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How To Halt Put-Downs And Come Out On Top – Part One

‘I felt awful I missed the meeting this morning.’

‘At least you made it into work this time!’

‘Yea, I guess so…’


We’ve all experienced the bitter aftertaste of a put-down which caught us completely unawares. How do you typically respond? If you’re anything like me, you’ll think of the perfect response a day late, leaving you feeling frustrated and angry, both at yourself and at the person who delivered the sour remark.


Whilst living in shared accommodation in London I had the unfortunate pleasure of sharing with a man who by all means was the king of put-downs. I honestly think he lived his life in a state of constant anger and frustration and the only way he knew how to alleviate his pain was to put others down. Needless to say he was a very unpleasant character.


At the time I knew nothing about assertiveness and so had no idea how to reply, leaving me constantly bewildered and feeling attacked. I can see now that my ‘perfect responses’ were actually just put-downs themselves, and would have left me entering into a competition on passive aggression, which he would obviously win.


The reality of put-downs is that they are almost always indirect and so virtually impossible to address at the time without resorting to demeaning remarks back. Thankfully, after learning more about assertiveness, I am now better able to defend myself against put downs, but it still takes a great deal of courage to tackle them in a direct way and there have been times when I’ve fallen short of being assertive. Having said that, when I do respond assertively, I feel incredibly empowered, having said I find the behavior unacceptable.


Throughout this month’s series we will address how to respond to put-downs in such a way that you too feel empowered; standing up for yourself whilst maintaining your integrity by being respectful, diplomatic and firm.


What Is A Put-Down Exactly?


Dictionary.com defines a put-down as:


“A disparaging, belittling, or snubbing remark. A remark or act intended to humiliate or embarrass



The Psychological Reasons People Give Put-Downs


Often those who use put-downs towards others are very insecure and hide behind them, feeling it the only way they can safely communicate their anger or elevate themselves socially.


The immediate reward for putting someone down is that it can make the perpetrator feel more superior, successful, socially accepted or temporarily alleviate their anger towards the person over something unspoken.


However, the person delivering the put-down only gains these psychological rewards if the recipient rises to the bait. What the perpetrator is looking for is a reaction, whether it be embarrassment, humiliation, anger or shame. Then and only then does the perpetrator feel validated and victorious.


The Psychological Impact Of Receiving Put-Downs


Naturally put-downs can be very hurtful, not only because of their indirect nature that’s hard to address but also because of the fact that so often they come out of the blue and take us by surprise.


If, like me, you have been (or are being) exposed to someone who continually puts you down, it can take its toll, by causing pain or even worse, damaging your self-esteem. If you feel your self-esteem has been impacted by put-downs, I would recommend reading ‘Learning to Love Yourself: 3 Steps to Instantly Boost Your Self-Esteem’ which talks you through how to value yourself in a way that is unrelated to others in a simple and effective way.


Stay tuned – next Monday we will examine the benefits of being assertive and look at an immediate response you can use for almost any put-down.


Further Resources:


‘The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up for Yourself and in Relationships’ by Randy J Paterson, PhD


This book has been awarded The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Self-Help Seal of Merit — an award bestowed on outstanding self-help books that are consistent with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) principles and that incorporate scientifically tested strategies for overcoming difficulty.


Do you agree most people who deliver put-downs are deeply insecure? Does receiving a put-down impact your self-esteem? Do you struggle to recognize a put-down in the moment? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.

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