The Insult Game

The Insult Game

A partial transcript from a therapeutic session around being insulted, the ‘insult game,’ and how to best respond to such verbal assaults.

Part I

Client:…So the argument got a little heated and one person in the group looked at me straight on and said you’re really very stupid, you know…and…I was dumbstruck…I didn’t know what to say…

Counselor: How did you feel?

Client: Not good. It was a bit embarrassing. All that afternoon I thought of nothing but punching them out, throwing them out the window, stomping them on the ground. I didn’t do that of course, but I was…angry. At one point, to try and overcome this feeling, I was telling myself that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ But, it didn’t really help.

Counselor: Yeah, well it’s more like ‘sticks and stones can break my bones and words can break my heart.’ Words have power. But, the problem as I hear it is not so much what they said to you and how that made you feel, but that you were not able to respond to them at the moment, to counter what they said to you at that time. You internalized what they said and that was disruptive to you.

Client: Well, what does one say at a time like that, what could I have said?

Counselor: There are lots of ways to respond. In a sense, if you are frozen at the time, from shock, which can easily happen when you are insulted like that, especially with others present, you are not able to respond. You lose your response-abilities. You would need to have some shock resistance, and then a repertoire of comebacks. Being insulted is not uncommon. It can be a form of bullying, of one-upmanship and it can become kind of a game to play, if you know how to play it.

Client: Okay, so how do I play it?

Counselor: The first thing you need to understand is that just because somebody says something to you that is negative or derogatory, that doesn’t mean its true, accurate or factual. Do you think you are stupid?

Client: No.

Counselor: If a little 5-year-old kid came up to you and said you were stupid, would you get angry with them and want to throw them out the window?

Client: No, of course not, they’re just a kid

Counselor: And so, if an adult, a peer, says you are stupid you take it more seriously?

Client: Yeah, I guess so

Counselor: It’s pretty common for us to give over our authority to others. Its something we learn growing up. As children, we almost have to defer to the adults, to the ‘other,’ as an authority. That can carry over into adulthood and, even though we are grown up, we may still tend to defer authority to the other person.

Client: Like thinking they know more than I do?

Counselor: Yes. But, of course, they may not. Now, in the case of being stupid, there are criteria, which determines stupidity. You can objectively determine whether or not a person is stupid. Stupid is not the politically correct term to use these days. It’s more appropriate to use terms such as ‘learning disabled’ or ‘mentally handicapped.” When someone calls you stupid, they are not saying you meet the objective criteria for being learning disabled. They are just trying to put you down, and in so doing, appear to raise themselves up. It’s mean. And, it happens. So, its worth some time learning how to respond to insults.

Client: Okay. I’m game…

Counselor: Well, let’s replay what happened. Let’s say were in a group of people and I look over to you and say ‘you sure are stupid.’ Respond to that, what would you say?

Client: ummm…I would say ‘no, I am not.’

Counselor: And they then say ‘yes, you are!”

Client: ummm…I don’t know what I would say back to them then.

Counselor: Okay. Don’t feel badly; we are not educated in how to respond effectively to insults. But, we can learn. The first thing is to not shy away but to look straight at the person and know that just because they said it does not mean it is true or factual. This is very important. What we hear from others may not be factual, or accurate. You need to remember this because the foundation of the strategy I’m going to suggest is based on the idea that what you hear is not factual or accurate and must be proved to be so. From there, you can begin to take the offensive by asking questions to clarify the statement, which will begin to prove that it is not so. Let’s reverse roles so I can give you an idea of what I’m talking about. You tell me that I’m stupid. I will be you and you will be this person who said you are stupid. Okay?

Client: Okay. So….ummm…’you sure are stupid.’

Counselor: How did you come to that conclusion?

Client: ummm…’you just are.’

Counselor: You have no evidence?

Client: ‘What?’

