"In order to feel insulted by others, we must first value their opinion over our own… why would we do that?"
~ Bill Crawford

“In order to feel insulted by others, we must first value their opinion over our own… why would we do that?” ~ Bill Crawford


I love this quote/question because it allows us to look at the concept of being “insulted” in two ways so that we can minimize the effects of insults in the future. The first is to become aware that in order to feel insulted, we must value someone else’s opinion of us over our own. In other words, most of the time when we feel insulted, we don’t agree that the negative comment is accurate. However, rather than simply dismiss the insult as inaccurate, often we take offense. Unfortunately, this gives more credibility to the insult (and the person who made the comment,) which has the effect of making us feel worse.

What’s the alternative? Well, imagine you were taking a tour of a mental hospital and someone from the one of the rooms was shouting insults at you. Do you you think you would feel insulted? No, right? Why? Because we would not be giving the insult (or the person) any credibility. In fact, rather than feeling insulted, we might even have some compassion for someone who is so obviously disturbed.

For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this compassion and ability to determine whether to give others the power to make us feel bad comes from the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex), while the need to insult someone or the tendency to take the insult personally, comes from the lower 20% of the brain (the brainstem).

This reminds me of a quote that people seem to love that says, “How do you keep people from jerking your chain? – Don’t give your chain to jerks!” In this case, “a jerk” is someone coming from the knee-jerk part of their brain (that lower 20%) and our “chain” is taking them seriously or as if their comment is valuable, valid, or has anything to do with us. It doesn’t!

The second aspect of this week’s quote asks, “Why would we do that?,” meaning, why would we make an opinion that we clearly disagree with more valuable than our own? The answer to this question has to do with our history of being insulted.

Unfortunately, for most of us, someone saying something negative about us is not a new experience. Chances are that we have been hearing negative comments about who we are or what we did all of our lives, and these have made an impact. This is easy to understand if we look at the experience of being a kid. There were people in our lives (mostly our parents, other family members, or teachers) that we desperately wanted to like us. And, when it seems as if they didn’t (because they were angry or upset with us) we took that personally, meaning we made it mean something about our worth/value as a person. This actually created neural pathways in our brain that went from the limbic system down to the brainstem, and when this happened again (and again) these pathways became wide, well-worn, and easy to go down.

That’s why we tend to take negative comments so personally today. Our limbic system is continuing to interpreting them as a threat to our self-worth. That’s the bad news, but there is something we can do about it. Just as past experience has created negative neural pathways, we can begin to interpret these “insults” today in a more purposeful way and create new, more purposeful neural pathways from our limbic system up to our neocortex. If there is value in the criticism, we can choose to appreciate the insight and make changes. However, if there isn’t (which is almost always the case), we can know that this is a person coming from their lower brain, and make it information about them versus us (much as we did in the mental hospital example).

Remember, the only time we can be truly “insulted” is when we make someone else’s opinion of us more important than our own. I suggest we begin coming from the “Top of the Mind” in these situations and stop giving our “chain” to “jerks” so that we can focus on bringing our best to life for ourselves and those we love.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill