How To Respond To Hateful Comments

Louis Laves-Webb

August 25, 2017

The difficult truth is that people don’t always “play nice” or engage in a manner which engenders conversation or acceptance. Sometimes people will act downright ugly and engage in hateful commentary. Social media and other forms of modern day communication make it even easier to share thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, including hateful communications at times.

Although, it is normal to have a strong emotional reaction upon receiving hateful commentary, sometimes the best course of action can involve responses that are a little more strategic.

Practicing extinction to dissuade behavior

Extinction is a method used to discontinue a negative behavior by getting rid of the reinforcement that encouraged this behavior. Simply put, just ignore the negative comments. For example, carrying on with your day after someone makes a comment about your appearance may reduce the likelihood that this type of comment will be repeated in the future. The initial action failed to get the desired reaction from the individual; therefore, the comment is not given the needed stimulus for enjoyment by the perpetrator and they will (hopefully) discontinue the egregious behavior.

Simply ignoring a hateful comment is often enough to dissuade further attempts of bullying for example. Most hateful comments are often unfounded criticisms that are said in passing. Without reacting, you’re often providing no basis from which further attacks could continue.

Ignore the content and instead reflect the emotion of the other person

There are many reasons why someone would engage in hateful comments. These can include:

  • A lack of understanding of the situation
  • Jealousy of the others achievements
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Feeling insecure
  • Fear

Hateful viewpoints or expressions often have vulnerable emotions underneath the surface. By aiming your comments or responses at the emotion instead of the content, you can potentially invite in deeper conversation and greater understanding. For example, if someone says, “you’re just spoiled” responses such as, “it’s not easy to feel envious” or “its natural to feel upset when things don’t seem fair”; can serve as an invitation to connect in a different way.

Advocating for oneself

Hateful comments can have a way of “getting into ones psyche”. It’s important to differentiate these comments from your sense of identity and to refuse to allow them fertile ground to take root. Continue to focus on the aspects of yourself that are positive and allow for yourself to feel pride in who you are and what you have accomplished in life. By believing in yourself, you will be able to react to hate from others with comments that deflect hatred and build upon your self confidence and your worth.

For example, others might attempt to direct hateful speech towards you to discredit your success. A statement like, “you only got into this position because of who you know” could be met with a retort like, “you say that like it’s a bad thing”. The goal is to make advocating for yourself the priority irrespective of what’s being said. Use the energy and time that you do have toward praising yourself and being self-encouraging.

Jedi mind trick ’em

If you can control your emotions this approach can work wonders. Simply put, just agree with them. For example, if someone says, “you’re just a cruel person”; you can respond with, “yeah, sometimes I can be cruel”. This approach leaves your attacker with nothing else to say. It can be a great approach to help “take the wind out of the sails” of the aggressor.

Being mindful and self-aware

Staying aware of what emotions you’re feeling as a result of the hateful comments can be important. It allows for you to remain curious, challenges your own growing edge, and can allow for more calmness upon being confronted by someone with hateful views. By remaining mindful of your emotions, your comments, and your perspectives, you’ll be less likely to become escalated and end up with a greater problem.

Walking away

Hateful comments or speech often incite an innate need for us to feel like we should defend our views or position. However, often times walking away or removing yourself can be a more effective way to deal with the confrontation. By doing this you are not accepting their viewpoint or admitting that they are superior. Instead, it expresses your control over the situation while not engaging in their hateful comments and models self efficacy and self-worth.

Hateful speech, whether it be racism, sexism, or bigotry, tends to be expressed purely as criticism with little to no substance. This often fails to provide any grounds from which a meaningful dialogue can be engaged in, merely being mentioned to incite anger, express pessimism, or hurt the feelings of someone else. By not engaging with these type of exchanges, you’re able to dissuade their hateful expressions and avoid encouraging further negative response.

Engage in discussion – it could simply be a miscommunication

Certain comments can be misconstrued as hateful comments when they may have been meant as questions, constructive criticism, or attempts at jokes. Asking for elaboration on comments or asking for greater insight can be a surprisingly effective way of understanding what may have appeared as hateful behavior. This provides an opportunity to understand a viewpoint more clearly and better understand any forms of miscommunication that may have occurred.

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