Mental Health Expert: Strategies to Lessen the Impact of Personal Attacks

Be true to yourself, even if others dislike you.

having difficult conversation
Viacheslav Yakobchuk/stock.adobe.com

One of my acquaintances in life shared with me some of the ongoing challenges she faces. When I replied that I also constantly face attacks, she was surprised and said, 'Oh, I thought you didn't experience those kinds of things!' I burst into laughter before explaining that in life, it is inevitable. The reason people may have the impression that it doesn't happen to me is because of my occupation as a behavior expert — which has given others the false sense that I have some magical defense guard against human social pathologies.

One thing I can assure you is that what helps me to appear unaffected is understanding that I can't prevent the attacks; however, I can minimize their impact on my psychological well-being. This is only possible because I follow the strategies I will discuss here.

To provide context, it's important to understand that with so many different personality types in the world, it's impossible to please everyone. So when you're focused on achieving your personal goals or living the life you want, you might unintentionally upset someone without even realizing it.

Another person whom I know, who has had much success in life and managed to accomplish many great things before retiring at an impressive age, told me years ago to 'never forget that someone is always plotting and planning against you.' She went on to say, 'They may even be in a dark room doing so.' My initial thought was of Pinky and the Brain (good vs. evil). Although initially, I laughed at the thought of someone being in a dark room doing this, it also horrified me and made me more socially aware of these kinds of people who we all know exist.

Introspectively examining, I realized for myself that I want to live in a world filled with happy and healthy individuals as it would greatly improve my own quality of life and make my life easier. Also, I realized that my focus has been on improving myself and others, not hurting people. I replace the onset feeling of envy with thoughts of self-improvement: how can I become the best version of myself? What do I need to work on? How can I achieve the things I want in life so that I am not envious of others?

However, it's important to note that this perspective can also create problems. It's a catch-22 situation because while you're prioritizing your own happiness or what you believe is the right thing to do, you may inadvertently make someone else unhappy.

For instance, consider being an ambitious spouse who has plans for the future only to learn your partner may have different plans. Or imagine being an exhausted parent who responds with 'not today' when your child wants to go somewhere. Or perhaps there's a co-worker or associate who feels you are undeserving of the position that you have attained. So, here are my top tips for dealing with personal attacks.

Firstly, it's important to identify the motivation behind the attack. Above, I provided some good examples of possible motivations. Also, be aware that the attacks can come from anyone. If you feel comfortable doing so, respond assertively but honestly about how the attack made you feel — whether it hurt you or angered you. If you are not comfortable, simply ignore the attacker.

• Help them see your perspective by reframing what actually happened from your point of view. If they choose to believe otherwise, that's fine. At least you were able to express your thoughts, which can be therapeutic in itself. People may not even be aware of what they are doing as the human brain makes a decision 10 seconds before you are consciously aware of it.

• Set an example by modeling appropriate behavior — do the opposite of what they did. For instance, if they made an unruly or disrespectful comment towards you, say something nice about them. You may be able to teach them how a normal interaction should go. However, it's important to understand that you may never be able to change their behavior, and that's also okay — trying too hard might drive you insane.

• Share the incident with reliable individuals. This can help determine if you were at fault or if it was a genuine attack.

• Distance yourself from the attack if possible. Out of sight, out of mind. The attacker will no longer have access to you and therefore will not be able to attack you.

• Forgive, but never forget. I know this may sound like a cliché, but it holds true. I have found it extremely valuable in life to accept that we are imperfect beings who make mistakes and can be influenced by others. While I will forgive, I will also proceed with caution, understanding the person's capabilities and traits.

• Stay focused on your goals because sometimes attacks are intended to distract and hinder your progress. Don't let them affect your achievements. You may notice that most attacks occur when you are experiencing the happiest time in your life or after a great accomplishment.

• Be true to yourself, even if others dislike you. Most attackers cannot verbalize the reason for the attack out loud because chances are it may involve characteristics that make you uniquely yourself, such as your clothing style, choice of words, weight, height, ambition, happiness, accomplishments, intelligence, determination, etc., which would force them to confront their own sense of inadequacy — which is not your problem.

In summary, we have all experienced being victims of personal attacks, whether in our personal or professional lives. It can be incredibly hurtful and damaging to our sense of self-worth. Just know that there are ways to manage these attacks without allowing them to distract you from reaching your goals. I have dedicated myself to being the best version of myself and working diligently to support those who want to learn what I know about success and human behavior.

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