Dear Maria,

I have found myself in a situation in which someone says something either rude or insulting to me. The problem is when I defend my feelings and they respond by saying they were just kidding, now I look like the jerk.  What’s the best way to handle this?


I Don’t Get It

Dear Don’t,

Passive aggressive, no? I hate when people do this, though I’ve been guilty of it, too. Humor becomes a weapon when used to mask true feelings or grievances. Rarely does it communicate these issues effectively, and often leaves the target confused and hurt, as you are. It’s a childish way of handling things. You, however, have responded like a grown-up, rather than starting an “I know you are, but what am I?” PeeWee Herman-esque exchange.

It’s not clear to me what role this person holds in your life. If it’s someone you see on occasion, ignore them and their hurtful remarks. “Consider the source” a wise teacher once counseled me. If you’re in an important relationship with them, such as a spouse or close friend, try a one-on-one approach. Instead of confronting them in the moment, ask them to meet for coffee, or write them a letter, and explain your perspective. If they minimize your feelings, what does that say about their relationship with you? Finally, if it’s a boss or coworker who is treating you this way, write down three examples of this behavior and request a meeting. Bring your notes to the meeting, and ask your colleague for a change in behavior in the future. It’s important you have a record of having addressed this issue directly with him or her. If your boss or colleague does not comply, take your concerns to HR if you wish. In all situations, keep your emotions out of it as best you can and critique the behavior, not the person. When you know you’re going to see this person, take a few deep breaths to calm yourself, and remember: what they say or do is really a reflection on how they see themselves. You’re taking good care of yourself. Keep going, even if it means removing this Don Rickles from your life.