How to Effectively Manage “Put Downs” and Criticism

(published in Bonjour France Magazine Nov 17)

Dealing with put downs, insults, and criticism can be a challenging task. Sometimes we are able to shrug it off and move on, other times however,  things can stay with us for much longer.

Just like everyone else, I have been no stranger to being on the receiving end of some negative comments from time to time, and I won’t lie and say that some of them haven’t been harder to get over (and some still get my blood boiling when I think of them). We can’t skip through life without hearing any negative feedback. On the contrary, being challenged on who we are and what we do, can often be a great exercise of self reflection  and personal development. Nevertheless, what we can do, is find ways for us to cope with put downs:

The people who put you down 

People who spend the majority of their time putting down others, are often very insecure in their own lives. They either feel the need to give the impression they are in control or to cover up their own insecurities.

These may sound like excuses to justify someone’s bad behaviour, but by better understanding the kind of person we are dealing with, allows us to gain a clearer perspective when responding to them.

The different forms of put-downs 

Put downs can come in many forms and happen far more often than we realise. Some of them may be slips of the tongue or a misplaced joke, and some of them are put out there with the intend to harm.

“It’s just a joke” Put Downs

People might try out a negative comment or strike, and when we react defensively, hide it behind a joke. Again a useful tactic allowing them to say what they wanted to say, but deflecting off themselves by depicting you as the unreasonable one who can’t take a joke…

“I’m just being honest” Put Downs

The new-found praise for people who ‘tell it like it is’, has taken a slight turn these days for the negative (eg: Trump) giving some people the false illusion that this means they can say whatever lies on their mind. As much as being genuine and honest is an admirable trait, we still need to think before we speak and look at the possible consequences our words may have on others. Just because we think something, doesn’t always mean it needs to heard.

Direct and hurtful Put Downs

These are self explanatory. Put downs like these are comment with the sole purpose of upsetting others. Examples include: “You’ll never amount to anything”, “nobody would love you like that”, guilt tripping etc

Put Downs in Advertising

I think it’s safe to say that most of us who watch commercial TV, open a magazine or walk around stores; have been made to feel like they are too fat/skinny, not fit enough, not lazy enough, our houses/laundry isn’t clean enough and heck… pretty much every time I open my Facebook feed there is some household product or food that is giving me cancer unless I follow these 5 steps..

Advertising is designed to make us want more, make what we have better, and buy things we might not need..

Ways to Respond 

George Carlin quoted “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ll drag you down to their level, and beat you with experience”.  By biting back with an equally hurtful or negative put down, you’re only sinking to their level, which is exactly the outcome they are looking for. Showing that a comment upset you, to a point where retaliation seems like the only option, is exactly what they want. They dig deep for a reaction, and they get one.

Ofcourse that doesn’t mean we need to play the eternal doormat and take the negativity on the chin, but there are other ways we could proactively or effectively respond that might decrease or (if we’re really lucky) eliminate) the put downs.

1. Let it go

That’s right, play it like Elza and channel Disney’s ‘Frozen’ (I have a 4 year old :/)  and try to just “let it goo-oo”. Sometimes things are best worth letting go merely for the fact that they are very heavy. Someone’s comment might deeply hurt you, but will it still be relevant in a year’s time? Is there even truth behind the put-down that could rear it’s ugly head again? No? Then try to walk away from it, you’ll be a better person for it. And as mentioned earlier, the lack of reaction from your part will only show them their negative feedback has no impact on you.

2. Thank them

A very simple ‘thank you for your opinion’ can be a very curt and confident way to show them that their comments were heard, without giving them any indication of how the comments were received. Rather than the expected angry or defensive come-back, they are greeted with a firm ‘thanks’ essentially ending the conversation.

3. Laugh it off

When someone tries to get a rise out of you, laughing could possibly well be the best medicine.

Laughing along with it might feel like you are enabling the behaviour, but reacting strongly to it might motivate them even more to ‘get under your skin’.

It’s not always the solution, sometimes their ‘jokes’ really do hurt your feelings as perhaps some truth could lie beneath them, but when you can laugh it off, it will only help strengthen your own insecurity on the matter as well.

