How Do You Survive Someone’s Verbal Attack?

A concrete example of a verbal attack

You’ve just finished a project at work and you feel good about yourself. You think you did a good job and you hope your boss will appreciate it. (He’ll never tell you – he’s just not the person to give compliments). You’re at your desk doing some complicated work, getting ready for the next project to come.

Suddenly, you hear your boss raise his voice and wonder who it’s about this time. Then you hear him call your name as he walks to your desk. Your heart tightens: you know it smells bad for you.

A torrent of words comes out of his mouth as he shows you the report you gave him earlier this morning. Somewhere among the insults, he points out an error in your calculations. You feel bad for missing something that now seems so obvious. But on top of the embarrassment, your boss has just put your ego through the shredder. You feel like an idiot, a moron, an empty shell. The insults resonate with you.

As your boss runs out of breath, he throws the report on your desk and gives you until the end of the day to update it properly. Then he goes back to his desk, mumbling in his beard about the incompetence he has to put up with. You don’t know if you’re relieved or disappointed that you haven’t been fired. Your office colleagues give you sympathetic glances. Later in the day, when the boss goes out, a few of them stop by your office to cheer you up, but it’s only a small comfort.

How do you heal from such a gaping wound in your self-esteem?

It only took a few hours to correct the mistake. Finally, it would have taken even less time if your mind hadn’t been so preoccupied with replaying the verbal attack in your mind repeatedly. So you end up late, check your work two or three times, and then slip the revised report under your boss’s door.

On the way home, you take some comfort: alcohol, cakes, sweets, etc… Before you know it, the alarm on your phone rings and it’s already the next morning. Only now you go to work backward and your heart is tight.

You hate your work; you hate your life, and you hate yourself.

It’s not about you…

Sometimes we are the target of angry words and have no choice but to endure the insults, the bad moods of others. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept these words at face value. No matter what you’ve done, you don’t deserve to be abused, verbally, or otherwise. If you have harmed another person, they may express their grievance and you have a responsibility to make amends. However, allowing negative language to eat away at your self-esteem is not a way to do penance for your sins.

You can’t stop others from losing their temper, but you can decide how you will respond. And the starting point is to remind yourself, repeatedly, that it’s not about you. Words spoken in anger say a lot more about the person saying them than about the person being targeted.

The words that came out of his mouth were personal insults. But what your boss was really expressing were his own inner feelings, which he cannot express and which have nothing to do with you. We are not responsible for other people’s emotions, just as it is up to them to decide how to react to our behavior.

Who knows what’s going on in another person’s life – the stress they’re under, the demons they’re struggling with. Maybe your boss has family problems, or maybe he’s under pressure from his superiors. He may even nurse a hangover. No one knows what’s eating him up inside. But whatever it is, that’s what he expresses when he vents his anger. It’s just not about you.

Your boss might have behaved differently. He could have asked you into his office. He could have thanked you for completing the report on time. He could have pointed out your mistake in a neutral manner and politely asked you to correct it by the end of the day. Whether he treated you kindly or cruelly depends solely on what is going on in his life. Again, it has nothing to do with you.

Understanding that you are not responsible for the behavior of others is liberating. When you know that words spoken in anger are not really about you, the attack, while still unpleasant, should not hurt your self-esteem. It is also easier to forgive the other person.

The next time someone approaches you angrily honk in traffic or belittles you, do yourself a favor: silently repeat this mantra as many times as you need.

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