“The Psychology Behind Feeling Personally Attacked and How to Cope”

"The Psychology Behind Feeling Personally Attacked and How to Cope"

We understand that personal attacks can take various forms, from hurtful comments and criticism to cyberbullying and character assassination. No matter the nature of the attack, my goal is to provide you with the knowledge and tools necessary to respond effectively, protect your mental well-being, and ultimately, emerge stronger from these challenging experiences. Whether you’ve been a target of personal attacks or simply want to be better prepared to handle such situations, this blog is here to help. My aim is to empower you with the insights and confidence needed to deal with grace, keep your composure, and get involved in constructive debate when you feel personally attacked.

Recognize being personally attacked

The attacker usually targets you as an individual rather than addressing the topic or issue at hand. They often involve derogatory language, insults, or unfounded accusations that aim to belittle you or question your integrity, such as someone calling you with a bad title, or insulting you rather than engaging in a productive conversation. Personal attacks often lack substance and focus solely on tearing you down.

Personal attacks can manifest in various forms, from face-to-face confrontations to online interactions. Online, they may take the shape of offensive comments, cyberbullying, or character assassination. In-person, they might involve aggressive body language, name-calling, or even physical threats.

It’s crucial to differentiate between genuine criticism and a personal attack. Constructive criticism aims to provide feedback and encourage growth, while personal attacks have the sole intention of causing harm or humiliation.

The main thing to do is to be aware of the communication’s context, tone, and language as well as whether the other party is addressing you or your argument directly. Trust your emotional response. If you feel hurt, angry, or humiliated after an interaction, it might be a sign that you had being personally attacked.

 Understanding The Attacker’s Perspective

How to defend yourself if someone attacks you, there can be various psychological reasons behind their behavior. 

Imagine yourself in the following situation: You feel like your reputation, self-esteem, or general well-being are being attacked. In certain circumstances, feelings may be heightened, and retribution may seem like the only option for self-defense or regaining control.

Imagine yourself experiencing an upsurge of feelings, such as rage, irritation, shame, or fear. These strong emotions can cloud your judgment and cause you to behave hastily without properly weighing the repercussions. It almost feels like you’re in the middle of an emotional hurricane, and you turn to retaliation as a method for self-defense.

Retaliation is frequently motivated by a sense of injustice. You might truly believe that the world needs to know about the wrong you’ve suffered. It’s as if you’re trying to get everything back in order and declaring, “I won’t stand for this.” Your retaliatory behavior is motivated by this desire for justice.

Being personally attacked can occasionally resurface old wounds. Being wounded or traumatized in the past might create emotional scars that increase your propensity to defend yourself when you sense a threat. It feels like old hurts are resurfacing, which makes you feel more of a need to defend yourself.

Misunderstandings may also be a cause. Imagine a circumstance where you misinterpret someone’s intentions or communications and as a result, you respond defensively. It resembles a maze of misunderstandings and retaliatory behavior.

Think about the coping mechanisms you’ve acquired throughout time. Retaliation can develop into a default reaction, a sort of emotional defense system if you don’t have healthy strategies to handle unpleasant feelings or situations. It appears as though you are using it to protect yourself from additional injury.

The idea of moral justification is the conclusive one. Given the situation, you might really think that your retaliatory actions are ethically justified. This belief may give your actions a sense of justification.

While being aware of these psychological processes does not justify retaliatory behavior, it does shed light on potential causes. It highlights the complex interplay of emotions, opinions, and experiences that underlie retaliatory behavior. To break the loop and promote healthy interactions when navigating situations in which you get personally attacked, it is important to develop empathy, effective communication, and conflict-resolution skills.

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Best approach to deal when getting personally attacked

Let’s explore the psychological dynamics that can motivate someone’s “retaliatory” behavior;

No matter what triggers your reaction—hurt, guilt, devaluation, mistrust, disdain, rejection, outraged, insulted, or whatever. This approach of self-defense almost immediately, will emotionally protect you.

Ask yourself a question, “Before the other person pushed your button, which one of their buttons might you’ve pushed?” when you start to lose your cool. Your initial unease, anger, or negative sentiments about yourself will start to subside if you can understand, the other’s criticism or cutting remark as mainly expressing something about them. You’re “taking in” what they said rather than “taking it out.” And this only makes things more difficult between you. You can immediately do this in order to distance yourself from your internal suffering and turn your attention back externally. 

You might start to develop new insights into the psychological dynamic that inspired most likely “retaliatory” behavior of that person by making an effort to understand where they might be coming from. And there are several inquiries you can put to them that, if phrased just properly, can indicate the reason they were upset before turning against you.

By reframing yourself as an objective scientist instead of a reactive victim, you’re essentially teaching your brain to stick with the more mature, logical side of you and not let the current slight undermine your superior decision-making.

