Personal Growth: Assertively Handling Insults and Put Downs

The most assertive and least provocative way to handle an insult is called “Fogging.” In Mississippi where I grew up in the fifties, mosquitoes were a big problem. To avoid the sting of the mosquitoes, communities used what we called as children the Fogging Machine.

On hot summer evenings, the Fogging Machine rode through our neighborhoods, spraying a thick fog of DDT. It was so thick that one couldn’t see from one side of a tiny neighborhood street to the other.

Today we know the dangers of DDT, but back then it served its purpose of stopping the sting of the mosquitoes for a little while.

As people practicing assertiveness, we each need to develop our own Fogging Machine to use when we are insulted or put down by a disrespectful person. Fogging in speaking up for yourself stops the sting of an insult for a little while.

In fogging, you agree with the truth in any statement. If there is truth in the statement, you can say, “You’re right, I’m xxxxxxx.”

For example, if someone said to me, “You have a chip on your shoulder just because you’re short. All short people go around with chips on their shoulders.”

I might fog by saying, “You’re right, I am short,” because that is the only truth in his/her statement. (I am 5’2″ which is not tall) But I can’t agree that I have a chip on my shoulder about it because I rarely think about height – mine or anyone else’s.

Sometimes someone insults you by saying something in which you can’t find any truth with which to agree. In that case, you fog by agreeing with the possibility of truth.

If someone said to me, “How could you be so stupid as to live in Atlanta?” I think Atlanta is great except for the traffic – which I avoid entirely. So I might answer, “Probably there are people who think it is stupid to live in Atlanta.” Again I am fogging by agreeing with the probability of truth.

Finally if the insult is totally outlandish, you fog by replying “Perhaps somewhere in the universe you might find someone who would say that I am XXXXX.”

For example, I think I’ve done a pretty good job as a mother to my three daughters. If someone were to say to me, “I can’t believe you would have done THAT. A good mother would have done XXXXX.”

In fogging, I might say, “Well, it’s possible that someone somewhere in the universe might think I am not a good mother.”

As you can imagine from these examples, the purpose of fogging is to take the wind out of the sails of the insulter. When you agree, then the insulter hasn’t anywhere to go. If you smile and fog, then all the power is gone from their insult.

It helps me to remember the Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman all arrived at the Emerald City, they were scared by the enormity of it all.

They were admitted to see the Wizard and heard a booming voice, “I am Oz, The Great and Terrible.” They were surrounding by a grand room with large imposing features.

But what happened when Toto started sniffing around?

He knocked over the screen and we found out that the Great and Terrible Wizard was just a little old guy who couldn’t even figure out how to get back to Kansas by himself.

Most people who stoop to insult you are like the Wizard of Oz. Underneath the ugly insults, they are scared folks who can’t get back to Kansas and don’t want you to know it, so they try to make distance between you and them by pushing you away with insults.

After all if they can’t distance you with insults, you may discover how impossible it is for them to get back to Kansas!

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