The comic character Pee Wee Herman always replied to insults with the comeback, "I know you are, but what am I?" This nonsensical approach often left his fictional opponents flummoxed and confused. Most of us, however, prefer a more mature way to cope with the disparaging remarks that come our way. Preserve your dignity by dealing with insults in a calm and centered way that doesn't deplete your strength or energy.
Place the responsibility for the disparaging remark where it needs to be -- squarely on the shoulders of the person who made it. If your aunt implied that you are a slob when she noted that your living room rug resembled the aftermath of a severe storm, remind yourself that she has the choice to live her life as she feels fit, as do you. The need to try to control other people's lives is an illness that she must contend with, not you.
Consider that the disparaging remark may hold a grain of truth, advises psychiatrist Neel Burton in a February 2013 article in "Psychology Today." If it is true that you are always making excuses for your lateness, just as your boss accuses, he is doing you a favor by pointing this out. If the remark is not at all true, you have no reason to take offense, says Burton.
Don't accept the insult. On her blog, professor and meditation instructor Tammy Lenski tells the story of a Zen master who withstood a barrage of insults from a challenger without response. When asked how he managed to cope with the indignity, the master responded, "'If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it, to whom does the gift belong?'" Lenski notes that you can simply choose not to receive the "gift."
Use humor, says Burton. For example, when your frenemy notes that you must have been to some tasty restaurants on your vacation because your jeans are looking tighter, say, "I'm glad you noticed!" You'll either diffuse the situation or put the offender off-balance with your unexpected response.
Treat the remark like you would if the person had accidentally passed gas in front of you. When your neighbor says that old cars parked in driveways make the neighborhood look trashy when you drive a 1995 Toyota, flip the script and make a remark about how your neighbor across the street just planted the most gorgeous rose bushes. Treating a disparaging remark as a social faux pas sends the message that the remarks are not acceptable in civilized discourse.
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.
George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images