness any other time than when they are directly insulting you. Learning to keep things in present time like this is vital for relationship success.

This means avoiding being a person who constantly has ‘issues’ with family members and feels they must be confrontational about sorting them out with the person after the situation has taken place. Trying to solve what happened by bringing it up with the person and pulling apart the situation after the event – will usually end up unpleasant at best.

Instead, assess, plan and be ready to deal with the problems as they arise — and if you don’t succeed, make a note, let it go, and then later when you are feeling better, go back to the drawing board and work out a better plan of how you will handle that same situation when it happens again.

This is all about planning. Planning is the opposite of just waiting and hoping that nothing emotional will come up.

If you don’t plan ahead and instead wait to decide how you will deal with the situation once you are upset, you will end up listening to and acting on all the stuff your Hare brain tells you to do. You can be sure it is going to start yapping the moment it is triggered and hops out of its box!

Then just like an old fashioned Bugs Bunny cartoon — you will be left standing looking stupid, with that stupid ‘Hare Brained’ rabbit (in your head) giving you bad advice!

I have labeled our emotional brain the ‘Hare Brain’ because it is great at coming up with crazy stunts that might help us deal with lions and tigers (when we were not at the top of the food chain). But these days you can ignore most of the advice it will give you. It is that voice in your head that may suggest some extreme actions may be necessary, and is usually triggered when we feel disrespected or see injustice. Later on when you are wondering what on earth you could have been thinking, blaming someone else is a very human response.

Blaming someone else might make us feel better for awhile, but only puts the power in the other persons hands. It also only kicks the can down the road and wont stop the same situation happening again!

This is not to say our emotions are worthless or stupid. They are lightening fast signals that alert us to opportunity or danger, and it is vital we learn to take note of what they are signalling. But it is best that we don’t try to deal with the danger or opportunity they are warning us about until we have calmed down and our Tortoise Brain is in charge again. 

Later on it may be necessary to set boundaries and figure out how to protect ourselves in future. But it is usually best to not try and make these decisions in the heat of the moment.

This is why it is important that if you DO become upset, make a note of what triggered you to become emotional. Keep this note pretty general, for example; when ______ (a brief description of what happened) I felt _____ (the emotion).

After some practice, it may occur that you are able to bounce back quickly if you do get caught off guard- this is a very important skill to have and takes time to perfect.

This skill requires you to refocus your thoughts onto something that will make you happy, and then decide you are not going to think about what made you upset until later on. You may need to take some time out by yourself to do this (but try not to stomp off in a huff). If people ask where are you going you can make an excuse or even say, “I need a few minutes to cool off!”

Remember, it is not your responsibility to deal with other people’s negative emotions. If they choose to be unhappy that is up to them. The best you can do is be a positive example and learn to self soothe and keep yourself on track with your own life and goals.

Negative emotions are contagious however and so if you have children or teenagers who are sulking or in a bad mood – it might be best that you insist they go do that in their room or where everyone else isn’t likely to “catch” their negativity.

If you find you have caught someone else’s negativity, try taking a few very slow, deep breaths and then sigh and let it go. Acknowledge that you see the other person is feeling angry or negative (showing compassion if possible) while bringing your own sense of inner peace and calm back to the situation.

Practice makes perfect and every time you decide to let your negativity or stress go and refocus on positive thoughts, the faster and better you will become at this.

So…

  1. Think it through now, be prepared with comebacks!
  2. Be realistic about the challenges ahead!
  3. Keep making a better plan!
  4. If you get caught out, make a note of what triggered you to become upset without letting it effect your mood.
  5. If you notice your Hare Brain has been released, take some time out to go and regain your own inner calm!

Hard work? Yes, self management always is, but the skills I have outlined above are vital if you wish to be an emotionally stable influence on your home.

Illustration of a funny cartoon creature or animal's character eyes, hiding and looking from inside a shoes box

Our group is safe space, where you can discuss just about any problem you might be facing with keeping the peace in your home. The group and I will help you with learning practical steps you can take (rather than just blaming someone or telling them to leave).

Once you have registered, I will be sending you some examples of how to handle put downs effectively, and together (in the group) we can brainstorm ideas for comeback lines.

Please don’t hesitate to come say hello!

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This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. I’d love to get examples of things to say when someone else is trying to put themselves above you.

    Thanks for the article

  2. How do you deal with a husband who always likes to put you down in front of other people and this takes place when you are momentarily out of the room preparing a meal and you happen to only hear the tail end of the put down he is relating. He also sits in his chair like a tin pot king and orders me around to fetch this or that or sends the butter back to the kitchen because it is not put in a dish of cold water to stop it melting in the heat (something we have never done before). This behaviour is just to make him feel superior and to make me feel like a servant. Because of this behaviour I do not like entertaining and I have come to hate him with his abuse and all his negativity.

  3. You are right about confronting someone later on after the event has passed: the results are always unpleasant at best. I have a habit of doing this with my partner. He is sarcastic or frustrated and I talk to him the next day because I’m still hurt… and this spirals downward into several day long fights where I’m usually completely miserable and he responds to everything with frustration.

    My “hare brain” usually bothers me with issues for days or weeks on end. It’s hard to let go of the pain and move on.

    If he makes a hurtful joke, what is the best “in the moment” response?

    1. The best come-back for a joke that is meant to be hurtful is: “Was that supposed to be funny?”, but you CANNOT act hurt or angry. The only way you can effectively deliver this come-back is if you are calm. If you are already upset before the insult, he has already won and you’re come-back won’t work . He wants to feel control over you by upsetting you. The best way I have found to keep my emotions under control is to see him for what he is in the moment: a child throwing a temper tantrum.
      If he answers “Yes”, just quip back: “Well that’s just sad.” Because it is sad that a grown adult would try to make themselves feel higher by putting another person down. It’s a sign that they really don’t love & respect themselves.
      When you do the work that Kim & Steve prescribe for learning to love and respect yourself, his insults won’t hurt you any more. Plus, you will gain the capacity to truly demonstrate your love to him instead of feeling manipulated and resentful.

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