When someone is insulted, they can feel anxiety and shame, even though his/her conscious mind knows the insult isn't true and tries to be as logical and unemotional about it as possible.

Positive self-talk ("I am relaxed", "The insult is false" or similar) isn't always effective for those experiencing this.

It may be natural to feel that way (social self-preservation), but it seems to me that there should be effective methods to control the unconscious mind in these situations.

How can an individual prevent insults from unconsciously causing negative emotions?

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    $\begingroup$ It's not possisble get a hold of something that is unconscious, since then it would not be unconscious anymore. $\endgroup$ – Jens Kouros Aug 10 '13 at 20:17
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    $\begingroup$ But one might try to influence the unconsciousness by trying to induce those particular stimuli that have an effect on it. Not direct access (perhaps that is possible), but indirect. $\endgroup$ – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Aug 10 '13 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ thereachapproach.co.uk/approach/mindfulness $\endgroup$ – Greg McNulty Aug 12 '13 at 16:10

Mindfulness meditation can help reduce the intensity of emotional pain. This study explores this further. Even listening to music may help reduce the intensity of pain.


Christopher A. Brown, Anthony K.P. Jones. Meditation experience predicts less negative appraisal of pain: Electrophysiological evidence for the involvement of anticipatory neural responses. Pain, 2010. doi:10.1016/j.pain.2010.04.017

David H. Bradshaw, Gary W. Donaldson, Robert C. Jacobson, Yoshio Nakamura, C. Richard Chapman. Individual Differences in the Effects of Music Engagement on Responses to Painful Stimulation. The Journal of Pain, 2011; 12 (12): 1262. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2011.08.010

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    $\begingroup$ Guest, thanks so much for always carefully putting references in your answer. If you happen to run across the DOI information for your articles when looking them up, please link to it so there's a permanent record of the paper in the answer. Thanks! :) $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Aug 10 '13 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ I just tried a combination of positive self-talk, mindfulness meditation (natural behavior while focusing on own breath and the present), and relaxing music. Surprisingly to me, I feel better now (of course, it could be placebo). Thanks for the answer. $\endgroup$ – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Aug 10 '13 at 21:24

Status. If you have a large peer group, you can receive confirmation that the insult is either untrue or irrelevant. You don't need to impress those who are outside your group.

Self-worth. If someone calls you "stupid", yet you've received numerous intellectual awards, it can be rationalized that the comment is untrue.

Acceptance. If you have a flaw, accept that you do and be ok with that. If someone says "your cooking is terrible!". You say, "Its well-known that I can't cook, but I'm funny and good looking, so who cares!".

So the steps to take to prevent insults from causing negative emotions would be:

  1. Make friends.
  2. Be mindful of your accomplishments and value.
  3. Accept your flaws and realize they don't diminish your worth as a person.
  • $\begingroup$ @Skippy Thanks! And thanks for the edits, it looks better, however I wanted "worth less" to mean worth less as in 9 dollars is worth less than 10 dollars. Not that $9 is "worthless". $\endgroup$ – Randy Aug 12 '13 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Skippy That's ok, I understand. I tried to come up with a better wording at the time of the answer, but failed to. Vocabulary isn't my strong suit, but I'm funny and good looking! :) $\endgroup$ – Randy Aug 13 '13 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Skippy A good edit. I'll not be playing scrabble with you... it might diminish my worth as a person :) $\endgroup$ – Randy Aug 13 '13 at 2:57

I find the Buddhist approach is born for this very situation. If you haven't get familiar with its concept of emptiness (sunyata), then I recommend watching this lecture first: Introduction to Nagarjuna's Middle View on Buddhism. It's intuitive, and just after 10 minute on it and you will get the gist of it.

So if we accept its framework, then we have this simple logic:

  • Psychologically, the insult harms our sense of self
  • But according to Buddhism, there is no self
  • Therefore, you don't feel hurt

To elaborate, Buddhism views the self as illusion, and they spend most of their time to remind themselves about that. Once you have clear out that illusion, you will reach nirvana, and that's the goal of Buddhists. The mindfulness technique is one way to reach that.

FYI: Self-conscious emotions

  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I've been practicing a form sunyata by Sam Harris in his Waking Up meditation app. He says that we should "see the seer" and then we can notice that there's nothing there. I'm not sure how effective it is against the stress response that get triggered in the face of insults, but I like the reasoning you have listed here. $\endgroup$ – Wuschelbeutel Kartoffelhuhn Apr 30 '19 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that this is easier said than done. However, I notice that if at those moments, you don't practice Buddhism but Daoism, then it would be more effective $\endgroup$ – Ooker Apr 30 '19 at 15:37

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