Oh, J…….Put Down The Knife Comment (Or how to do verbal jujitsu on bullies)

by admin on June 27, 2013

My birthday happened recently and a wonderful friend, C, offered to host a dinner party as her gift to me. The guest list included a married couple (the W’s), myself and my date, and C’s older male friend, J, who she invited as her “date”. (There is no romantic involvement between the two.) I’ve had interactions with J in the past that have made me wary of him, but I thought that since C was kind enough to throw the party, I wouldn’t quibble over the guest list.

C is a terrific hostess and she really went all out for this dinner party. The table looked like something out of a magazine and she had obviously put considerable effort into the food. I was enjoying myself very much, until I opened a birthday gift from the W’s. I love to cook and they love to be invited over for dinner, so they gave me a very nice paring knife and a knife sharpener. As I was admiring the gifts, J said “Too bad she’s a cutter!” and I felt as though all the air had been sucked out of the room.

For many years, I had issues with depression and self harm. I’m doing much better these days but I am still very self-conscious about the scars on my arm. I don’t know if J has noticed my scars before or if he just thought that he was making a “funny” joke but it made me feel awful.

[I didn’t think I should include this because it is such a specific detail, but it felt especially rude given that J is a retired psychiatrist and it seems like he should know better than to make comments of that nature.]

I did my best to keep my composure and not react to the comment, although the W’s noticed that I did not seem enthusiastic about their thoughtful gift. (A few days later, I told them how much I appreciated it and explained why my reaction was so subdued.) I tried to force myself back into good spirits and make the best of it but I just didn’t feel very social after that. I wouldn’t have been able to get a word in edgewise anyways – J thoroughly dominated the conversation for the rest of the evening.

Thankfully, a few days later I had a dinner date with a separate group of friends that gave me some happy birthday memories, but I still hate that a rude person put a damper on what should have been a wonderful gift of an evening.   0625-13

I’ve said it before many times and I’ll be saying many more times in the future–life is populated with people who serve their own egos at the expense of others.  Just because J was once a psychiatrist does not mean he has an altruistic desire to help people.   I would go so far as to say some people have an unhealthy intention to keep others slightly off balance (it’s a power thing)  by saying these kinds of indiscreet, inappropriate comments.   They live for the reaction.   J, being a retired psychiatrist, wielded his power of expertise by unethically diagnosing you at the dining table in front of other guests and that was his way of keeping you in the subordinate position of patient, victim or survivor for the remainder of the evening.

So, how to respond to this?    By becoming aware that people such as J exist and that they have a character flaw which compels them to try to keep everyone else tipped back off balance as a power play, you begin to develop this understanding of what these people are seeking and how to thwart them.    You then begin to develop a backbone that says, “I will never allow anyone to achieve satisfaction from my reactions….ever.”    You refuse to become a person whose emotions are manipulated to satisfy someone’s need for power or control.   If a shocked/sad/horrified reaction was the intention by astonishing remarks, you deprive them of that pleasure with an unexpected reaction.   It’s the verbal equivalent of the push back to get the conversation back in balance or even push J off balance.

One reaction is gracious humor.   One option for your situation would have been to turn to the gift givers after J’s stupid comment and say with sincerity, sweetness and small smile on your face, “Thank you so much for the lovely set of knives. They will be a welcome addition to my kitchen and I may even practice on J occasionally.”

Ignoring J as if he did not exist and the comment never said is another optional reaction…..you thank the gift givers for the knives, and take control of the conversation by segueing into a discussion of how a good set of knives makes cooking so much easier and how the last time you made roast chicken you had wished you had a good knife to cut it properly (and now you do!), and isn’t cutting up a whole chicken somewhat of a mystery and oh, btw, have you tried that dijon mustard/maple syrup chicken recipe making the rounds on Pinterest?  It’s delish!   You be the person who rescues the conversation from the awkwardness created by J.

Or you can firmly and CALMLY confront J regarding the inappropriateness of his comment.  “Good heavens, J, what on earth are you talking about?  Mr. and Mrs. W, thank you so much for the knives.  You have given good tools to increase my culinary skills in the kitchen.”     I’m not in favor of this last possible option because J,being a pompous man, will feel challenged to defend his comments and that may be a reaction he wants to get so that he can flex his verbal muscles more.  Unless you have a backbone of steel and a firm grasp of how to take command of a conversation, this would not be a first option to consider.

