Letting Go after an Insult


How do you let go after someone has said or done something to hurt you?

Let’s start with an example. Let’s say that your sister-in-law has criticized you. You are all sitting around the table at a holiday dinner, and she says, “Me personally, I don’t love food enough to stay home all day cooking. I prefer to spend my free time at the gym.” This comment comes after your husband talks about the lovely dinner you just made, and you happen to be overweight. Luckily, you only see Darlene at holidays and family events. Your husband is not close enough to his sister to want to get together more often than that.

You find your blood boiling. How dare she say that to me? you think. You decide to confront her, which is something you have wanted to do before but you weren’t quite ready until now. You say, “Darlene, when you made that comment, I felt like you were criticizing my weight.”

“No, I wasn’t,” she responds. “All I was saying is that I am not the kind of person who enjoys cooking.” Darlene has given you a completely unsatisfactory answer. Your blood boils even hotter. Your mind starts flipping through the rolodex of insults she has lobbed at you since you joined the family. You did not know before you met her that your family doesn’t know wedding etiquette, that wearing jewelry is tacky, that children of good breeding should not wear sequins and rhinestones.

Despite Darlene’s response, you explain that what she said was an insult because she was indirectly commenting on your weight by talking about how she doesn’t love food or like to cook and how she enjoys going to the gym. She responds that she was merely talking about herself and saying nothing about you. You have officially gotten nowhere, which should not be a surprise because you know your sister-in-law. You know she is petty and childish, shallow and lacking empathy.

What could you have done differently?

Not confront her. You know your sister-in-law well enough to suspect she would not apologize or take responsibility. There are two questions you should ask yourself before you confront someone: (1) Can you reach the person? and (2) Do you care enough about the person to even try? If the answer to both questions is no, you should not confront. If the answer to one of the questions is no, whether you confront is a personal decision. You may want to confront a close relative whom you love dearly, even if you suspect you cannot reach the person. The relationship may be important enough to you that you want to try.

In the case of Darlene, the answer to both questions was no, yet you chose to confront. Now you find yourself upset that she did not own up to her bad behavior. How can she not take responsibility when you so clearly explained what she was truly saying? you wonder. Does she not see the truth? Does she see the truth and is she merely denying it? There is no sense in thinking too much about the whys of Darlene’s behavior because you will never know what goes through her head. Darlene could very well know the truth and choose to deny it or she could be unaware of the truth because it is buried deep in her subconscious.

How do you let go and move on?

Let’s discuss moving on first. You didn’t like Darlene before, and you don’t like her now. Nothing has changed, except for the fact there was an open confrontation, but so what? At least now, your feelings for her are out in the open. You will find out soon enough if Darlene chooses to control her critical tendencies or unleash them at you with full force. Your future interactions with her could be more hostile if she is angry at you for confronting her. Oh the irony—you call someone out on bad behavior, and the person ends up upset with you.

Now about letting go. How do you let go? Here are some suggestions. Don’t replay the scene over and over in your head, and don’t replay the scenes from the past either. Replaying will only fuel your negative feelings. Try not to share the story with your friends or family, especially if they tend to escalate situations rather than deescalate. Remind yourself that Darlene is not that important in your life. After all, you see her only at holidays and family events. Tell yourself that she is not your problem, and focus on what you care about in your life, the goals you are working towards.


Bridal Party Question: Sister-in-law? Brother-in-law?


Should the groom’s sister-in-law be a bridesmaid? Should the bride’s brother-in-law be a groomsman?

A common situation where this question arises is when a future mother-in-law asks her future son- or daughter-in-law to include her current son- or daughter-in-law in the bridal party.

The bride or groom who says no to the request believes that he or she should have sole discretion to choose his or her attendants. After all, it is the bride or groom’s wedding, not the mother-in-law’s. For simplicity, let’s assume the mother-in-law is the groom’s mother, and she wants to influence the bride’s choice of attendants. The bride may be surprised by the request because in her experience, bridal parties do not work this way. In her family, mothers and children may have stronger boundaries, the kind where a mother would not even think of making such a request.

Let’s explore the worldview of the mother-in-law trying to influence the bridal party. This woman likely prioritizes keeping her family close, even as her children grow up and marry, and likely believes that it is necessary for her current daughter-in-law to walk down the aisle to keep family ties tight. She may need her daughter-in-law in the bridal party to project an image of a close family, regardless of the truth of the relationships. For all we know, her children may not get along at all. She may be struggling with losing control as her family expands, and she likely has controlling tendencies. Another possibility is that she considers her daughter-in-law like blood and feels hurt at the thought of her being excluded.

Regardless of the motivation of the mother-in-law, there is conflict when the mother-in-law wants something and the bride does not. Who prevails? Based on my experience, the mother-in-law prevails if the groom takes her side and requests that the bride include the daughter-in-law. The bride prevails if she feels strongly about deciding her own bridal party and the groom does not care. In either scenario, somebody is left unhappy. Either the bride feels forced into doing something that she doesn’t want to do or the mother-in-law feels like her needs were ignored.

In wedding fantasyland, the bride expects the wedding day to be all about her and her choices, not her mother-in-law’s. (There is usually room for the groom to have an opinion or two.) Unfortunately, weddings are complex beasts. They are the merger of two families with different traditions. One or both sides may view the wedding as a proxy for their future roles or importance in the new couple’s life.