4. Call them out on it and talk

Sometimes, when all else fails, we might actually need to have ‘the talk’. If this person is someone we are required to deal with on a regular basis (colleague, friend, family, etc) the build-up of negative comments could lead to an angry outburst that in the end causes more damage than the initial comments.

You can confront someone without being aggressive or stoop to their level.  Simply and calmly state that you do not appreciate these kind of comments and await their response. In a lot of cases people might not even be aware they are doing it nor realise how significant the impact of their words can be.

If the person retaliates or does not take some form of responsibility for their actions, then at least you know you tried and you can find ways to eliminate them out of your life (no… not kill… just walk away from the connection) or if this is not an option to minimize the exposure to their negativity and to you.

Things to consider 

Of course, not everyone is out to get you and often someone’s negative comment may be perceived far stronger than it’s initial intent. It’s important we ask ourselves the question if that person really is trying to put us down or if we are somehow interpreting it as one. If we had a negative experience with someone in the past, perhaps we might be a bit more sensitive to what they say in the future.

We also need to consider age, culture and background when hearing others give us negative feedback… When living in Hong Kong, pretty much every older Asian woman would have a negative comment about how I dressed my baby, carried her or what I fed her. It took me a while to accept that this is just a cultural thing and it was not worth jumping on every titbit that was thrown my way. I ended up smiling and just walking away or in some cases I ‘thanked them for their opinion’ and left it at that. (of course I was still frustrated, but not enough to start a battle).

‘Being offended’ also seems to be the new rage these days, where we can’t say anything anymore without hurting a little some people’s feelings. So just be mindful of boundaries… in both directions.

Your peace of mind is more important than listening to negative (non-constructive) comments and wondering why they were said in the first place.

If you can’t do anything about it, then find a way to move away from it and let it go

Ofcourse easier said than done, but worth a try …

IMG_1793

Advertisements

7 Ways to Teach our Kids Resilience

image1We can’t change the fact that our children will face certain challenges in life, and we also can’t protect them from every little bump they’ll experience along the way (even though we might want to). With our increased sense of wanting to protect our young ones from life’s growing stressors, we are also seeing a spike in children who develop mental health issues such as generalized anxiety and depression.

(NOTE: This does not include the concerning rate of children being misdiagnosed at the first sign of ‘abnormal behavior’.. which, if you ask me, is a problem i itself and could use it’s own blog post …but later). I’m referring to how we are starting to see more and more children significantly struggling to cope when life doesn’t go their way.

Just like adults, children need an outlet to vent any frustration, anger or sadness (which often comes in the form of a lovely tantrum…. usually in the middle of a busy supermarket 😉  Of course, these are just part of the joys of parenthood, and take on various forms well into adolescence.  There’s nothing to worry about when your child ‘cracks it’ once in a while. But when significant reactions  immediately impact their lives, such as generalized anxiety, panic attacks, severe low self esteem, unrealistic expectations and in some cases even self-harming, it becomes hard to ignore.

Of course, as parents, we don’t want to create these ‘special snowflakes’ that feel like the world owes them and can’t handle negative feedback or hurdles that stand in their way. However, with the increasing urge to micro-manage children’s lives and to ‘protect’ them from common life challenges such as conflict, loss, rejection, failure and change; some parents unintentionally engineer such an outcome according to US clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel. 

She suggests that some parents coddle their children too much, which prevents them from learning from these experiences. “They need to learn from a shallow best friend, an uninspired teacher, or a bad situation. They need to learn these things without us interfering” (Mogel).

Kicking a young child out of the nest and letting them fend for themselves is not necessary, however, helping them build resilience will aid them in managing difficult situations later in life. Resilience is something they can learn and grow from as they develop a certain set of skills that help them tackle the ups and downs in life.

So instead of overprotecting them, or leaving them to fight their own battles, how do we find a balanced way to teach resiliency skills? Below are some suggestions taken from various research articles that have proven to be quite effective.

1. Let them struggle

While your help is much appreciated, it is equally important to let children feel frustrated, so they will attempt to find different solutions to the problem. This can range from your 4 year old’s irritation at her Lego blocks ,because she can’t find the piece that fits: to the university student who can’t handle living on their own because they’ve never had to manage any roadblocks in life before. Let your child find their own way to manage a difficult situation (even if you have the answer ready for them) and be there as their guide rather than doing the job for them. My mother once said ‘sometimes you need to watch your child fall down and scrape their knee so they learn to be more careful next time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there to help you back up again’ which really stuck by me.

