Eby (6/11/12, Cool Comebacks post) came to counseling with long term effects from bullying that caused anxiety in social situations. Annabel had a different story: she was a walking powder keg ready to explode. The week before her first counseling session she became so angry at her boyfriend that she had to go to the ER with severe chest pains and high blood pressure.
Annabel was originally mystified about the cause of her intense reactions, but it became clear when she was asked, “Have you always been quick tempered?” Tears welled in her eyes as she recalled being a meek child who kept quiet during relentless teasing about her old fashioned name and high forehead. The move to middle school gave her a break until eighth grade. Someone started to taunt her, saying her name in a sing-song voice and Annabelle fired back, demolishing her would-be attacker with a barrage of belittling comebacks. Many schoolmates witnessed her poweress and no one bothered her again. Underneath her bravado, Annabel felt defective and weak. It took all her strength to muster the verbal vibrato to humiliate anyone who might want to hurt, talk about, or deceive her. If others were nearby, all the better. Her intention was to send a message to those present that she was not to be messed with.
Expose Wounds in Private
Annabelle and I went back to her early memories of being belittled for bogus reasons. Angry tears welled up. Like a protective momma bear, the 46 year old Annabel was helped to express what her younger self never could:
Do you know what it does for an eight year old to be teased this way?! A person starts to feel like there is something terribly wrong with her…like she can never measure up. You have no idea of the damage you’re doing!!!!
Wrapping words around inner wounds releases them. Retorting with name calling is a verbal punch that leaves painful bullets inside to fester. Exposing such anguish should only be done with trusted others. Once hurt is expelled, the mind is cleared to consider a cool comeback.
The Power of Positive Speaking
Now the fun began. I asked Annabel to take the role of the bully so I could play her younger, empowered self.
Bully: You’re forehead is so shiny it could light up a coal mine.
Anna: So you’re blinded by my light. I must have super powers.
* * *
Bully: “Annabel”—what a silly old name.
Anna: I guess you can’t name your children after me.
Both comebacks brought a smile to Annabelle‘s face. In role-play, she had no words to counter the disarming responses. We switched positions and she glibly replied with her own version of, You’re blinded by my light…. Her demeanor reflected inner strength. But something telling happened with the knock on her name:
Bully: “Annabel”—what a silly old name.
Anna: But it was my grandmother’s name and you don’t even know her…
Annabel’s defensive reaction again brought tears to her eyes. She was quickly reminded of possible cool comebacks:
- You say my name like it’s a bad thing.
- Annabel is my nick name—my real name is Rumpelstiltskin.
- OK, now you can’t name your kids after me.
In the redo of the role-play, You say my name like it’s a bad thing easily rolled off Annabel’s tongue. She looked bright-eyed and strong. Annabel had given a powerful demonstration of how defensive reactions weaken people and disarming responses, indeed, arm and protect us from cruel comments. The following explains the subtext that makes cool comebacks so arresting.
EXPLAINATION—Cool comeback (AAAH) responses:
- Act as if it’s all good—admit, agree, compliment, show gratitude
- Ask questions—curious questions, hidden questions (I wonder why…)
- Actively listen—rephrase (Are you saying…), name feelings or behavior (blaming, accusations, threats, etc.), sympathize, validate (It makes sense that you…)
- Hide 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.
- So you’re blinded by my light… I guess I have super powers: a cool comeback that acts as if having a shiny forehead is a good thing and uses a compliment.
- I guess you can’t name your children after me: a cool comeback that acts as people would want to call their child “Annabel” and then uses reverse psychology to make her name even more attractive.
- You say my name like it’s a bad thing: a standard one-liner that implies that her name is a good thing.
- Annabel is my nick name—my real name is Rumpelstiltskin: acts as if Annabel is a desirable to cover up a much worse (storybook) name, “Rumpelstiltskin.” If this response leads to being taunted with the name Rumpelstiltskin, a ready comeback would be….
- Are you practicing saying Rumpelstiltskin to avoid giving me your first born?
This confusing question hides the suggestion that continuing to say Rumpelstiltskin means the bully is fearful of giving up his or her child.
These cool comebacks do not focus on understanding the bully with questions and active listening. Reasons for random and meaningless remarks may not be worthy of decoding. It is not likely that this first lesson in the verbal arts will eliminate all of Annabel’s anger problems, but she has been able to experience robust responses that block attempts to rob her of her dignity. A felt sense of being overpowered is the root of all anger.
~ Kate Cohen-Posey, MS LMHC LMFT
Remember to send verbatim Cruel Comments to me at
and I will post them here with suggested Cool Comebacks!
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).