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Character Attacks: Why people resort to personal attacks and character assassination

by Deb Landry

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” ― Spencer Johnson

Although it doesn't feel like it, the reason is simple, character attacks are all about feeling intimidated by another. People who feel good about themselves NEVER have to discredit others to feel more powerful. By creating lies or padding stories to sway others to make you look good, will cause you to lose in the end. Mother's truth: believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.

Think of the people in your life that act as mentors. They served in this role because they truly want to be helpful. They have nothing to prove, ask for nothing in return, and never need to force their opinions on you. Most of all hopefully they are honest and forthcoming.

Next, think about the people who feel the need to attack. What one usually finds is someone who has little self-esteem, maybe is carrying a lot of anger or jealousy, and has the need to force their opinions on you or others for approval or validation.

The way to handle these people is to tell them, their opinions (half-truths/lies/attacks) really don’t have any impact on you. Understand that they are really not in control of their own emotions, are lashing out like a child having a tantrum, or are trying to saving face.

Ignoring them is your best bet. Retaliating doesn't help and will only makes things worse. Leave it alone and let them know that you are going to take the time defending your truth. You already know what the truth is plus it is really no ones business what you think of them or what they think of you. One main point is they are not your God or keeper. When you retaliate or jump on the bandwagon with them, you to have bad behavior. It's like the bullying in the school yard, they pick on someone and everyone stands behind him, because standing up with them means they have to look at their own truth or they become uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Just think of this, if an employee is fired after breaking company policy, what do you hear from the unemployed person? "I quit, my boss was horrible", "so and so was after my job from the beginning, I didn't have a chance", "I told them what I think and they don't like it", and on and on. Now think of this in a personal relationship, you don't do what someone wants, you call them on their bad behavior and what happens, they use the same negative behavior by retaliating and with justification of why they are "right".

Can people change? I hope so, but I know that you can beware and be kind all at the same time. Don't be fooled by the wolves in sheep's clothing so to speak. Stand up for what you believe.

So just how do we respond when we are hit by other peoples’ bad behavior? Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT a licensed marriage and family therapist says:

Recognize the behavior as bad. The first step is recognize that although being blamed, attacked and criticized often results in feeling bad, you are not the one who is behaving badly. By it’s very nature, slandering another person’s character — no matter how justified the other person believes it to be — is bad behavior. It’s a sign of poor character to go after another person viciously. So while the attacks of another may hurt, and you may feel shame, remember, you are not the one behaving badly.

Understand where bad behavior comes from. Attacking another person, pointing blame, and criticizing another harshly all come from the same place: the attacker’s attempt to dislodge some of their own bad feelings onto you. By putting the focus on to you, and what they think you did wrong, they can take the focus off of themselves, and their own defects of character. But they can also put you in a one down position, elevating themselves to a position of power. And people who attempt to gain power this way — through diminishing others — do so because they do not feel powerful in their own lives, and the only reconciliation is to attempt to control others. People who hurt others to feel better about themselves, may not know how to feel good any other way, and may also have very fragile and primitive ego structures. What this means is that their sense of self is underdeveloped and defined through their ability to control others. And what people who attack don’t have control over is their own sense of self — because attacks come from unresolved material, an unconscious need to regain power, and are justified by a perceived feeling of being wronged or hurt somewhere in their lives.

Use empathic confrontation. Being attacked, blamed, and criticized puts us all on the defensive, and we may want to throw our own daggers, yet, attacking back simply signifies battle. And while you may feel as if it’s wrong that you were attacked and want to correct the behavior, it is never your job to correct anyone’s behavior but your own. Instead, when someone goes on the offense after you, your focus needs to be on setting boundaries to protect yourself. This is what is meant by empathic confrontation. Empathic confrontation essentially means recognizing that bad behavior comes from a place of pain and confusion, and then setting limits. An example of this would be saying, “Look I don’t think you meant to hurt me, or that you are a bad person, but it what you said did hurt, and I am not going to respond to you when you speak to me that way.” While empathic confrontation protects you, it also does something else — it calls on a person’s better character. Ultimately, the message to the person doing the attacking is: I wont let myself be treated poorly because I think you can behave better than that.

Reaffirm your value. The object of a person blaming, criticizing or attacking you is to make you feel bad, and it usually does. Attacks hurt everyone, after all. So instead of defending yourself to the person attacking — which will only cause war — reaffirm your value to yourself. Use the attack to take a look at your life, do an honest assessment, and recognize the good things you do, and the value you bring. If you feel you could do better, make a plan to change what you think needs changing. And if you feel you are doing everything in your power to be the person you want to be, then remind yourself of that. But make it your choice to decide how you are doing and if you need to change — not anyone else’s. After all, it’s your life.

Attacks, criticisms and accusations hurt, but they are also examples of bad behavior. And while the invitation is always there to fire back, the opportunity is also there to use these things to strengthen your own good behavior, to not fall prey to the temptation to also behave badly, and to remind yourself of why being nice matters.

I hope this helps, only you are accountable for you own behavior you are not responsible for someone else thoughts and opinions. Have Courage and Be Kind. Let go of anger and focus on positive things in your life. If something really bothers you LET IT GO!!!!!

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