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Not feeling the sting of a verbal attack: antifragile ego

Hello Lucio,

I now understand that an important step in self-development and social skills is not taking things personally. This allows to stay grounded when people attack you personally and not get hurt.

However, despite me cultivating a growth mindset and the mindset of the learner, I have not found yet the right mindset to have when someone attacks me: it still happens that I feel hurt.

How do you think when you get insulted/verbally attacked? 

I mean, on top of the techniques you explain in the course. What mindset not to let people get under your skin. The new one I found is to think: "I won't give the power to this person to hurt me". In a stoic fashion. It's the best mindset I found so far. It shows me I have the choice not to feel hurt by this person.

I know that the long-term strategy is to work on our insecurities, which I do, but in the short term?

Hey John,

A few quick notes on this.

  • Some sting is good: I personally think that some sting is good.
    Feeling nothing might mean that one has either completely unplugged from the external world, or that he has no drive to increase his influence and status in the world (or, alternatively, that he has become a true ascetic, unlikely). Neither are good. It's the people who feel nothing that remain passive spectators in life and passive victims of abuse for life. The question then rather becomes how to decrease that sting, if it's too much, how to control it, and how to channel it in more effective ways.
  • The good level: The ideal level of sting would probably be "he tried to offend me. They didn't really manage, but I don't like this asshole is still trying to one-up me, so what can I do about it". But still I think that a bit of hurt is not the end of the world. And even more acceptable than hurt, is anger. A good level of controlled, channeled anger, provides good fire for action.
  • Meditation: it helps a lot with detachment and mental control
  • Working on personal issues: some of the most hurtful remarks hit your personal issues. If you can cure yourself of most of your personal issues, then almost nothing will be too painful
  • Antifragile ego: building your pride around antifragile items is one of the best cures for this. The most painful jabs are about "not being good enough". But if being "good enough" for you is built around your own antifragile items of choice, that will take most of the sting away from any verbal attack
  • Build immunity through lots of attack: building immunity through many cycles of attacks can also be helpful. Purposefully engaging in social media highly politicized discussions can help you grow accustomed to personal attacks. Important though: don't overdo it, or you might start feeling like verbal attacks are a normal way of dealing with others, which is not

Personally, I'm not convinced about the mindset of "not giving this person power", because it heightens the mental hostility, and it also sounds somewhat defensive (ie.: they're on the attack, you must defend).

If your goal is to step back and regain control, you want to adopt colder, more calculative mindset.
Think of that person as a "player", and yourself as another "player", and prepare your strategies in more impersonal fashion.

Finally, accepting that it takes some time to reach a good level of emotional control is also important in my opinion. These are important shifts and growth paths that one has to walk on for a while.


Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Thank you very much for this advice.

So you don't have any kind of thought that you use in these cases?

You would consider it like a game and trying to win at it? Is that your frame of approaching it?

"I won't let my emotions act before my intentions"
"I won't let my amygdala (rather than my superior pre-frontal cortex) take control of my actions"
"2-3 deep breaths might protect me from a lot of regrets"

These might be helpful for emotional control, but it is also defensive about one-self.
I have an enemy inside but also a thinking mind, a better decision-maker.

Emotions are the horse, our rational mind is the rider. I think I read about it in one of the first chapters of Laws of Human Nature by Greene. I do not remember the full analogy. But I remember it was very impressive  🙂

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

I was thinking about this as well, like if you interpreted everyone's action as friendly and non-threatening, how would things be? I originally had that mindset years ago, because I was into pick-up and there were interesting results:

  • I was pissing people off inadvertently with my humor, by sometimes making jokes at others' expense (because that's how I am with my close friends). But most of the time, they would eventually buy into my frame given enough time.
    • Because this was a habit of mine formed over years, it cost me a few job interviews
    • I may have also inadvertently pissed off some dangerous people. But not enough for them to beat me up or kill me.
  • I was actually more happier than I am now.
  • I was almost always the leader of any social group
  • Everything I did was a power move. I was subconsciously dominating people without me realizing it.
  • If I was at a bar alone and chatting with random people, sometimes they'd think I'm a cop.
  • I was unknowingly undermining my boss. Surprisingly enough, I can't recall suffering any real consequences of doing so.
    • I was working for small companies at the time, so I'm not sure if it would've cost me a promotion or something since there was no room to move up
    • Actually, now that I think of it, the consequences were that I actually got a few raises because I would always joke about being underpaid. I never meant them as power moves, I was just really joking at the time.
  • I found a lot of girls were attracted to this sort of behavior when I went out to bars, as long as I wasn't drunk or even a little impaired.
  • I felt a lot more confident in speaking up for myself

The first bullet point was what caused me to change my mindset because when I was still studying in university, I thought I inadvertently ostracized myself whenever I was trying to make friends with a group. Thinking back though, the reason was probably more because, I would voice some opinions strongly right off the bat which put them off to the point that they aren't interested in getting to know me. Had I been more tactful about voicing my opinions as they got to know me better, I probably would've mitigated this issue.

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Lucio Buffalmano