2. Challenge Negativity 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of us, during our teens, have used the expression ‘this is ruining my life’ at least once. Children (and teenagers in particular) tend to amplify certain setbacks they experience, as they don’t fully understand yet what is happening to them or how to deal with it. Setbacks that might appear minor to us (such as a fight with a friend or missing out on joining a team) might feel like it’s the end of the world as they know it. It’s important not to feed into that and join the drama party, nor can we minimize or push aside what they are experiencing. Ask your child if this one event needs to effect the rest of their day/week/month. Problem solving starts with going through the options, help them take a step back and put things in perspective. Allow them to experience and feel the negativity whilst averting them from being completely swallowed up by it.

3. Take on the ‘big family mindset’ 

Today, the average family consists of one or two children and it’s affecting our parenting style, says columnist Julie Beun. In larger families, parents tend to be more of a facilitator than a micro-manager. The children get more of a chance to be independent problem solvers as they help raise their siblings, get themselves dressed in the morning and eat breakfast. In smaller families, the parents tend to ‘take care of everything’, and although this may make things run smoother, it doesn’t always work in our favor. We need to learn how to take a step back and let our children figure it out (no matter how frustrating it may be waiting around for them to zip up their jacket or put the shoe on the right foot… our time constraints should not get in the way of our child learning how to take care of the little things).

4. When at first they don’t succeed, get back up again 

Like the age old adult expression “sh*it happens” it’s ok to tell our children that mistakes happen (perhaps substitute the word “sh*t” for the time being though 😉  Hall says, we need to tell them it’s ok to make mistakes because it gives us a chance to learn from them. Together with our children, we can ask them what we learnt from our mistakes and how we would do things differently. With smaller children, an in-depth analytical approach might be a bit too much, but a simple “oops, I made a mistake, I will do this to fix it’ could work just fine in showing them how to cope with mistakes and set backs.

5. Confidence in their Competence 

A child’s confidence stems from their competence, and their competences are excelled by their confidence. Focusing on your child’s qualities as well as recognizing their mistakes and how they handled them are a great first step. Comparing them to others (siblings, peers, etc) might create unnecessary competition, rather than showing that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, the desire to protect our children might give them the (unintended) impression that we don’t think they have what it takes to tackle an issue head on, hence trying to empower them to make decisions of their own lets us be there as their guide rather than their carer. In saying that, it’s also important to not push our children to take on things they can’t realistically handle just yet.

6. Being part of a community 

Being resilient is also about knowing and understanding our place in the bigger scheme of things, and that not everything is always handed to us on a silver platter. Having our children do small chores can be a great example of developing this sense of being part of something bigger, being part of a team (and also shows that we often have to work to get things done). Children first learn their contribution counts by doing household chores (young children could feed the dog or put things in the trash , whereas older children can help clean a room or do laundry). It can help them with their problem solving and self regulation says Hall.

7. Teach them how to calm themselves 

When children get upset (especially younger children) it’s easy for a small upset to turn into a full blown epic tantrum. That’s because they don’t know how else to express their anger/sadness/frustration just yet. Reasoning with an upset, young child might not be as easy as trying to reason with an adult. Rather, teach them easy and realistic ways to calm themselves down first, before taking a closer look at what upset them. One of the more popular ways to calm ourselves down (in both children and adults alike) is taking a few deep breaths, breathing into our nose and out of our mouth. This can be easily taught to a small child and done together if they need you there to guide them. Another way to try and help a child bring themselves down from an upset is to count to twenty (or however high they can count) allowing them to shift focus to the task at hand instead of the stressor that upset them in the first place (they essentially break the cycle and engage their brain). Once they have managed to calm themselves down, they have now acquired a new skill that will also help them to reflect instead of react.