Btw, OP, if C really was the spectacular hostess, she would have recognized the awkwardness J’s comment injected into the gathering and taken steps to minimize it or dispel the awkwardness as a kindness to all her guests.   A great host/ess takes command of the atmosphere of their event and does not allow other guests to negatively impact that atmosphere of convivial pleasantness.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Lo June 27, 2013 at 8:16 am

I agree with admin’s advice on how to react.

But I would be inclined to think that he really had no idea that you had ever self-harmed, was simply making a VERY bad and stupid joke. Is there any reason he would know? Even if he had seen a scar that’s a pretty big conclusion to jump to. It also assumes a distressing level of malignant behavior. Maybe it’s naive but I’d rather jump to the less offensive conclusion. Not in-offensive, just less evil.

Yes as a retired psychiatrist he should know better, absolutely. But then again so should we all. I can’t imagine anyone finding that funny.

I would also have confronted him, or C, or both, as soon as you had the chance to do so away from the Ws. You don’t have to confess to self-harm to do so. You can tell him, “I don’t find that funny. I don’t think you should be making fun of people who cut themselves. It offends me that you would say that and I don’t think the Ws appreciated having their gift being joked about that way.”

Sure, it’s an admission that you were affected by his comment, but people like this thrive on the fact that no one calls them out. And it’s a win-win for you. Either he offers a genuine apology and/or explains himself and you can decide where to go from there or he continues to be a jerk and you can formally write him off. C will also get to see a side of him she maybe ought to.

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Mae June 27, 2013 at 8:42 am

I think admin’s advice is great, as usual. Basically ignoring J seems the best option.

I was just wondering if C knew you were wary of J and if so, why on earth invite someone like that to a party that was supposed to be celebrating you? For example, I have a female friend that my husband does not get along with, so I limit contact. If I threw a dinner party for my husband’s birthday, I would not invite her because I know that would diminish my husband’s enjoyment of his party.

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Anonymous June 27, 2013 at 8:49 am

I think the best thing to do would have been to just pretend J hadn’t said anything, and continue on with the festivities: “Thanks for this great knife set, now who wants ice cream?” Then, after the party, a few days later, it might be a good idea to approach J and tell him that his comment was unacceptable and hurtful. However, I know that it’s often difficult to figure out “the best thing to do” on the spot, in the wake of such an outrageously rude comment, when you’re busy trying to pick your jaw up off the floor. Seriously, does J stand for Jerk, or Juvenile, or both? I can’t believe he was ever a psychiatrist.

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Jewel June 27, 2013 at 8:55 am

Should C coordinate an activity in the future that is likely to involve J, I feel that the OP would be well served by letting C know that she’ll no longer attend any activity where J will be present. C has to be really oblivious to not understand why, but if she truly doesn’t “get it”, OP should not hesitate to remind her what J said at the birthday dinner.

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Cat June 27, 2013 at 9:19 am

I usually field this sort of remark by looking the miscreant in the eye and replying, ‘Don’t make rude comments, Mr. J. People will think you are not well-bred.” That usually does it for most boors.
There’s always humor, “Oh, but that was before I took up knife throwing as a hobby! Perhaps, J, you would like to help me hone my skills. Just stand over there by the wall. Gee, I hope I have improved since the last time!”
Your hostess should have done a fast bean dip. “J, please help me clear these dishes. .. Pass the asparagus…etc.” You should not be left hanging on the words of a fool.

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Politrix June 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

While I’m no etiquette expert, I would favor Option B above all else in dealing with jerks like J. (At least we know now what the “J” stands for, in additions to “Juvenile,” “Junk science,” “Jack*ss” and whatever else one can think of.) Like all trolls, he seeks attention, however negative it might be, so: don’t feed the troll. Ignore. Thank the W’s profusely for the kind and thoughtful gift, and carry on as if you didn’t even here what J said. Repeat as necessary.
And Happy Birthday to you! :)

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Shalamar June 27, 2013 at 9:43 am

Oh dear. J possibly didn’t mean anything by his comment, but it was very tasteless.