Try to remind yourself that the attacker’s words or actions are a reflection of their own issues, insecurities, or emotions. It’s not a true reflection of your worth or character. This mental shift can help you detach emotionally from the attack. Remind yourself, that maintaining your composure when being personally attacked is a sign of inner strength and emotional intelligence. It’s a skill that can be honed over time with practice and self-awareness.

Believing that we are good, deserving people is a sign of emotional growth, not arrogance.

Importance of Retaining Composure When Personally Attacked

When responding to a personal attack, it’s important to retain your composure because:

  • Your response reveals a lot about your values.
  • You won’t get any help from confronting your attacker.
  • By doing this, the situation won’t get worse.
  • You’ll be able to better control your emotions.
  • Your response will provide the attacker with insight into how to approach you.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Stop Emotional Shut Down During Arguments

What to Avoid When Bing Personally Attacked

Impulsive or defensive responses frequently make the problem worse and reduce the likelihood of a constructive resolution. You may have a more rational and insightful discussion if you maintain composure.

Deep breathing exercises can help you feel less stressed right away. Take a few deep breaths through your nose, hold them for a moment, and then gently let them out through your lips. Repeat a number of times to maintain your composure.

We frequently have the instinct to attack back in order to defend ourselves when we feel personally attacked. However, usually speaking, fighting back only serves to boost how the attackers perceive us as individuals. If you act in a manner that is at odds with your values, it may also cause guilt.

If possible, take a quick pause to refocus. A brief break from the situation can give you a fresh point of view.

The Impact of being Personally Attacked

The impact of personal attacks in the long run can be summarized as:

  • Personal attacks can cause significant emotional distress, leading to anger, sadness, or anxiety.
  • They can strain relationships and create mistrust and resentment.
  • Personal attacks can lower self-esteem and self-worth, causing self-doubt.
  • Victims may find it challenging to focus on tasks, affecting their productivity.
  • Some individuals resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse.
  • Victims may fear further attacks, leading to avoidance of situations or people.
  • Personal attacks hinder open and productive communication.
  • In professional settings, personal attacks can harm one’s career and reputation.
  • Victims may withdraw from social interactions to protect themselves.

RELATED: 9 Principles of Social Intelligence That Everyone Can Master

How to avoid engaging in bad behavior when being personally attacked

Everyone is free to express their opinions. Whether or not you agree with them is entirely up to you.

1. Don’t try to win everyone’s approval

Don’t strive for universal approval to evade personal attacks. Seeking validation from everyone can be exhausting and lead to self-doubt. Instead, focus on self-confidence, assertiveness, and staying true to your values while accepting that not everyone will agree with you.

2. Re-evaluate Your Values

It entails stepping back from the emotionally charged environment and thinking about your core principles. Start by pausing to step back from your initial emotional responses and paying close attention to the attacker’s point of view. Then, think about whether their assertions conflict with any of your fundamental beliefs or values. If you feel that you must react because it is necessary and in line with your values, prepare a polite, considered response that expresses your values.

Seek advice and perspective from trustworthy peers or mentors who share your values. Make sure your behaviors constantly reflect the person you wish to be by putting your self-respect first and using the experience as a chance for personal development. You get the ability to respond to personal attacks with authenticity and integrity through this process of reevaluating your ideals.

3. Reframe the conversation

It’s important to maintain your composure and refrain from retorting. Instead, begin by paying attention to the attacker’s point of view and attempting to figure out their underlying concerns. Ask them open-ended questions to get additional information and emotional expression. Verify your understanding by reflecting back on what you’ve heard and validating your feelings.

Once you have a better understanding of their perspective, gently redirect the conversation in a more constructive or problem-solving direction. Emphasize mutual goals or interests, communicate your ideas using “I” expressions to avoid appearing judging, and remain cool throughout. By redirecting the conversation, you may prevent it from deviating into personal subjects and direct it in a way that is more constructive and cooperative way.

4. Disengage if necessary

It’s crucial to understand how to withdraw from being personally attacked if needed. First, evaluate the situation to decide whether it is safe and beneficial to carry on the conversation. It’s completely okay to gently disengage if the attack is abusive, threatening, or pointless by saying that you’d prefer not to engage in an unpleasant discussion.

This can be accomplished by saying that you don’t appreciate the personal jab, that you’ve made your point, and that you’re not interested in the debate anymore. You can block or mute the attacker if you’re in an online setting to stop further communication. Consider reporting the occurrence to the proper authorities or the site administrators in cases of harassment or threats. 

5. Respond to Personal Attacks with Curiosity and Assertiveness 

Ask the person in question about the source of their negative view and keep a neutral attitude throughout the dialogue to reply to personal attacks with boldness and curiosity. When did you first think I was arrogant, irresponsible, and difficult to deal with?

