When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.
A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.
"I think that the scar on your face is very ugly," I said. There was a moment of silence. "Pardon me?" she said.
"I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.'
"I don't understand, doctor," the woman said. "I don't have a scar on my face."
"Then what did you think of my remark?" I asked.
"I couldn't understand what you were talking about," she said.
"You see," I pointed out, "when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband's offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother."
A good self-esteem will not make offensive comments pleasant to hear, but it can greatly diminish their impact upon us.