One of the best ways to recover from childhood bullying is to disarm and charm difficult people in your adult life. I accidentally discovered these skills as a teen. Years later I became a counselor and led groups for teens. The favorite topic was everyday insults that were inescapable. I began to codify a set of strategies to melt meanness and in 1995 published a children’s book: How to Handle Bullies, Teasers, and Other Meanies (Rainbow Books, Inc.).
As I continued to counsel, I found that adults needed these skills as much as young people in dealing with spouses, in-laws, co-workers, and their very own children. John Wiley & Sons published my second book, Making Hostile Words Harmless, in 2008. Gradually, I began to realize that it is not enough to know how to deal with the bully on the street because we all have bullies in our very own brains. John Wiley & Sons published a third book, also in 2008, Empowering Dialogues Within that explains a method for turning inner discord into dialogue. My approach to counseling is unique because it is “bully based.” I have been in practice in central Florida since 1973.
I’ve given many presentations that fall under the title “Dealing with People Who Are a Pain and the Bullies in Your Brain.” I think this website and a blog is the perfect venue for sharing our challenges and successes with the verbal arts. To begin, I offer the DON’Ts and Dos of Cool Comebacks:
Don’t: Attack back, defend yourself, withdraw (ignore remarks), or use “I-messages.”
The common advice to disregard name calling does not work. Bullies are determined to provoke a reaction. Ignoring them, just makes them more persistent. Being assertive is also commonly recommended, but bullies take statements like, “I don’t like it when you talk like that,” or “I want you to stop,” as a dare to do more. In fact, instead of making I-statements, cool comebacks place the spotlight on the other person with the word, you.
Do: Act as if it’s all good, Ask questions, Actively listen, and make Hidden suggestions.
These responses spell the acronym AAAH, which breathes light and life into cruel moments.
More specifically these responses include:
- Acting as if it’s all good—admit, agree, compliment, show gratitude (Thank you for…)
- Asking questions—curious questions, hidden questions (I wonder why…)
- Active listening—rephrase (Are you saying…), name feelings or behavior (blaming, accusations, threats, etc.), sympathize, validate (It makes sense that you…)
- Hidden suggestions—truism (You can…), false choice (Do you want to … or …), Underlying assumptions (When will you be able to…), reverse psychology (It’s good for you to keep… because….), power words (try, dare, but), random responses
You are invited to send in:
- Cruel comments that have hurt you or your child. You are promised to receive a Cool Comeback with an explanation of what makes it disarming. Remember, bullies can be bosses, spouses, in-laws, parents, “friends,” and even your own children.
- Disarming responses you have made in the face of cruelty and how suggestions from this blog have worked for you. You will receive feedback on what you did that worked.
- Messages you hear from inner bullies like, I’m disgusting, People don’t like me, People want to hurt me, I’m not as good as…, and so on. You will be given suggestions on how to dialogue with these “voices.”
- Questions about disarming responses.
Be sure to include the ages of participants, a brief description of the setting, and actual remarks that were made. Cool Comebacks can be some of the most empowering moments in your life. We’ll start with one of my stories as an example of what you can send.
SEISMIC POWER SHIFT
I remember a car ride when I was in my late 30s with my father and my husband. It had been more than 20 years since I lived in the town where I grew up, but I came home to visit twice a year. My father asked me if I knew the origin of the name of the street on which we were driving—Glebe Road. He was quite the history buff. I said, “I don’t know,” and then looked forward to what I thought would be interesting trivia. Instead I got blasted:
Dad: I can’t believe you lived here all your life and you never learned how this street got its name!
What is wrong with you…How could you be so stupid.
Me: Well Dad, are you disappointed in me or my education?
Dad: (total silence)
Thirty-five years of being yelled at for girlish giggling, coming home 5 minutes late, talking on the phone too long, and other trifling matters were reversed that day. In a ten-word sentence I named what he was feeling (disappointed) and gave him a multiple choice question (me or my education) that poised him to look at himself. My father had never been at a loss for words. I knew there had been a seismic power shift. He later told me that Glebe meant “old church road,” but I had gained far more by not knowing the answer and learning that I could turn my “ignorance” into an advantage. So that’s an example, now your turn. Send your cruel comments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put them up with my responses for you and the rest of our community to see and learn from.
For more information, please check out my books listed on this site: HOW TO HANDLE BULLIES TEASERS AND OTHER MEANIES; MAKING HOSTILE WORDS HARMLESS, and EMPOWERING DIALOGUES WITHIN (for the bullies in your brain).
~ Kate Cohen-Posey, MS LMHC LMFT
Remember to send Your “Cruel Comments” to me at
and I will post them here with my “Cool Comebacks”!