It’s important to ask this inquiry with real curiosity rather than passively or aggressively, which could worsen the situation. This way, you take the topic in an unexpected direction by asking about the source of their perception, possibly leading to confusion in their response. Keep a neutral attitude while being ready for a potential counterattack.

Depersonalize their comments ( avoiding the pronoun “you” and refraining from making the conversation about any particular individual instead of focusing on the problem at hand ) instead of getting into a “we vs. them” argument by saying, “Many people understandably suffer when dealing with those they regard as arrogant and negligent.

RELATED: Logic and the Study of Arguments: Critical Thinking Skills

6. Avoid Negative Self Attack And Build Emotional Resilience

When dealing with personal attacks, building emotional resilience is an essential ability. Start by becoming aware of your emotional responses and developing self-awareness in order to counterattack with grace and elegance.

To maintain composure in the face of difficulty, use skills for emotional control such as deep breathing and mindfulness. Confront your negative self-talk and enlist the assistance of reliable people who can offer understanding and validation.

To sustain emotional well-being, set clear boundaries and give self-care top priority. Instead of devolving into personal attacks, shift the conversation’s emphasis to practical solutions. By developing emotional resilience, you’ll be able to speak up without being overcome by negativity, promoting a healthier and more productive dialogue.

7. Reflect And Learn 

You can ask the attacker, “Let’s concentrate on expressing our opinions and backing them up with facts rather than using personal attacks. In this manner, we may better promote understanding and investigate the underlying problems. I’m interested in hearing your opinions and will offer my own, depending on the data at hand. Can we focus our conversation on the precise issues that divide us?”

Analyze the attack objectively, breaking it down to understand the specific criticisms or accusations made. While doing so, try to discern if there are any valid points or constructive feedback within the attack.

Use this experience as a learning opportunity, asking yourself what you can gain from it. Consider whether there are areas in your communication or conflict resolution skills that could be improved. Avoid the temptation to retaliate with personal attacks in return, as this often escalates the conflict.

 Cultivate A Mindset Of Calmness

Cultivating a mindset of calmness is a transformative practice that can significantly enhance your well-being and your ability to navigate challenging situations with composure, clarity, and informed and rational thinking.

Cultivate gratitude by focusing on the positive aspects of your life. Regularly check in with your thoughts and emotions, acknowledging any stress or anxiety that may arise.

Embrace mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, to anchor yourself in the present moment. These practices help reduce mental clutter and promote a sense of inner peace.

Adopt a problem-solving approach, calmly assessing situations and considering your options before responding. Engage in physical activities like yoga or regular exercise to release pent-up tension and promote relaxation

Foster positive self-talk and challenge negative thought patterns. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion, understanding that imperfections are part of being human. 

Surround yourself with a supportive and calming environment. By maintaining a calm attitude, you learn to encounter personal attacks with grace and dignity,  for constructive communication, and encourage others to follow suit.


Q.1 How to not feel personally attacked?

To avoid feeling personally attacked, practice emotional resilience. Separate criticism from your identity, focus on constructive feedback and consider others’ perspectives. Cultivate self-confidence and self-awareness, reminding yourself that criticism doesn’t define your worth. Lastly, seek support from friends or professionals to build emotional strength.

Q.2 What does personal attack mean?

A personal attack, often referred to as ad hominem, is a fallacious argument tactic where someone criticizes or insults their opponent’s character or attributes rather than addressing the actual argument or issue at hand. It involves attacking a person’s character, motives, or background instead of engaging in rational discourse.

Q.3 What to do when you feel personally attacked?

When feeling personally attacked, take a moment to breathe and stay calm. Assess if the criticism is valid or emotional. If it’s valid, consider it as constructive feedback. If it’s emotional or baseless, choose not to engage, set boundaries, and communicate assertively. Seek support from friends or professionals if needed.

 Q.4 Why do people make personal attacks?

People may make personal attacks for various reasons, such as insecurity, frustration, or a desire to divert attention from their own shortcomings. Personal attacks can also be used as a manipulation tactic to gain power or control in a disagreement. It’s essential to address such behavior constructively and maintain respectful communication.

Q.5 How to act when someone attacks you?

When someone attacks you, stay composed and don’t retaliate with aggression. Listen actively to understand their perspective, and calmly express your own. Set boundaries and assertively communicate that personal attacks are unacceptable. If necessary, disengage from the situation or seek assistance from a mediator or authority figure to resolve the issue.

Q.6 Are we expected to abide by thinly veiled insults?

No, you are not expected to tolerate thinly veiled insults. It’s important to assertively address such behavior by communicating your discomfort and setting clear boundaries. Encourage respectful and open communication to maintain healthy relationships while not accepting or condoning insulting or disrespectful remarks.

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