That reminds me of when my parents and I were visiting with my boyfriend and his parents. Boyfriend’s mum started to tell a story, prefacing it with “My husband and I did (blah).” Boyfriend’s dad interjected “That wasn’t me, dear. I’ve never been to the place you mentioned.” My mum, trying to be funny, said “It must have been your first husband!”

Now, Mum had no idea that my boyfriend’s mother HAD been married before – to an abusive man who treated her like garbage. There was no way Mum could’ve known, either – it was kept very much under wraps.

Fortunately, everyone just treated her remark like the joke it was intended to be, and Mum never did find out about her faux pas.

(Obviously, her comment was on a very different level from J’s crass “Too bad she’s a cutter.”)

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Princess Buttercup June 27, 2013 at 9:43 am

Personally I would have turned to J and said; “And the award for most awkward, moment killing comment goes to J! But on a happier note, W’s I really appreciate the gift, it’s so thoughtful and will be greatly used in my cooking.” And generally change the subject. Say the first part in a lighthearted manor then refuse to dwell on it. Don’t let his issues become yours.

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Angela June 27, 2013 at 9:59 am

All good suggestions from admin, but I think I would have been too thoroughly shocked to think of any of them. The comment was way beyond inappropriate, especially from a psychiatrist.

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InNM June 27, 2013 at 10:08 am

Does anyone else think this conversation needed a healthy dose of bean dip, after a side of “J, that was neither appropriate nor funny, and we will not entertain such conversation again!” (Said in a pleasant and controlled voice, of course); followed with a “J, I said that was enough of that conversation.” Where appropriate.
I agree, the hostess should have stepped in if need be, and ask J to moderate himself or leave.

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Pat July 21, 2014 at 1:38 pm

The hostess may have be flummoxed herself. Frankily, I wouldn’t have known what J was talking about.

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Sarah Jane June 27, 2013 at 10:08 am

I was all for giving old J the benefit of the doubt and hoping he was clueless as to your history, until you pointed out that he was a retired psychiatrist.

No self-respecting mental health professional, retired or otherwise, makes this type of joke about anyone, anywhere.

I hope C understands how this made you feel and will decline to invite J to any future event involving you.

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Wendy B. June 27, 2013 at 10:20 am

I agree with Angela…usually a person is too floored by what is said to think of something to say.

I think in the future, though, if you know he is going to be there, be prepared. Prep yourself on the way over and maybe just say, “Why would you say something like that? It’s unkind.” If you say it enough times, maybe someone (probably not him, unfortunately) will get the idea he is “not a pleasant person.”

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sv June 27, 2013 at 10:37 am

As tempting as it would be to verbally reduce J to smithereens, nothing deflates a pompous know it all as much as pretending they did not speak. Such people are convinced that everyone else is hanging on their every word – not even acknowledging them is a dreadful blow to their ego :)

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Stacey Frith-Smith June 27, 2013 at 10:48 am

He should have been made to leave on the spot by being handed his coat and being escorted to the door without comment or fanfare. Any guest so in breach of courtesy and civility has lost all claim of access to the society he was enjoying and a hostess has the duty of protecting her other guests from the presence of a sociopath.

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Slartibartfast June 27, 2013 at 11:13 am

I’d think something like “Good heavens, J! What a rude comment! The knives are lovely, thank you.” would go over better – give him the kind of attention he deserves (instead of what he wants) and then move on quickly so it’s not about him longer than necessary.

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Stella June 27, 2013 at 11:47 am

I would have looked him in the eye very seriously, looking slightly irritated & confused, and said, “Why would you even say something like that?” Weight on the “why” and “say”.

Even if a person responds to that with “it was just a joke”, it’s already been made clear it was an extremely unfunny thing to say, so their attempts are defending themselves will come off very thin indeed.

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Lisa June 27, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I’m curious about C’s reaction to J’s statement. What did she do/say?

OP, I’m sorry this happened. My jaw literally dropped when I read what J said.