Having been a bride, I understand that the intervening mother-in-law is no fun, but having been married for ten years, I understand that a happy mother-in-law is important for a happy marriage. I know that if you can start your marriage with in-laws who feel like they were treated fairly, you are going into marriage from a position of strength. Why not include the daughter-in-law? Honoring a request of your mother-in-law is an opportunity to build goodwill with her and your future spouse, which will help you build a strong marriage. The alternative—not honoring the request—risks a mother-in-law who is holding onto a grudge from the wedding, and that is not good for a marriage.

If you worry that it is bad precedent to allow your mother-in-law to intervene like this, you can communicate with your spouse in a way that sets the stage for how you would like your marriage to work. The bride could say something like the following: “I am asking your sister-in-law to be a bridesmaid because I know that it is important to your mother. I understand that she feels invested in our wedding, and I want her to be happy, but I want you to know that going forward, I would like for us to make decisions together about our lives, without your mother’s input.”

Although it may sound counterintuitive, honoring the wishes of an intervening mother-in-law can help you on your journey to a strong, independent nuclear family of your own. A bride who honors the wishes of her mother-in-law shows generosity of spirit, which engenders goodwill between her and her husband, which creates the warmth and trust necessary for a strong marriage, the kind of marriage where husband and wife put each other first. Sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war.

Passive Aggressive–What, How and Why

What does passive aggresive mean? What is passive aggression?

Passive aggression is when someone lodges a complaint against you or launches an attack against you indirectly, including through jest or a neutral tone of voice that belies displeasure or anger. The behavior is passive because it is indirect and there is no overt display of anger, such as a raised voice. The behavior is aggression because it is an attack or a complaint.

How can you identify passive-aggressive behavior?

To identify passive-aggressive behavior, see if you can convert the statement in question into a declarative sentence of complaint. Let’s look at an example for illustrative purposes. Let’s say that husband Bob says the following to his father-in-law in front of his wife Jane about the renovation of their home that she is managing: “It’s been months and we still don’t have our barbecue, but Jane keeps saying she loves our contractor.” Here Bob speaks in a neutral tone or even pretends to find humor in the situation. What Bob is really saying, though, is the following: “Jane, I am upset with you that our barbecue has not been installed and I blame you for choosing a contractor that is not getting the job done and for not firing him and finding someone who works faster.” Bob’s statement is passive aggressive because it is an indirect complaint. What makes this indirect complaint even worse is that Bob chooses to express his frustration to his wife by speaking to her father in front of her rather than speaking to her.

After a passive-aggressive attack, the recipient is often left questioning whether the speaker was being playful or attacking, which is a sign of a well-executed passive-aggressive attack. So how do you tell if you’ve been a victim of passive aggression? If you find yourself questioning what the speaker meant or uneasy about what he or she said, the statement was probably passive aggressive. You may not realize immediately that you were the victim of passive aggression. Sometimes it takes time. The key is to trust your instincts.

What do I do if I am the victim of passive aggression?

I intentionally use the words “victim” and “attack” when I write of passive aggression because those words reflect the experience of being on the receiving end of passive aggression. In the face of a passive-aggressive attack, a victim has two choices: (1) let the statement go or (2) confront the person. If you let the statement go, you may hold onto feelings of unease. If you confront the person directly, you risk him or her denying hostile intent with phrases like, “I was just joking,” “I was teasing,” or “I didn’t mean that.”

Whether you can let a passive-aggressive statement go depends on your personality, the circumstances and substance of the attack, and your relationship with the passive aggressor. It may be harder for someone who ruminates to let go than for someone who does not. An encounter with a stranger on the street may be easier to let go than an encounter with a close friend or family member, because the relationship with the stranger is less personal. Passive aggression is problematic because it can engender bad feelings in the recipient that can fester and accumulate and damage the relationship between the aggressor and the victim. A passive-aggressive attack can leave the victim feeling ill at ease and chip away at the victim’s self-esteem.

The alternative to letting go is confronting. How can you confront a passive-aggressive attacker without giving him or her room to deny aggressive intent? The answer is you frame the dialogue in terms of your feelings, which makes the attacker’s intent irrelevant. Let’s go back to the Bob-Jane example. Jane could say to Bob, “When you made that comment to my father, I felt that you were expressing frustration about the progress we’re making on our construction and I heard that as criticism of me because I am the one responsible for our renovation. Can we talk?” With these words, Jane would be showing courage and strength. In this situation, she should go one step further and ask Bob to come to her when he is upset about something in their relationship as opposed to speaking to her father in front of her. Honest and open communication is a critical foundation for a safe and secure relationship between friends, family members or spouses. Passive aggression leaves victims feeling attacked and insecure and weakens relationships.

Why do people choose passive aggression over direct communication?

People who choose to speak indirectly through passive aggression may have grown up in a culture that views direct speech as impolite or improper or they might have grown up in an environment where they had no voice, one in which they could convey their true feelings only in jest, through teasing or sarcasm. They also may be angry and looking for a way to attack that appears socially acceptable. The why, while interesting, is not important to the victim. What is important is bringing the substance underlying a passive-aggressive attack to the surface and addressing it so that the victim can feel strong rather than hurt, angry or vulnerable. Confronting passive-aggressive behavior empowers the victim and sends a clear message to the aggressor that he or she cannot get away with launching passive-aggressive attacks.