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Comebacks to Putdowns

why-do-we-feel-the-need-to-argueWouldn’t it be great if people nixed their insults, squelched their criticisms, and instead, did nothing but support and encourage you? Wouldn’t you love it if friends, family, co-workers and bosses went out of their way to appreciate what you did right, instead of berating you for what you did wrong?

If you’re into space exploration, I hope you discover a planet on which people live that way. But on Earth, people blame and shame all the time. And that’s on their good days. When they really have an ax to grind, they add insults, curses, ridicule and humiliation. Unless you’re extremely lucky, you, at some time, will be on the receiving end of such putdowns. How do you respond?

Do you get so wounded that you become tongue-tied and silently stew, only to think of what you wish you should have said after the incident is over? Do you become so enraged that you respond offensively, retaliating with your own choice putdowns? Do you respond defensively, explaining and justifying your actions, hoping that the person will understand and perhaps even apologize?

These three strategies, on occasion, may be okay. But you can do better by widening your repertoire of responses. Here are 10 more responses you can use when you’re unfairly criticized.

  • Agree with what’s true; disagree with the negative value judgment. “Yes, I’ve been working on this project for months. That’s because I want it to be really good. If it’s bothering you, however, I’ll see if I can speed it up.”
  • Respond to the process (what’s happening), not to the content (the specific words uttered). “You’re really upset with me today. What happened?”
  • If it’s your fault, agree that you did something wrong. Apologize. “Yes, I should have called earlier to cancel. I apologize. Can we make another date now?”
  • Disagree with the other person but try to understand his viewpoint. “I didn’t think I betrayed you by speaking to X about your divorce but I see you’re upset. Tell me specifically what upset you so I can know for the future.”
  • Enlighten the other person about your sensitivities. “I hate when you speak to me with that tone of voice. You may think there’s nothing wrong with it, but it feels patronizing to me.”
  • Respond with humor, a joke or a bit of sarcasm. “You’re right! I made a mistake. I’ve been working on becoming a perfect person for a while now, but it looks like I’m not there yet.”
  • State succinctly what’s upsetting. “I won’t tolerate being cursed at. Period. End of story. ”
  • Directly call someone on what they said that was mean or disrespectful. “That’s a mean thing to say. I don’t like it.”
  • Respond simply but don’t engage. “Thank you for your opinion.”
  • Offer the person another way to phrase what he said. “I don’t mind if you call me sensitive. That’s true. It’s when you call me overly sensitive that it feels like a putdown.”

If you’ve been unfairly put down, your goal should be to respond with valuable and constructive information in a confident, strong — but not nasty — tone of voice.


Comebacks to Putdowns

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). Comebacks to Putdowns. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Apr 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.