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Anonymous June 27, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Another thing–sometimes awkward silence can work well. A little background: My first two years of university, I had a French-Canadian professor with a very thick accent, who couldn’t pronounce the “TH” sound very well. One day in class, he said something about a “major third,” except it came out sounding like…..well, you know. One boy in class called attention to this in a rather rude way, and snickered about it, and everyone else (including the professor) just fell silent and glared at him for a moment. After that, class resumed as normal, and life resumed as normal too, except that the immature boy was forever reformed. It helped that the music faculty at my alma mater was tiny (although I hear that it’s slightly less tiny now), and most people knew each other (still true, as far as I know), so there’s a bit of social pressure to function as a polite and pleasant member of the community, or else no one’s going to want to be in a trio with you, or help you with theory, or photocopy their Opera notes for you, or lend you their metronome when yours dies, or grab dinner with you after choir, or whatever. Anyway, the OP’s situation at the birthday party was obviously much more serious than the “major third” incident, but it’s still the same general principle. Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything at all, to convey to a person that they’ve messed up.

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Allie June 27, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Admin, although agreed her advice falls under the category of easier said than done when you are flabbergasted in the moment. I never think of what to do in such situations until after the fact. Not to judge – to each his own – but isn’t it a little odd to be opening presents in front of the group at a birthday party for an adult? Birthday parties for adults are rare in my circle, but when they do occur, gift-opening has not been a part of the festivities.

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Miss Merlot June 27, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I feel admin was being a bit harsh on C – she sounds a really nice friend and was probably just as stuck for a reaction as the OP! I expect she thought of multiple ways to have responded afterwards too…

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The Elf June 27, 2013 at 1:51 pm

“A great host/ess takes command of the atmosphere of their event and does not allow other guests to negatively impact that atmosphere of convivial pleasantness.”

I wish I could be that kind of hostess. When things like this happen in front of me I tend to be more shocked into silence than anything else, then eager to move on to something else.

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O.P. June 27, 2013 at 1:57 pm

In defense of C, she was in the kitchen at the time of the offending comment. I don’t think she had any idea that the comment had been made, as I didn’t want to draw any more attention to the matter.

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EllenS June 27, 2013 at 2:42 pm

One other possible response to an extremely rude/offensive statement would be, the totally calm, monotone, Mr. Spock-eyebrow, “I beg your pardon?” This can be repeated as many times as necessary until the offender splutters themselves into silence.

However, it is best used in a one-on-one situation, as it is rather confrontational and does not smooth the conversation over for the other guests. On the contrary, it is a conversational roadblock that warns the offender “you shall not pass.” It is likely to lead to a “cut direct”, but I have also seen it lead to apologies and reconciliation when the offender was being thoughtless rather than meanspirited.

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Auryn Grigori June 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Wow. I would say that J is a horse rear, but that is an insult to the horse. I agree with the admin. I would have probably ignored him, because he was probably looking for a way to make you feel small.

I had an ex-friend like that, I will call her K. During a move with friends, another friend and I started singing a song in Avenue Q (those who know that musical can probably guess the topic. It was dealing with the internet and it’s ahem, primary purpose). I am a female, and was singing the female part, when K (who had refused to help with the move and was just hanging around) came in and said “Don’t lie, you get wrinkles that way.” She then proceeded to try and impress them with her life story.

People like K and J thrive on being the center of attention, and will try to grab the limelight even and especially when an event has nothing at all to do with them.

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Marozia June 27, 2013 at 3:43 pm

With psychiatrists like J around, no wonder people self-harm. What a jackass!
Admin came up with the best answer. Ignore that fool.
I do not trust psychiatrists and psychologists. They are trained to introduce these subtle comments into their diagnoses. Otherwise, if we all had no neuroses, they’d be out of work!
My colleague at work was an obese lady who was losing weight under a Dr’s diet. She was referred to a psychologist to discuss weight issues (gaining & losing). When she lost 10kg, psych praised her. Same with 20kg, 30kg and 35kg, lots of praise. When she had lost 40kgs and looks fabulous, she told us the psych had said a few niggling comments which she wasn’t sure about. This also happened at 50kg and finally at goal weight loss of 60kg weight loss. Finally, the psych told her she was a loser (not a WEIGHT loser, a LOSER-LOSER. She ditched that psych and maintained her weight. About as subtle as a broken leg!!!

