How to deal with people who (unintentionally) make you feel bad about yourself?

Most times, a bad compliment thrown at you has nothing to do with you.

07 December, 2023
How to deal with people who (unintentionally) make you feel bad about yourself?

Pretend we’re at the yearly Christmas party as we play the “take a shot” game. And here goes the next question: “Take a shot if you’ve skipped a family function to evade feelings of self-doubt". Now, you watch a room full of adults chugging down a glass, together, only to realise that you’re guilty, too. And you end up chugging two instead of one. (Based on a true story.) 

The point is, we’ve all been there. Hiding behind work deadlines, household chores, and an upset stomach, followed by ten thousand other excuses to avoid conversations at a family gathering. “Once, they joked about how my weight gain might result in me needing double seats or having to wear my father's clothes,” shared one of our readers. *Hugs to him*. 

Sometimes, even the people we love may end up saying the most absurd things to us, mostly unintentionally. "My uncle (in his eyes affectionately) dubbed me and my sister as Motu (fat) and Patlu (skinny), respectively," shared another reader. Although a room full of middle-aged people would break into an immediate fit of laughter after this conversation, the aftermath of dealing with body shaming disguised as a light-hearted joke is draining. 

“Projection is a defence mechanism that a lot of people end up using. If, for example, I am insecure about my appearance and am hesitant to admit it, I might unintentionally project those feelings onto the people around me,” says Dr Mehak Sharma, a licenced occupational therapist, a counsellor, and the founder and director of Find Your Path. Especially when it comes to the older generation, Dr Sharma believes that undoing their beliefs is challenging due to their lack of exposure and resources in their early lives. Here’s where generational trauma comes in. 

Whether it is a joke or a hurtful jibe, the truth is, these comments can echo in your head for years. While most mean no harm, the question remains: how do you deal with people who make you feel bad about yourself, especially when they do it unintentionally? Each one's journey through this trauma will be different, but here are some ways you can deal with it. 


Embrace self-love and acceptance 

Self-love revolves hand-in-hand with acceptance. “All the negative remarks people make about us eventually become believable because, deep down, we internalise them as truths,” says Dr Sharma. So, the first step to deal with mean, hurtful compliments is to accept yourself, and then finding where you want to be. The second step could be practising self-love. You can achieve this through methods such as affirmations, journaling, and more (it is advisable to consult with a therapist for guidance).

Draw boundaries 

An often overlooked aspect is establishing boundaries, thus leaving room for others to overstep them. Dr Sharma emphatically advises and encourages everyone to comprehend and implement the concept of setting clear boundaries. Now, boundaries here in no way imply impoliteness or disrespect. It is about clearly communicating what you are uncomfortable with. To make it easier for you, we suggest you learn the viral “boundaries song”. Remember: it's never too late.

Communicate and educate 

Dr Sharma believes that taking into consideration where a person is coming from can help you gain a lot of perspective on why they’re saying what they are saying to you. In most cases, you will realise that a bad compliment has nothing to do with you. You can also try educating someone on how you want to be treated and what makes you feel uncomfortable. 


If you find a recurring pattern despite expressing your discomfort and displeasure, Dr Sharma suggests that disengagement can be your most effective response. At the end of the day, as Dr Sharma says, "its not about how other people treat you; its about how you treat yourself". Focus on that more.