7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You

Respond When Someone Shames You

2. Don’t take it personally.

First, take your mind off of yourself and try to silently understand what caused this other person to say this humiliating thing to you. Take as long as you need. Stare at the person with your mouth hanging open if you need to. They may try to humiliate you further, but that reaction, more than any words you can possibly come up with, shows how stunned you are that he or she could behave this way.

Sometimes the person who is humiliating you is not doing it on purpose, and when they see your reaction, they will be horrified and apologetic, although they may not always be able to let you know (because maybe now they’re ashamed).

Never take anything personally
7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You

When you think it’s possible that your boss didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of your team, for instance, a simple, direct response, in private, might be best. You could say, “Can I get on your calendar for five minutes today?” and then, when you meet, say something like “I know you didn’t mean to do it, but when you criticized me in front of the team, I was really distressed. I want to hear your critiques. You always have a really good perspective on things. But I’d really appreciate it if you could give me your criticism in private.”

You might get a genuine apology but remember: No one likes to be told they’ve done something wrong, so you might just get a grunt or even another criticism. Don’t take it to heart. If your boss genuinely didn’t mean to shame you, your point will have been made.

Even if someone wants you to be embarrassed or ashamed, be clear: No matter what you’ve done wrong, you don’t deserve to be humiliated. Certainly, take responsibility for any mistakes you made, but don’t accept that making a mistake means that you’re an unworthy person who should be denigrated by someone else.

Researchers tell us that it is important to recognize that when someone is trying to make you feel bad about yourself, it is generally because they have a problem, not because you’ve done something so terrible.

Also, read The Toxicity of Gossip: Why It Hurts Us More Than Anyone Else

3. Get out of the situation.

Neuroscientists tell us that you only have about 20 minutes to make an emotional conversation change directions; after that, you and the other person will be locked into a neurologically based pattern that only has the possibility of shifting after a period of separation.

So don’t hang around trying to make things better. Get some distance, and then, if you’re so inclined, revisit it with the other person. You can say something like, “I’m really not ready to discuss this with you right now,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or nothing at all. Just leave as quickly as you can.

When Someone Tries To Trigger You By Insulting
7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You

4. Understand the other person’s motivation.

Once you’re out of harm’s way, you can think about what might be going on. Understanding does not mean forgiving or feeling sorry for the other person. It’s simply a tool for helping you move out of the shadow of their behavior. It is also a way of helping you not to take their actions personally, and of seeing more clearly that it’s about them, not you.

One possibility is that they’re angry; perhaps because you shamed them in some way? It may not be something you’re even aware of, but if you search your mind, you may figure out that you did something recently that seemed insignificant to you, but that somehow embarrassed or shamed them. So now they’re getting you back, even if you didn’t do it on purpose and didn’t do anything even slightly matching what they’ve done to you.

Also, read The Subtle Art Of Taming Your Mindset

Another possibility is that someone has threatened their sense of their own power, and showing that they can hurt someone else is a way of asserting their strength. Sometimes this power play has a direct connection to the person being hurt, but sometimes it has more to do with a general feeling of powerlessness or impotence.

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F. Diane Barth

F. Diane Barth, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University School of Social Work and analytic certification from the Psychoanalytic Institute of the Postgraduate Center. She has been on the faculty and supervisory staff and a training analyst at Postgraduate, NIP, and ICP in NYC. Currently, she teaches private study groups and often runs workshops around the country. Ms. Barth’s articles have been published in the Clinical Social Work Journal, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Psychoanalytic Psychology, and other professional journals, and as chapters in a number of books. Her new book about women's friendships, I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women's Lives ​was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2018.View Author posts