George came home full of confidence. Two friends at work had just finished a health kick and lost weight. So he thought, “Come on, George, It’s time for me to give it a go.”
When his girlfriend came home, it took 3 minutes before those feelings of being small and insignificant returned. Having turned 30, he was faced with a keenness to turn his health around, but he hadn’t counted on the mental battle with Jenny.
“fat chance you’ll ever lose weight”, Jenny shot at him. “You never make it stick; nothing ever changes.”
George set off for a run but couldn’t shake Jenny’s words. He soon ground to a halt and slumped onto a sugar-soaked table by the fast food restaurant. Time to eat his frustrations away. Another put down, another time of feeling defeated.
We can’t help but be influenced by the words people say to us.
Stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me… Try telling that to the thousands of demoralised men and women who tried and failed because words had broken them down.
In 2006 there was a study where Psychologists convinced several teachers that low-performing students were geniuses in the making. None of it was true, but what happened was remarkable. Every teacher started raising their expectations of the students and refused to let them fail. As a result of constant positive affirmations and encouragement, every student’s grades improved dramatically.
Our words have the power to give life and even destroy it. Good people build others up, and destructive people tear down using their words. This makes it all the more challenging to deal with people who put you down.
Sometimes you can’t escape their words. They could be from a colleague, a loved one, a friend, a teacher, or even a stranger. For those who are not easily avoided, we must arm ourselves with tactics to help us negotiate our way with these people.
Don’t Take The Bait.
Firstly, don’t ever take the bait. Do not let them anger you, regardless if the person knows they are pulling you down or are entirely unaware. We all know that people love to hammer down on anything that agitates someone. However, as soon as it’s evident that you are bothered, it becomes a slippery slope into a mud-slinging argument or emotional point scoring.
I know that it can wear you down over time too. But, if the comments are relentless, you need to find other ways of avoiding the drag of arguing and backbiting. For example, take a walk and remove yourself from the situation if necessary.
Change The Narrative.
If the words we say can help people improve or derail their lives, then we must change the narrative. The narrative or the continual phrases that we hear shape our view of the world. A negative narrative leads to a negative life story. It’s time to reshape the words you are surrounded with and tell a different story.
Changing the language means challenging some negativity directly, as you need to offer new phrases instead of the old ones. That’s where using some challenging terms comes into play.
Use Some Challenging Phrases.
The kind of phrases that help change a narrative or positive replacement words. You are almost thinking of an answer for every negative objection so that you can begin believing a different story for your life.
“Your fat and you’ll never change” is a negative narrative that someone might speak of you.
Your objection needs to challenge that truth and replace it with something positive.
“I might be fat, but people lose weight all the time. Everyone is capable of change, and I’m no different.”
These phrases need to be regular and said with confidence. As silly as it seems, speaking these words to yourself and others tells a new story.
Another negative phrase might be thrown your way, “Yeah, but you are lazy, and other people can do it, but you can’t.”
You’ve got to hit back with your positive narrative! “If that was true, then nobody would change. I’m just as capable, and even if I mess it up, I can do it.”
I’ve watched people spiral upwards and downwards depending on the narrative and phrases used in their lives. Speak some positive phrases. It’s not cheesy Western hogwash; it’s reframing your thinking.
Challenge Them Privately.
If this isn’t the relationship of the toxic kind, you can try challenging them privately. Nip it in the bud, and don’t wait for a better time to have the conversation. As soon as you hear that negative phrase, you must vocalise that you’re not happy about it and why.
“You’ll never stick at this weight loss”, said Jenny. She hadn’t said it unpleasantly; it was more of a careless thought, having never seen George motivated to exercise.
George was hurt but decided to confront it head-on. “Jenny, That comes across as though you don’t believe in me. I’m trying to make some changes in my life, and I could really use your support. So please don’t say things like that as it seems like a discouragement to me.”
Jenny might be shocked. She may even be a little offended. But, if the relationship is healthy, it will open up a new conversation where some unspoken issues around language and narrative can be addressed. Talk about it. Concede some ground and recognise what language you can improve on to make the relationship dynamics more healthy.
Challenge Them Publicly.
Perhaps it doesn’t go as well as the above example. Or it’s a friend or work colleague, and the relationship dynamic isn’t the same. For example, let’s say you have had a private conversation, but nothing has changed.
At this point, I’d call them out on it in front of other people. You might be thinking, “Julian, that seems harsh and perhaps a bit rude,”
No, what’s rude is someone dragging you down with their words and affecting your life. What’s rude is them doing it even though you’ve asked them not to.
Nobody likes confrontation, but bad attitudes and negative culture must be challenged. At least if you are in a position to do so. Nothing ever resolves itself when left alone.
George turned to three of his colleagues and said, “I’m starting to run this week. Do you have any tips”?
Dave thoughtlessly chimed in, “I’ve only ever seen you run for a doughnut, George; you’ve got no chance.”
“Hey, Dave – let me say this again clearly. You might just be making a joke, but I’m trying to make an effort around my health. I’ve asked you privately not to make any negative comments. I’m sure you don’t mean it, but things like that come across as discouraging. Please stop.”
Then say nothing. Sit with the moment of awkwardness. You will find it incredibly uncomfortable, and so will everyone else. This might seem harsh, and a little confrontational, but so is your boundaries not being respected, and you have to do something to change the narrative.
At the very least, Dave will think twice before making a joke with George, and everyone else will see where you stand.
I know it might seem better to get along with everyone, and in most cases, it is. But, remember, we’re dealing with someone who ‘always puts you down. So we’ve got to stop it, and sometimes you need to have the scarier conversations or resign yourself to being a doormat.
Confront Them Quickly.
If it’s on your mind, the chances are that it has happened often enough to be a problem. When you’ve been overthinking someone’s negative words, you are overdue a conversation with them.
It’s easy to think, “I’ll let it slide this time, and if it happens again, then I’ll say something.”
It will almost certainly happen again. You get what you allow, and if you don’t establish personal boundaries and values in your work, school and personal relationships, they will get compromised.
Do it quickly and do it kindly.
Respond With Kindness.
Just because you’re confronting someone’s language and behaviour towards you does not mean it has to be unkind. Try not to speak from a place of hurt but to help them understand your point of view.
Most people speak without thinking. Put downs, unless from a toxic person, are not usually intentional. They may have grown up in a hostile home. They may have unresolved hurts or be passive-aggressive because they have not yet worked out how to resolve their issues healthily. You’re trying to bring awareness to someone who is unaware, so be gentle.
Be gently and firm.
You’re kind but not a pushover. There is a big difference.
Rise Above It.
The last thing to remember is the need to rise above it. Choose to be the bigger person. Don’t allow their insecurities to become yours. You might have tried everything and made no headway with the person. That’s okay, you tried. Now you’ve got to find ways of living despite their opinions.
Keep a record of every small and large victory in your life. Remind yourself of why you are making changes. Reward yourself when you progress, and be kind to yourself when you miss the mark. Finally, live with a sense of confidence and watch their opinions melt away.
When you stand tall, it makes others feel small. Not because you are causing them to feel small but because we can’t help but compare ourselves to others. Looking at your progress might make them think about why they are not moving forward in life.
It’s not your responsibility to solve that feeling of inadequacy for them. You can’t avoid progress just because someone else isn’t ready to move forward.
So head up, shoulders back and press on!
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