Counselor: ‘If you are saying that I am stupid, I want to hear you prove it. Anybody can say anything but that does not make it so without evidence. What is your evidence?’

Client: Ummm…I don’t know how to respond to that.

Counselor: Okay. I think you can see how you begin to turn this around by taking the offensive and asking specific questions. This is based on what is called ‘evidence-based thinking.’ You take the offensive, and in so doing defend yourself, by being very rational and logical, and calm about it. You ask questions to understand how they arrived at that conclusion, that you are stupid. They won’t be able to and it will become obvious that the statement is groundless, baseless. Another advantage to this approach is that you are not directly defying them. If you were to say ‘no I am not’ they would come back with more force. What we fight against can become even stronger. But, what we accept loses its force. So, by accepting their statement and then inquiring about it, we prevent them from escalating and getting stronger or more insulting.

Client: hmmmm…

Counselor: You can frame this kind of question for evidence in different ways. For example, you can ask something like ‘how stupid? On a scale of 1-10, ten being the most stupidest person in the universe, where am I on this scale, according to you?’ Let’s pretend they say ’10,’ which of course is absurd. You then ask, what is the difference between ’10’ and ‘4’? At this point, they might be getting upset because you now have the upper hand. You have asked a question which they likely cannot answer. From your side, it’s all about inquiring about the details, as if you are a detective, and you actually want to understand. You want evidence. You are not opposing what they have said, you are accepting it, and inquiring about it. And, in that strategy will be the demise of the insult.

Client: I see…that will take some practice.

Counselor: yes, it will and you can work with friends; you can play the insult game where you take turns insulting each other and practicing this kind of response which asks specific questions seeking details and evidence as to the validity of the statement as the response to an insult.

Client: Okay

Counselor: And remember that underlying this whole topic is the issue of how you perceive others to be an authority. Everybody has opinions and views on things; everybody has beliefs and perceptions. When those opinions, views, beliefs and perceptions are imposed upon you, you don’t have to agree with them. You can question them and then determine if they are valid or not. Consider this quote from American journalist Russell Baker, “An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong.” Throughout our school years, we are rarely taught to think critically. But, that is exactly what is needed to respond effectively to insults, along with a good dose of self-esteem. Stand up for yourself. Do not accept what others say without investigation into the facts, the evidence. For your homework, I’d like you to practice responding to insults. You can write them out as if in a script. Let’s have you do this with two insults. Let’s say somebody calls you ugly, and let’s say somebody calls you fat. How would you respond to those? We will work on that at our next session. Okay?

Client: Okay. Thanks.

Part II

Counselor: Did you get a chance to practice responding to insults?

Client: Yeah, with my brother and sister. We actually had a fun time doing it, we were laughing a lot. They are both in sales and have some experience with being insulted, and having to deal with objections a lot so I got a lot of good ideas from them.

Counselor: Excellent. Once you get a handle on this approach, it can be fun and it can be empowering because you really do take control of the situation without fighting against it. You take the energy coming at you and you use it to your advantage. Okay, so let’s play. I will insult you and you will respond as you have practiced. Ready?

Client: Yes, let me have it.

Counselor: ‘You are one of the ugliest people I have ever seen!’

Client: Are you sure about that?

Counselor: Absolutely

Client: Would you be willing to change your mind if I showed you somebody more ugly than me?

Counselor: There is nobody more ugly than you

Client: How do you know that?

Counselor: I just know

Client: I want proof, give me some evidence; otherwise, I will conclude that you really don’t’ know what you are talking about.

Counselor: You want me to prove that you are ugly?

Client: Exactly, with substantial evidence.

Counselor: Well, I just think you are ugly; I don’t need proof

Client: Well, all that tells me is what you think, not what I am. You can think whatever you want, but that doesn’t make it so.

Counselor: Okay; that is really very good. How do you feel taking that position?

Client: Strong, confident. I feel free and light-hearted, like nothing can get me down. It took a lot of work though, we practiced for hours.

