Sooo, you’ve been together for seven years; when are you finally going to get engaged?
How come you two aren’t having kids yet? You know it’s harder to get pregnant as you age. For instance, my cousin, Tina…
Do you really think you should eat that?
People say the darnedest things, don’t they? Maybe you, too, have blurted out an inappropriate, rude or nosy comment. (It’s likely everyone has.)
According to therapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, people make these kinds of remarks for a range of reasons. Some people simply don’t have a filter — especially when alcohol is involved. Some think they’re being helpful.
Others have poor boundaries. “Perhaps they are an open book with everyone they meet and expect others to be the same.”
Still others are passive-aggressive. “Perhaps they are envious of you or annoyed with you and expressing this by pushing your buttons.”
People might be black-or-white thinkers, Marter said. “As a professional mother in my 40s, I got a small nose ring last year and found people’s responses to be a fascinating sociological experiment. Some people said things like, ‘Why would you do that?’ Or, ‘At least it’s not a tattoo!’ which they didn’t know I plan to get this year.”
And sometimes people just don’t know any better. When Marter was in her early 20s, she asked a mom of twins – whose kids she was babysitting – about having another baby.
“I truly was naive to the fact that this was a boundary violation. Later, I learned she had been through traumatic infertility treatments to have her boys and that this was a very loaded issue.”
Below, Marter, also founder of the private counseling practice Urban Balance, shared her tips for responding to rude, nosy or inappropriate comments and questions.
Before responding, pause, and take several deep breaths. “Check in with your body and assess what you are feeling.”
This involves separating yourself from the other person rather than reacting to their words or energy, she said.
For instance, imagine an invisible shield made out of Plexiglas between you and them. “Any negative energy cannot penetrate you.”
Marter also cited Ross Rosenberg’s technique of emotionally distancing yourself from others called “Observe, Don’t Absorb!”
Advocate for yourself.
“[A]dvocate for yourself in a way that is protective and caring, while remaining respectful and diplomatic,” said Marter, who also pens the Psych Central blogs The Psychology of Success and First Comes Love.
For instance, one client received an email from her childless bachelor brother criticizing her and her husband’s parenting after attending their daughter’s birthday party. In the email, he also copied their entire extended family.
The client responded by thanking her brother for his concern, letting him know that they didn’t want his input unless it’s solicited and expressing confidence in their parenting skills.
“Their daughter is a normal, darling child with normal toddler behavior. In time, [her brother] realized this was the case and that my client and her husband we responsible and caring parents.”
Another client was approached by a stranger on the street, who said: “You know, in order to wear your hair that short you really need to have a stunningly gorgeous face…” She responded by saying: “You know, in order to walk up to a stranger and say that is stunningly rude. Namaste.’” Then, she walked away.
Be clear about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.
For instance, you might say: “It is not OK for you to comment on my food, my weight, my exercise or my body.” Marter suggested checking out Cloud and Townsend’s work on setting boundaries.
Communicate your discomfort.
Sometimes, when faced with an inappropriate remark, Marter responds with “Wow,” and then succinctly communicates that the person’s comment crossed the line.
Don’t disclose if you don’t want to.
“Don’t share information you do not want to share,” Marter said. For instance, you can say: “I’m so sorry, I am really not comfortable talking about that right now.”
Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words. According to Marter, silence can be “an effective mirror for somebody to gain insight about their inappropriate behavior.” One example is when someone is catcalling or making sexual remarks, she said.
There are numerous options for responding to inappropriate remarks. Just keep in mind this quote from Wayne Dyer, a favorite of Marter’s: “How people treat you is their karma, how you react is yours.”