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Moralia June 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm

“Wow J…that was…inappropriate!”
*Looks at him with an expression usually reserved for a cat disgorging a hairball on the new carpet.*
If J were to try to defend the comment, more coldly “It was still inappropriate.”
*Icy glare of doom*

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MichelleP June 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I agree with admin for the most part, but respectfully disagree (to a point) that it was the host’s job to intercede. With the OP’s follow up, it’s now clear that C didn’t have a chance. My mother always told me that no one is going to fight my battles for me, and I live by that now as an adult. Yes, a host should always make guests feel comfortable, but she is not responsible for another adult’s actions.

My jaw would have been on the floor too; I never think about the right thing to say until afterward. This site has been helpful on that!

OP, I am so thankful that you got help and you are no longer cutting yourself. Please accept my prayers for your continued recovery.

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Kimberly June 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Personally, I would be telling C that if J is present at any more gatherings, you will not be.

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ketchup June 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm

I find that the raised eyebrow combined with a bemused expression works very well in such situations. Remember that many bullies are beyond insecure themselves. Confidence or feigned confidence undermines them completely. Even if you’re seething or embarrassed, just try to show them it puzzles you without actually saying something, because if you do say something you give them another opening and who knows what they’ll say next. Really, non-verbal is the way to go here. You’ll avoid having to come up with retorts and besides, they won’t hear how emotional your voice is, an added bonus.

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Jewel June 27, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Allie said: “Birthday parties for adults are rare in my circle, but when they do occur, gift-opening has not been a part of the festivities.”

Why not? It’s lovely for the guest of honor to allow the gift givers the pleasure of personally seeing the honoree’s reaction to their thoughtfully chosen gifts. As a guest, I would feel terribly cheated if my gift wasn’t opened by the recipient at his/her birthday dinner.

The ONLY exception I could see is if the party had SO many guests that it would take the honoree far too long to sit and open the gifts (thus taking his/her time away from visiting with the guests). However, that was not the case as the OP stated there were just 5 people besides herself at the dinner.

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LadyPhoenix June 27, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Seeing that C was out of the room at that moment, I basically would have called out J at that moment.

“J, what kind of joke is THAT? That’s beyond RUDE!”

J basically ruined your party by saying something so . . . horrendous. Adn knowing he was oncr possibly trained to help people like the kind he joked about, that’s BEYOND unfunny.

Next time, tell C you do NOT want J invited because of the comment.

Also, congrats on not cutting anymore! I know it’s a hard thing to do!

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waitress wonderwoman June 27, 2013 at 7:20 pm

OP, I too am thankful that you got help and are doing better. I’m so sorry this boor put a damper on your birthday. What he said was unbelievably insensitive especially considering his profession (and as a fellow human being). And…… since the subject did come up, @Marozia, I find it very, very, very hard to believe that a licensed psychologist would ever call their patient a “loser”. Yes, I will be the first to admit that their are some bad apples (as in any field) but as someone currently seeking my doctorate in Psychology, I really do think most are dedicated to helping those who come to them for help, not exacerbating them for the extra business IMHO. And those in the helping fields of psychology are in NO WAY trained to make damaging comments. Of course, as always, you are free to your own opinions.

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NostalgicGal June 27, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I am scarred up, but it’s from a living a life. I get a good tan my arms, legs, and hands look pretty… rough. If someone like J would have said something like that to me, I would have smiled and said “Oh yes, My Middle Name is Ginsu…” and beandipped to thanking the W’s for their gift so ‘I could be a real cut-up in the kitchen now’ … with sincere thanks being added for their thoughtful and useful gift.

Then ignore J for the rest of the evening. Later have a word or two with C, and gently let her know what happened when she was out of earshot, and how J makes for uncomfortable and please don’t make the guest list include J and OP again….

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Moonlight June 27, 2013 at 10:35 pm

One of the things I appreciate about growing older is that when someone says things to me they have no business saying, I don’t wonder what is wrong with me. I wonder what is wrong with them.

