Asserting yourself in difficult situations ain’t always easy. From a conflict with a colleague to an awkward moment with a stranger to a fight with a long-term friend… sometimes knowing the best way to tell someone what you really think is tough.
But part of adulting means knowing how to defend yourself, right? And we wanna make sure we do it in the most mature (and loving!) way possible.
Here are some methods you can rely on when just saying “eff you” isn’t an option, but something else simply has to happen:
I’ll never forget the time I saw two elderly ladies lose it when they saw a young man pull out an apple on the subway. The unsuspecting guy bit into his Granny Smith and they shouted, “This isn’t a restaurant or your damn house!” and “Where is your consideration?” Put simply, to every onlooker in the not-so-busy subway car, they looked batty.
But what did he do? He fought back! Yikes. He was shouting right back at them, “It’s a free world! What’s your problem? Sue me.” And continued to crunch away in their faces. It was utterly bizarre, uncomfortable, and funny at once (to other passengers, anyway).
There’s an old saying: Don’t argue with a crazy person—people around you won’t be able to tell the difference. When it comes to strangers who have a bone to pick—and will even use an innocent apple as an excuse to argue—walk away. Save your energy for something useful. Engaging is fruitless (heh). This guy could have ignored the ladies and taken his apple to the opposite end of the subway car.
Whip Out Your Phone
Rude as it is to have your phone constantly lit up in your hand during social encounters, sometimes this excuse-in-your-pocket can be your saving grace.
When my friend and her husband were having a (loud-ish) shouting match in a bar, she looped me in, wanting me to weigh in on who was right. I said, “Oh, this one I’m sitting out, honey! Love ya both,” smiled, and dove straight into my WhatsApp and Instagram. Pretending something isn’t happening oddly works sometimes. Distraction and emotional distance: a pretty sweet combo.
Sure enough, the drama was over pretty soon, and I left unscathed.
Say, “That’s Not So True Anymore”
Knowing when to choose your battles is one of the most critical life skills there is. And with family, it can be important when you’re tired of being taken advantage of, annoyed with being talked about in a certain way, or are feeling misunderstood.
As the youngest of five girls and a person with a lot of spontaneous energy, my sisters often joke that I’m crazy. That was cool when I was a kid. Now I’m 34, and (I like to think) I’m a mature woman. When a sister stayed with me recently, she said something to me when I was dancing around in my apartment that felt condescending, given our history—and her signature eye roll didn’t help. It was something along the lines of, “You are SO nuts!” I replied with, “You know what? That’s not so true anymore. I know how to enjoy my life.”
It landed as I hoped too—because it was true, and it needed to be said. She hasn’t repeated anything like it since, and I’m proud I didn’t just shrug it off like I used to. Is there an age-old, irrelevant label that you need to lovingly correct in your family?
“That’s not so true anymore” is a loving, gentle but firm statement that sticks.
Water It Down
If you’re feeling heated, it’s OK to ask for a moment to excuse yourself before blowing up (if you feel you’re about to). Even saying “I need glass of water” and taking a couple of minutes to compose yourself works wonders in de-escalating a fight. My dad used to use this trick when someone called him out on something that was true—he’d go to the kitchen and take a moment to decide how to respond.
Often, in the heat of the moment, we say things we regret or behave in a way that we can feel a bit embarrassed by later. Even a couple of minutes of separation can cool everyone off. Because saying “eff you” is almost always unnecessary: We can walk away, we can create distance, and we can refuse to engage. We can state something that’s assertive and true. Because it’s not about making anyone else wrong or putting them in their place—it’s about being the best human you can be (and feeling damn great about it).
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!