Counselor: Very good. Okay; let’s take the next one. Ready?

Client: Go for it

Counselor: You sure are fat; maybe I should start calling you fatso

Client: Hmmm…well, on a scale of 1-10, ten being the fattest person in the world, where am I on that scale?

Counselor: You’re a 9, fatso

Client: And how did you determine that I am a 9 and not a 6?

Counselor: I just know you are a 9

Client: Who is a 10?

Counselor: Your mother

Client: When did you last see my mother?

Counselor: What?

Client: Well, you seem to think she’s fatter than me, by one point, when did you see her last to make that determination?

Counselor: All right. I can see you have a handle on this approach. By this time, anybody who is insulting you would stop; they would have nowhere to go; they would be befuddled, and frustrated, and probably leave. You won. You did well.

Client: Thanks. I really got into this idea of evidence-based thinking and the idea of scaling.

Counselor: Good. But, what you really got into was standing up for yourself, not accepting what somebody else says as valid right off the bat, and questioning them. You now have a few tools to question them with. And, I’d like to suggest that for homework you now practice using this approach with compliments.

Client: What?

Counselor: Practice with your brother and sister giving compliments such as ‘you are very beautiful’ or ‘you are so smart.’

Client: Why?

Counselor: Consider; we feel great when we get compliments and terrible when we get insults. But, just as insults may not be factual and are based on the perception of another person, to whom we have given some authority, so it is with compliments as well. There is a saying that goes ‘credit and blame smell the same’ meaning that both insults and compliments are the same thing in that they come from outside ourselves. A compliment may be as untrue as an insult, but we like hearing it and it makes us feel good, even if it is not true. So, just for the fun of it, and to get some more practice, use your evidence based thinking approach on compliments. In real life, the best response to a compliment is a sincere ‘thank you.’ And, the best response to an insult is the inquiry as to its validity. But, ultimately, both insult and compliment, are coming from an external source and, in that regard, suspect. Make sense?

Client: Yeah

Counselor: You are your own authority. What others may say, positive or negative, can be accepted, rejected or questioned. Questioning is a very good practice. It is an intelligent thing to do. As the saying goes, ‘question authority;’ and you can do that in a rational and diplomatic fashion with this approach to evidence-based thinking. As an aside, I can also mention that this insult game can be a particularly healthy thing to do with couples, especially in the earlier stages of a relationship. During that time the compliments are plentiful, and they are important. But, it can also be fun to insult each other, in a playful fashion, and counter them in this way. This can become a kind of inoculation. That is, it can really hurt when somebody with whom we are in a relationship insults us. By playing this insult game with a partner or spouse, we can take the sting out of it, turn it into something more lighthearted. There are times when we are frustrated or angry at our partner or spouse and what better way to express this than to set up a mock insult scene and play it out as we have done here. If done well, it can help resolve tensions and might even bring about laughter.

Client: Interesting. I will definitely keep this stuff in mind. It has been quite helpful. Thanks.

Counselor: You are welcome.


The Critical Thinking Cheat Sheet

Critical thinking is an imperative in an active, functioning democracy. If the people are not informed, and able to sift through the bias, innuendo, false statements and fallacies of logic, they are easily swayed and manipulated by persuasive rhetoric. Critical thinking skills are not taught in public schools; even in lower level college course, it is not a required course. It is up to each individual to begin learning what it means to be a critical thinker. The image below is a cheat sheet and can help you ask appropriate questions to uncover enough information to make an informed conclusion from which an intelligent decision can be made.


critical thinking


The Pursuit of Happiness Fallacy

Needs to Know Pursuit of Happiness Fallacy

The fundamental ethos of the United States of America is ‘pursuit of happiness.’ Life and liberty are almost secondary, though, granted, required for such a pursuit. But the pursuit itself is what it’s all about. As if plagued by an insatiable hunger and parched of thirst, the pursuit of happiness is a maddening race to ill-being and frustration with life.

