“Well, that’s a look!” – how to deal with hurtful and insensitive comments

In her post celebrating International Alopecia Day, Rachel spoke about how she encountered rudeness about her bald look when she went into a shop. This was not the first time that people had spoken thoughtlessly and insensitively to her since she lost her hair.

I can think of times when people have said rude things to me, often without realising that their comments are hurtful. In the moment, it can be extremely difficult to know how best to respond. Here are some thoughts and suggestions:

It’s you, not me

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. In other words, you cannot control what other people say or do, but you can control how you respond and react.

When a person expresses their opinion, try to remember that it is not truth, but merely a view, which may or may not be right. You get to decide which.

Be the person you wish they were

It’s not your responsibility to change people. Who knows what is behind another person’s behaviour or words. Of course, it would be nice if everyone was kind and polite to each other all the time. But the reality is that people have all sorts of things going on in their lives which drive how they act.

If a person behaves in a way which is hurtful or unkind, try to resist retaliation, saying something you might regret in the moment. Instead, take a deep breath. This gives you a fraction of a second to decide how to respond in a calm and controlled manner.

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

~ Marcus Aurelius

See the funny side

There is nothing funny about hurtful or unkind comments – that is, unless you decide to make light of them. Allowing an insult to bounce off you with a shrug and a smile can be liberating. It can also be a non-confrontational way of deflecting the comment back to the other person. Try saying, with a smile, something like “ok, thanks for your opinion. Now I came here to ask X…”.

Circling back

How often do we walk away from a difficult situation, only then to identify the perfect response? The temptation can be to dwell on the incident and beat ourselves up about how we handled it and what we could have done differently.

Internal self-criticism like this can be more damaging to us than the original hurtful comment. So try not to let things fester. If possible, go back to the person who upset you and explain calmly how their words impacted on you. If this seems too challenging, talk to a trusted friend or family member. Voicing our concerns about what happened in this way brings any feelings of shame, guilt, anger etc into the light, where they can be examined and let go.

In summary

At first, it seems like the onus is on other people to ‘do the right thing’. If we can instead focus on self-care and doing the right thing for ourselves, we can build emotional resilience. This leads to a sense of peace and calm when dealing with the rest of the world.

When this happens to me I generally do exactly what Liz suggests and let it bounce off – I usually consider those people to be stupid and feel a little sorry for their ignorance.  However, on the occasion in the shop, I wish I had said something to the man at the time.  Not for me but for the other people who feel very self conscious about their ‘look’.  If I could rewind the clock my response to this particular situation would be something like. “I am sorry your friend is going through tough time at the moment and I am not offended by what you have said.  However, please consider how another person may feel before you comment on their look.  I understand you did not mean to insult me but I think you should know that comments like that can be very damaging to a person – or words to that effect”.

Have your say: do you have a great strategy for dealing with hurtful comments from which others could benefit? Have you found these suggestions helpful? If not, what else would be useful? We’d love to hear from you.


    1. The interesting thing is that, in Rachel’s experience, people seem to feel that it is ok to comment, sometimes very brutally, on appearance-related matters. This contrasts with social norms about, for example, not mentioning a person being overweight. It is definitely something we intend to explore further over time on this blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is all so true, and words are so easily out but cannot be taken back and they can hurt so much. I am not very witty in replying to people and always after a while I can think of replies. As I am a calm person , I am usually quiet and just get on with it after someone said something hurtful. I feel though I am like you Rachel, on the positive side, always see the light at the end of the tunnel and have a happy disposition. I think we would get along wonderfully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we probably would too Ute, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can not think quickly when confronted so it is a little frustrating when looking back. Still, us kind, calm souls remain to be the better people.

      Liked by 1 person

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