8. Discipline is about Teaching, not Controlling or Punishing

Sometimes, when I say we ‘discipline’ our children, people tend to jump to the conclusion that discipline means to control or punish them. I strongly disagree with that stereotype, as disciplining needs to be seen as teaching a child (which can be done without control or punishment). Using discipline to help your child understand that their actions result in certain consequences, could help them understand that they also have the ability to bounce back from a setback.
Dr. Ginsburg summarizes what we know for sure about the development in resilience in children, which is that our children need to know that there is an adult in their life (mother, father, stepparent, grandparent, you name it) who believes in them and loves them unconditionally.
Stress is a part of life, and an important tool in our survival. Resilience is the set of skills that develops a positive and proactive attitude towards stress, and helps us deal with stress, which greatly impact how it affects us. We can grow and encourage  resilience in our children by participating in their self development, role modeling resiliency and most importantly supporting them unconditionally. Being there for them, no matter what, gives them a solid foundation they can bounce back on when their worlds feels like it’s falling apart. Eventually, they will learn that they can create and grow such a foundation for themselves

Positive Psychology: 9 Habits of Happy People

happypeepsOften, when writing psychology related articles, my topics tend to focus on understanding problem areas, dealing with struggles and how to cope with challenges. The stigma around ‘having a problem’, as being the main reason why someone would need to see a mental health professional, is still very present. However, the study of Positive Psychology (or as some are calling it ‘the science of happiness’) is growing and people are focusing more and more on the strengths that lie beneath and how to access these even before any ‘problems’ arise.

There are literally thousands of books and websites claiming they have the solution on how to live a happy life. I’m sure most, if not all, of them are right in their own way. Happiness is different for everyone and changes significantly throughout our lives as our own priorities change along with it (what made you happy as an adolescent might not do it anymore for you as an adult).

Our personality traits, interest etc also determine our individual definitions of happiness. While one person gets great joy from being surrounded by a large number of friends, another person might prefer to hide in a quiet room and curl up with a book.

I won’t be writing anything that hasn’t been written a million times before, but I thought I would summarise for you the 10 habits I’ve witnessed to be most effective on people’s happiness:

1. Be Kind, Always 

People who cultivate kindness tend to me happier and show less signs of depression. Being kind to others and caring for others, tends to make us feel good ourselves (like they say, there are no selfless good deeds). So not only do you better someone else’s life, but you’re also improving your own in the process.

Being kind, doesn’t mean we need to always go overboard and ‘save’ everyone that crosses our path.. Kindness can be shown in the simplest of forms by acknowledging someone with a smile, wishing someone a good day or reaching out to someone who might need your help (however big or small that help is).  It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

2. Recognise your Strengths and Work with your Weaknesses 

Studies (such as M. Seligman’s research in Positive Psychology) have shown that people who discovered their unique strengths and used them for more than their own personal goals, are generally happier.

I would say this also goes hand in hand with recognising your own weaknesses and working with them, rather than letting them hold you back.

Strengths include, but are certainly not limited to, things such as integrity, critical thinking, humanity, motivation, determination, kindness, open-mindedness and many more.

Weaknesses such as people-pleasing, self criticism, prejudice, discrimination etc should be acknowledged (after all, none of us are prefect), but we can work around or with them in our path to improving ourselves and how we are with others.

3. Mindfulness and Positive Thinking

As a psychologist, the word ‘mindfulness’ and positive thinking, often had some of my patients roll their eyes as they sat back and expected the caricature speech on yoga positions, relaxation exercises and group therapy (even though they’ve all been proven highly effective, but that’s not my point 😉

Mindfulness is focusing on the here and now, and what is around us. It’s being aware of our situation, our feelings around it and the effects they may be causing. Practising mindfulness does not require you to be incredibly spiritual or religious, and it can be done by anyone as it is something we naturally do. However, practising it on a regular basis, allows us to strengthen it as it can help us improve our state of mind.

Positive thinking, in conjunction with being mindful, focuses on our appreciation of the good things we experience and have in life and allows us to better manage the negative flows that often cross our way.

Practising mindfulness does not necessarily require you to be in the seated position surrounded by only quietness. We can be mindful whilst doing every day activities. Pay attention to your breathing, get in touch with your feelings, or get lost in the flow of doing everyday simple activities you enjoy (for me personally, cleaning gets me very relaxed, as I can just ‘switch off’ and focus only on the task at hand) .