The problem is twofold; one, the meaning of happiness. What is happiness? The origin of the word, from Old Norse and Old English, in about the 14th century,  is ‘hap’ and means ‘luck’ or ‘chance.’ Luck is not something you pursue; it is happenstance. The concept of happiness has changed over the centuries and through cultures. How would a native of two thousand years ago be happy? Happiness is, today, generally defined as ‘a state of well-being and contentment.’ Without any pursuit, many people experience moments of happiness everyday, without even knowing they are happy at the time. Happiness is more a by-product than anything definitive that can be pursued.

The second problem with this American ethos is ‘pursuit.’ If you recall those moments of your own happiness, it did not involve pursuit. Or, if it was in the act of pursuit, the happiness experienced was because the goal of pursuit was forgotten. Happiness was not the objective. And there it was. The pursuit of happiness is like chasing a rainbow. The more you approach, the more it recedes. There may be moments of thrilling excitement and enjoyable fun in the pursuit, there can be enthusiasm and passion, in which there may be moments of happiness, but for the most part, pursuit can be tiring, frustrating and disappointing. Happiness based on brief experiences of heightened stimulation cannot sustain itself day after day, month after month, year after year. Millions of people in the United States of America experience exhaustion and illness, as a result of this never ending pursuit for something that cannot be attained by pursuit. Moreover, even if happiness should be attained, the guiding principle is pursuit so any current happiness would soon be disregarded in favor of the pursuit, because the pursuit is what it is all about.

What is pursuit? The original Anglo-French word, from about the 14th century, ‘persuete,’ translates as persecution, ie, to go after, to seek, to get ’em, to persecute, to prosecute, to pursue. It’s aggressive. Because in today’s world happiness is often associated with the aggressive acquisition of material possessions, relationships, relative knowledge, control and power, and because of our common tendency to view our own status in comparison to that of others, there is a mad, feverish effort to pursue happiness, not for it’s own value, but to feel ‘on top of the world’ compared to others; and yet, despite the maddening pursuit, there is really little attainment of happiness, little evidence of substantial well-being and contentment.

Well-being and contentment do not subtract from dynamism, productivity, achievement, and innovation. Human beings are very highly animated, extra-ordinarily active, to the point of being over active. Well-being and contentment support dynamism by making it less stressful, less pressured, and more fun. Don’t confuse lack of ambition as equivalent to well-being and contentment. At the same time, don’t confuse lack of ambition with what is typically considered passiveness. Passiveness can be very comfortable, and appropriate. It is open, receptive, responsive and fluid.  It allows for options and adaptations, the capacity for which is an ingredient in happiness. Passiveness is like a wild animal at rest, in repose, and, yet, at the same time, acutely alert and aware of it’s environment. This state of restful alertness is a component of baseline happiness.  As it stands today, in the pursuit of happiness model, there appears fixed goal posts as to what constitutes happiness. The pursuit of happiness has become a feverish compulsion of assertively making it happen, of getting there. The ability to simply passively receive happiness, to let it happen, to be in it, without the effort of pursuit is foreign, and needs to become familiar ‘…life, liberty and the reception of happiness.’

So, as a national ethos, the pursuit of happiness, doesn’t work too well; the reception of happiness might work quite well. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all peoples are inherently endowed by their existence with certain fundamental inalienable rights including life, liberty and the reception of happiness. The means and methods of reception are different than those of pursuit. How does one go about receiving happiness? Learn to relax, be calm, be passive, be receptive; be like a wild animal, restfully alert. If you’d like to explore further, visit the blog post The Advaita Approach to Mental Health.


