How to deal with put-downs from a place of high self-esteem

Sara | AbstractedCollective
6 min readAug 20, 2019


Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

“Gosh, you have majorly let yourself go, you used to look so slim and pretty, whatever happened?!”

Do you think that was a normal comment or a put-down?

If you went with put-down, you are right! And if you were confused, that’s normal too.

Lots of put-downs sound very innocuous at first, but are actually disguised insults.

In this post, we explore what putdowns are and how to deal with them in a confident, assertive manner.

What are put-downs?

Put-downs are passive-aggressive, critical, insulting and downright rude remarks that are usually masked as a compliment. They sometimes come topped with a smile, a laugh or an “I’m just joking!”

No, no you are not.

They also extremely uncalled for by the people who say them. And seem to come out of nowhere.

Put-downs are personal attacks with an intention of humiliating and bringing you down, and can sometimes carry racist, misogynistic undertones, or any form of insult intended to derogate a group that you identify with.

Put-downs can confuse you, because of the way they are said. And you will end up just ignoring it or being unaware. The pretense jokey guise that it is usually delivered in can also mask the person’s true (not so nice) intentions.

Put-downs in a context of any interaction and how it can eff you up

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“Can you even actually do anything on your own without constantly messing up?”

“Oh I don’t think you’d understand what I’m saying, so let me find an easier way to say it.”

“Wow, you are so good at Math, for a girl”

Being on the constant receiving end of put-downs can eff anyone up, but it can cause a lot of damage if you are someone who already suffers from low self esteem.

These insults can really make you question yourself and doubt your capabilities. Over time, you may come to even believe these insults which will end up doing a further number to your self esteem.

Recognise these putdowns as an attempt to make you feel small. In certain dynamics (abusive relations), it can be a form of emotional control to make you reliant on the abuser.

How to handle it in an esteemed manner

Bring it out into the open

Quote them word for word and ask them what they meant. People have no clue how they come across, sometimes, when they are so busy throwing around backhanded comments and insults.

Repeating it back to them draws attention to how it actually landed on you as the listener and allows them to clarify any misinterpretation (if there was).

Repeating it to them also makes them realise how awful and condescending they sounded. If the person has any modicum of remorse, they’d apologise.

Be prepared for them to preface their replies with a “just joking!” “you can’t take a joke?” or even get defensive about what they said.

Respond with a laugh or a smile

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Sometimes responding with laughter or a smile is all you need to shut them up. This was how I responded to someone throwing a back-handed comment my way some time ago.

She probably intended for it to be mean. I, on the other hand, just thought it pretty pathetic that someone at that age and with so much life experience felt the need to put someone down like that.

Found it pretty hilarious too and the episode ended with me laughing, quite hysterically I might add, in her face. Really dumbfounded her actually.

Smiling or laughing in their faces always comes as a huge shock to them because that is usually not the reaction they are expecting.

Overdramatise your response/ Answer with sarcasm

I do have quite a sarcastic/theatric side to my personality, so this works perfectly for me in some instances.

I find that it catches the person off-guard as most people don’t really know how to respond to sarcasm.

And if you go down the theatrics route and overdramatise what they said, “OH MY GOD DID I JUST HEAR YOU SAY I’M UGLY??? YOU ARE SO JUDGMENTAL!”, it just weirds the person out. And if you are brave enough to say it really loudly, it embarrasses them.

A part of me secretly likes this sort of thing. I find that when I do this, I am not responding in anger, instead I’m diminishing the insult and making fun of it.

I also come away not feeling despondent or angry about the insult at all.

Thank them for their comment

A simple “Thanks for that comment” and then moving on to something else works as you aren’t engaging with their response in any way.

The less you engage with it, the less you allow it to embed in your consciousness and affect you.

Moving on from it quickly also indicates to the other party that their words aren’t important enough for you to dwell on and you’ve got better things to do.


Sometimes ignorance is bliss. And at times you need to pick your battles. I personally don’t think every single insult is worth responding to.

I tend to ignore those that aren’t said to my face.

If you’ve ever run a website, blog, youtube channel, social media handle etc — you’d have received unsolicited negative comments for no reason.

My rule of thumb is — if it isn’t constructive criticism in a respectful manner, I’ll hit delete.

The same goes for real life. Most insults aren’t constructive in any way. It’s not going to help you be a better person or lead a better life. So mentally hitting delete on the comment (and the person too in some cases) is really helpful.

Concluding remarks

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

You will handle it in a much better way and come away keeping your self-esteem intact if you do not agree with the underhanded insults that people are throwing your way.

If you agree with the insult, it means you are insulting yourself. When someone calls you fat and you get really upset, you have to ask yourself — do you somewhat agree with that statement, deep down? Is that why you are reacting the way you are?

Also, put-downs usually come from people who do not like seeing you successful.

They don’t like seeing you have fun, be happy, enjoy life, rise above your challenges and generally just embracing life. So they say these things to your face to bring you down to their level.

Some people also do it to get a rise out of you and see you react from an emotionally hurt place — it gives them joy and power in doing so.

We can’t control what someone will say but by responding from an assertive and confident place, we get to exert control over the situation whilst keeping our self-esteem intact.

Your thoughts?

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Originally published at on August 20, 2019.



Sara | AbstractedCollective

I write about relationships, personal growth and mental health. Dreamer. Tea addict. Researcher.