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How to Respond to a Relative That Insults You

by Elise Wile, studioD

When you're insulted by a relative, you may be tempted to take a page from Groucho Marx's playbook and say, "I have nothing but respect for you -- and not much of that." Unfortunately, however, taking the low road will only result in the person who did the insulting becoming the victim. Unless you want to be chastised for the next 20 years for telling your elderly uncle to zip his lips after he's made fun of your taste in hairstyles, it's best to learn a few ways to respond appropriately.

Respond, don't react. When your mother-in-law tells you that your kitchen looks so much nicer now that you've done the dishes, bite your tongue and say, "Thank you." When you choose your response instead of giving into your impulse to say, "Who asked you?" you'll not only reap the benefits of a better relationship but will feel more empowered than you would after you've reacted and your mother-in-law asks your husband, "What's wrong with Kathy?"

Turn the other cheek and ignore the insult. Recognize that insults are a symptom of what professor of philosophy William Irvine, Ph.D. calls the "social hierarchy game." When you realize that your brother-in-law made a snide remark about your somewhat battered car because he is somewhat threatened by your status as a respected nonprofit lawyer in town, it'll be easier to say, "So, how did Adam's soccer game go last night?" instead of making a comment about people who go into debt buying flashy cars they can't afford.

Employ self‑deprecating humor, advises Irvine. For example, when your cousin notes that she could never get away with wearing such "loud" earrings, say, "That's me, a traffic-stopper if there ever was one." You'll not only avoid conflict, but this approach sends a message to your unconscious mind that you are not in the least perturbed by the insult, promoting peaceful feelings as well as actions.

Joke about the insult, advises psychiatrist Neel Burton. You'll get to show off your quick wit, making you come out on top, socially speaking. Saying something like, "But Phil, I didn't know you cared," after your nephew has made fun of your beer belly can lighten the atmosphere and perhaps even bring a blush to the cheeks of the person doing the insulting.

Use body language as your only response. A raised eyebrow accompanied by a slight smile after your aunt has noted that she's surprised you'll be going on a honeymoon since it appears you've already had one will keep you on equal footing. What's more, since you haven't said a word, she'll likely be forced to change the subject.

About the Author

Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.

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