4. Laugh 

Laughing truly is the best medicine. Laughing (like exercising) triggers the release of endorphins, which are our body’s feel good chemicals, as well as decreases stress levels and increase our immune cells.

Not only do we see physical benefits form laughter, but it also takes a load of our mental burdens and strengthens our emotional health.

It’s not always easy to find situations in which we can spontaneously burst out in fits of laughter (although the concept of ‘laugh yoga’ is increasingly becoming more popular), but we can find ways to at least spark a grin here and there. Smiling is a good start.. a smile is contagious and can go a long way not just for you but for others as well.

Spend your time with playful people and appreciate the humour in life. It’s important to remember the funny side of things and to appreciate the laughter when it happens.

5. Live healthy and Move 

I could write an entire article alone in this, as everyone has their own definition of what ‘eating healthy’ and ‘exercise’ means.

To put it simply, eating healthy involves eating fresh food, avoiding processed meals, junk food and unhealthy fat/sugar levels. How you want to go about that and to what extreme is your choice. Basically, feed your body what it needs rather than what it wants (ok… from time to time also eat what it wants, because eating a treat often contributes greatly to our happiness as well 😉

Exercise does not mean spending your life in the gym (although if that makes you happy then absolutely go for it!). With exercise here, in order to promote happiness, I mean moving your body every day to get your endorphins going. This can be as simple as a 30 minute walk, taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking that extra block to avoid taking the bus.

6. Nurture Positive Relationships  

Humans are social animals. Surrounding ourselves with people we care about often has an immediate impact on our levels of happiness. Again, this differs for many people as some are perfectly happy with one or two people close to them whereas others thrive from interacting within a large group.

The number of people in your life isn’t the important aspect here, but rather the effort you put into your relationships that matters.

Social relationships come and go and even the closest of friendships can dissolve in time. Having social relationships takes effort from all parties involved and should not be taken for granted. The focus should not be on ‘how often’ you see someone, but on ‘how meaningful’ it is when you do. Happy people tend to surround themselves with people who make them feel good instead of negative people (misery loves company). Happy people also nurture their relationships by talking about the things that matter and resolving any issues that might come up.

7. Be Inspired to Grow 

There are two different mindsets… People who are ‘fixed in their ways’ and who refuse the notion that they can change because they feel that this is who they are. When confronted with something they don’t know, people with such a mindset might find themselves feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about something they feel they can’t handle. When people show a more open-minded approach, it encourages them to learn from and improve their footprint in the world. Open-minded people don’t shy away from a challenge, which in turn builds the tools we need to manage difficulties in life or make necessary adjustments. Challenges are viewed as opportunities, and succeeding in them leaves us feeling happier with ourselves.

8. Find a Balance 

Being happy doesn’t mean we constantly need to walk around with a smile, making us feel as if we slept with a hanger in our mouth. There is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to feel the bad things, and to complain as we work through them. Life is not  all rainbows and sunshine and we can often find ourselves in a downright sh*t storm. But even a thunder storm helps the tree get rid of dead branches (how’s that for positive visualisation! ha!)

Let yourself feel the negativity, we can’t live without it, but try to find ways not to let yourself drown in it.

For example, after a negative experience, focusing on what you have learnt from it or how you can improve/avoid it in the future, might help in processing it and moving on.

9. Make an Effort  

Happiness that lasts is built through habits. It’s easy to get sucked in by the daily routines and struggles that sometimes impede on our happiness. It’s also hard to sometimes not let go of the negatives and overthink where we went wrong. We can’t sit around and do nothing expecting happiness to fall in our laps, nor can be expect happiness to stay if we don’t actively do things to maintain it. This should not be seen as ‘work’, but rather as seeing that the mere actions of these habits is what makes us feel happy in the first place. This doesn’t mean we can’t allow ourselves to feel the negatives, it just means that, on some days, we might need to push harder to focus on the positives.

If you want to be happier, or want to continue to strengthen your happiness, try out some of the above habits!

Remember, the definition of happiness is different for all of us, so don’t compare yourself with others, but focus on what is important to you in order to increase your everyday ‘happy’ and dive in, head first …