An article written by
From childhood teasing to adult put-downs, it’s no fun to be on the receiving end of an insulting comment and you worry that there is something truly “wrong” with you that you really are “stupid,” “ugly,” or a “jerk.”
Usually you may think that those who insult you are not purposely trying to make you feel bad. You might imagine that they think they’re being funny, or believe they’re showing affection. Insults may stem from an inadvertent snub, such as sending you an email saying you weren’t selected for something you felt you deserved.
Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. Is currently a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst The author of over 160 refereed articles and book chapters and 16 books (many in multiple editions and translations), her most recent popular work is The Search for Fulfillment.
Some insults bounce off your skin, but others can stick with you for decades. You may never forget the time your father-in-law commented negatively about your earning potential, even though years later, you comfortably contribute to the household income.
Insults can also tap into your defensive vein, sometimes to ill effect. You may decide you’re going to prove your father-in-law wrong by loudly announcing your latest pay raise at every possible occasion. Now others have forgotten about that original insult and they perceive you as proud and arrogant.
The tendency to make disparaging comments seems to be linked to the personality trait of narcissism. For example; people high on narcissistic tendencies see themselves as being more important than others and therefore deserving of better treatment, a quality called narcissistic entitlement. These individuals spend excessive amounts of time polishing up their appearance, and believe themselves to be the center of the universe, an extreme form of ego centrism and narcissistic grandiosity, and these people often take advantage of others. They lack empathy. They pronounce judgments on people they perceive as inferior.
According to their narcissistic qualities it’s pretty easy to see why narcissist likes to hurt others with their comments. However, some regard narcissism as a cover-up for an extreme sense of vulnerability or personal inadequacy. According to this view, narcissists insult others to feel better about them.
Korea University’s Sun Park and Northeastern University psychologist C. Randall Colvin investigated the question of whether narcissists would be more likely than others to adopt a disparaging approach toward others, whether or not they feel threatened. In their words, “Narcissistic individuals create psychological breakwaters to keep threatening information from reaching their highly favorable self-concept”. These “psychological breakwaters” may include a protective barrier of personal put downs toward anyone they think is better than they are.