Have you ever felt like a partner, family member, or friend was constantly making you feel insignificant? Those who’ve been there should know that this kind of criticism, belittling, is never your fault, no matter how much the other person makes it seem like it is.
You’re also not the only one who’s experienced it. PEOPLE recently reported that Ryan Adams constantly “belittled” Mandy Moore during their marriage, which lasted about six years and ended in June 2016.
The This Is Us star opened up about her divorce in the November issue of Glamour, saying that she “didn’t choose the right person.” Shortly after the article was released, Adams lashed out in a series of tweets that have since been deleted.
“She didn’t like the Melvins or BladeRunner. Doomed from the start…” one stated, putting Moore down for her taste in music and movies. In another, Adams compared the marriage to being “stuck to the spiritual equivalent of a soggy piece of cardboard,” reported PEOPLE. He also claimed he didn’t remember their 2009 wedding because of how many drugs he had taken. “When someone told me we got married I thought they were joking,” he wrote.
Adams apologized for the belittling comments shortly after, but anyone who’s been subject to this kind of hurt knows “sorry” doesn’t always soften the blow.
So why would someone want to make another person feel unimportant? “People belittle others as an attempt to feel better about themselves,” Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, tells Health. “They have conditional self-worth, meaning they believe in themselves if certain conditions are met. In this case, they feel better about themselves if they feel superior to someone else.”
Belittling is an extremely powerful form of emotional abuse. First of all, the belittler is often someone the other person loves or admires, Lombardo says, meaning they’re in a position of influence. Basically, their words hurt much more than a stranger’s would.
“The belittler also has intimate knowledge of the individual’s ‘triggers,’” Lombardo says. “They know what will upset this person and use that in an attempt to feel more powerful or better about themselves.” If your belittler is a loved one, he or she knows what you’re most insecure about and what will make you feel most vulnerable.
To make matters worse, belittlers will often repeat hurtful comments like a broken record. “The person being belittled, after hearing the comments over and over, tends to internalize the criticisms and actually starts to believe them on some level,” she adds.
The good news is there are things you can do to protect yourself if you have a belittler in your life. It may be easier said than done, but it's crucial to be assertive. Lombardo says there’s a chance the person doesn’t fully realize they’re hurting you, and letting them know could help.
You also need to establish boundaries. Make it clear you deserve respect by not spending time with the belittler unless they treat you in a way that makes you feel good. And if they do resort to hurtful comments and behavior, remove yourself and try to understand what they’re saying actually has nothing to do with you. Don’t internalize it.
Last but certainly not least, consider kicking the belittler to the curb. Lombardo says to “cultivate your own unconditional self-worth.” If someone is consistently putting you down, you do not need that person in your life. “You are amazing because of who you are,” she adds. “Take steps to believe in yourself and your worth so you can free yourself from the belittling.”
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