Needs to Know: Seniority

Needs to Know: Seniority

In the developmental model presented here, the Senior Citizen phase begins in the mid 80’s and extends on to the end of life. There is almost no research on which to base information about this stage of life. Unlike research and information about the developmental stages and needs of childhood and adolescence which is voluminous, the senior citizen enters unknown territory. However, there is good reason to speculate that transcendence is a developmental need at this stage. Transcendence is a purely spiritual need. It is the drawing of consciousness away from the objective world, beyond the boundaries of what is known and understood. It is not avoidance or a withdrawal in the negative sense. Rather, it is moving towards a whole new realm of consciousness; a realm in which all the developmental needs of the mind and the body are of no interest.

Transcendence will only become an emerging need if the previous needs have been satisfied. That means the needs and tasks of the elder adult must have been completed. For that to have happened, the needs and tasks of the middle adult must have been completed and satisfied. For that to happen, all the needs and tasks of the early adult must have been satisfied. And so on all the way back through infancy. In a great majority of the population, needs and tasks from any one stage carry over to the next. The middle adult crisis is a way whereby some of these backlogged needs are acknowledged and satisfied. Still, most elder adults continue to be impacted by the forces and drives of earlier stages such as the needs of industriousness, competency, identity and intimacy. Consequently, it is rare to find an elder adult who can integrate their experiences without some regrets and some despair. It is even rarer to find an elder adult beginning to feel the stirrings of a need for transcendence and understand that need in the positive light of spiritual development.

There is little the senior citizen need do. Transcendence is a conscious, willing relinquishment of all that is known. Perhaps the best advice is simply “let go.” Although the body may continue to function and the mind may continue to perceive, both are deteriorating. Consciousness can now “relax” into itself freed from its attachment to the conceptualizations and images of the mind and the corporeal drives of the body. There are no longer psycho–emotional needs or bio–physical forces demanding attention. There is only the utter simplicity and nakedness of being. There can be an overwhelming sense of fulfillment – and freedom.


Needs to Know: Elder Adulthood

Needs to Know: Elder Adulthood

The developmental needs of the elder adult make up relatively new territory. It wasn’t that long ago that the average life expectancy was about 40 years. The elder adult begins this stage of life at about 60 years and extends into the early 80’s. Some individuals remain very active and vibrant well into their 90’s. As the average life expectancy extends even beyond the century mark, developmental needs and tasks will likely be reinterpreted.

During this phase of life, the children have grown, moved out and have started a family of their own. The career is winding down. It is a culminating period. The end of life is near. The issues of closure and completion begin to become predominant. Unfinished tasks and unsaid words may become important. The major task at this stage of life is to actualize the self, to integrate the wide range of experience gained over the many decades; to assimilate and synthesize all that has been learned. This amalgamation of experience yields a wisdom which can be handed over to younger generations.

Unfortunately, our modern culture is extremely youth oriented. The wisdom and knowledge of the self actualized elder adult is often ignored or neglected by the younger generation in favor of the newest trend or the latest fad. An elder adult may experience loneliness, uselessness and despair. Some of the activities which can help the elder adult meet the challenges and needs of this stage include:

  • Volunteer in the community in ways which allow working with younger generations
  • Enjoy quiet time to reflect upon the life that has been lived, the stages that have been passed through, the connections between them and ways in which the complexities of a life lived have woven a pattern which now at this stage can be discerned and appreciated.
  • Enjoy social time with friends and family; grandchildren and great grandchildren can bring particular joy and contentment
  • Be physically active as much as possible without strain;
  • Enjoy the leisure time which comes with retirement in whichever way brings the most happiness.
  • If handicapped, bed-ridden or in some way incapacitated, allow others to do for you – be open to receiving the care of others. Remember that they too have developmental needs and caring for others may be a large part of their task – just as it was for you at that stage.

Failure to make the time to integrate the experiences of a lifetime can result in an unfinished life, regrets, a negative attitude and a denial of the reality that has occurred yielding a sense of disgust with one’s life. This can all be countered with introspection, self analysis and meditation. These activities can become an important part of the elder adult’s life and if developed can give tremendous support to the next phase of development.

Needs to Know: Seniority