There is so much focus on bullying in schools and how to help our kids, but what happens when you have to deal with it as an adult? I have always tried to keep the mindset of “What other people think of me is none of my business” but what do we do when we are the target of hurtful gossip? The truth is words do hurt and it is not always easy to ignore the situation. It can be normal to think that if we are a considerate, kind, respectful person that this will protect us from being a target, and in many cases it may, but we are not completely immune and can still be prey to envy or jealousy.

Many times when we are the target of direct or indirect aggression the first thing we want to do is lash out but often that can serve to escalate the situation and only make things worse. We can’t always control what other people say about us but we can control how we respond:

1. Focus On Regulating Your Own Emotions
Your initial feelings may be those of anger, stress, or even hopelessness in not knowing what to do. Give yourself some time to let your initial feelings subside. Focus on what calming strategies work well for you, whether it is deep breathing, taking a walk, listening to music, or meditation. Giving yourself some time to calm down increases the opportunity to come up with a more constructive solution to the issue.

2. Look at the Big Picture
Many times in these situations we go into fight or flight mode. With whatever approach we decide to take it is important to expand our perspective. Ask ourselves, “Do I want to be right or do it want to be effective”, many times they are not one in the same. When we are experiencing negative emotions it can narrow our perspective and in turn skew our perception. Because of this we want to be able to move out of our negative mindset in order to determine a constructive solution.

3. De-Identify from the situation
Even when a situation is directed towards you it may not be about you. “Hurt people hurt people”! Often people gossip and take their anger out on others when they are going through some sort of pain or discomfort. Many times when people try to tear us down it is reflective of their own feelings towards themselves and trying to make themselves feel better by comparison.

4. Consider how to respond
Research by Stanford University’s Rob Willer suggests that although it may feel challenging or awkward by “offering your perspective to the individual, if you honestly explain your perspective and the personal pain that the gossip is causing you, perhaps you can change that person’s perspective.” If you do decide to speak with the individual, speaking from a cool and collected place is critical so that the situation is approached in a sympathetic non-confrontational way. Pay close attention to ensure that blame is not being placed or that we are not guessing at the other person’s intentions.

5. Focus on the positives
Our minds and our feelings aren’t always the trustworthy friends we thought that they were. Sometimes they can be more like a really supportive friend and other times they can be like a moody unpleasant friend. Many times we are harder on ourselves than we would ever be to any of our friends. After a perceived rejection one of the first things we should do is revive our self-esteem not beat ourselves up further. When we are in emotional pain we should treat ourselves with the same compassion we would expect from a really good friend. It’s important to take off the blinders and notice all the positives that are going on around us and within us!

It is not easy to be the target of aggression. Focusing on what we can control and building our emotional resilience can help us get through these tough situations.

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Author: Stephanie Booth, MS has her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University and is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at Total Life Counseling Center in Orlando where our relationship and marriage experts specialize in depression & anxiety and can be reached at (407) 248-0030