I think that the best thing to say to a psychiatrist on a power trip like this guy is:
“J, what an inappropriate thing to say!” Then thank the couple that gave you the gift. The beauty of this response is that it hits him right in his professional competence and compassion. He cannot possibly defend himself. He will know it and so will every single witness to his abusive behavior.

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Jessiebird June 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm

It sounds to me that J’s joke is the kind made among psychiatrists and out of earshot of patients. It’s known to be one of the problematic way medical professionals deal with the intensity of their work, but it also serves the purpose of dehumanizing the patients even as it might help the professionals themselves deal with what they encounter in their specialties.

However, I don’t think this is okay. As a medical anthropologist and sometime patient, I believe professionals should try harder to foster understanding and respect for those whom they purport to care. I think the medical establishment has come a long way in the past 10-15 years in this regard, but it’s a process.

Since J was at a casual gathering, his comment was utterly out of line. Especially if he had any inkling of your history, which he may have just from professional experience reading people’s demeanors and body language.

And unfortunately, psychologists and psychiatrists themselves are not immune to having “issues.” My sister is a psychiatrist and she may help her patients, but within our family of origin, she is competitive, backstabbing, power-hungry, manipulative, narcissistic, and duplicitous. She doesn’t know it because we all grew up in an emotionally dysfunctional family and all of us have a lot of work to do. In any case, from my point of view, my sister has done a tremendous amount of damage to family relationships. The specialization in psychiatry has actually done more damage because it’s given her a power trip and a self-ascribed carte blanche to address and publicize (on Facebook no less) our private feelings, experiences, traumas and fears under the guise of helping. (Despite being well-versed in HIPPA). (I know I sound bitter…still working on these feelings. :)) Perhaps she is able to help other people, but in any case, a mental health degree is no guarantee of decency or even compassion, insight or sensitivity. I am sorry to say this, but it’s true, because it’s true in any profession. Choose your mental health professional with utmost care, as you are entrusting your deepest intimacies to them. My family is full of legal and medical professionals and I can tell you that clients and patients are not always discussed with respect. :( My sister bragged about manipulating a mentally ill man to sign a document that would commit him to the hospital by making a false promise and feigning misunderstanding after he’d signed.) That’s just one story.

J was just an insensitive jerk. It’s so unpleasant to run across one of those. You have to figure out a way to shake it off. Whatever his point was, it probably was not very personal to you. (Think: you were getting the attention and gifts. Some people instinctively react to that.) One thing that helps me with jerks is to think of them as children and wonder what they didn’t get from their parents in love, support, etc. to make them have such insecurities. It gives me a little compassion.

My best wishes to you and your healing. It’s a difficult journey but worth it at the end. Best!

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Kate June 28, 2013 at 3:53 am

OP, as another former self-harmer who has very obvious scars, I lived in fear for a while of something like this happening. I think you responded well given the shock you must have been feeling. Hopefully C will also cut ties with J if he makes a habit of this sort of off-colour commentary about C’s other friends.

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Lex June 28, 2013 at 5:02 am

Calling attention to the results of depression and self harm with any degree of levity is strictly not on unless you are making the self deprecating joke yourself, but even this is a touch on the attention-seeking side. It was NOT appropriate in any way for him to comment on your previous issues with self-harm and if I had been in your position I would likely have immediately graciously and effusively thanked the W’s then asked for a private word with the hostess (or taken a natural opportunity to do so). Regardless of who is hosting, no-one has the right to bully and belittle you and be under no illusions that he did exactly this – as the admin points out, he put you in your place as a ‘victim’. This is wrong. If I had been hosting I would have immediately asked him to leave as the party was in your honour – insulting the guest of honour is an unforgivable offence.

As a sufferer of depression myself I am aware that sometimes I can be oversensitive to things that are not said in a cruel way – this is NOT the case here. His comment was deliberately cruel and should have been dealt with by the hostess. I have been known to leave events following incidents of this nature (although only where my presence will not be missed).

Eurgh, ‘J’ is repulsive and from now on I suggest you avoid events where he will be in attendance if his comments affect you that badly, or work out a way of letting them ride over you – self deprecating humour is my way of dealing with things but equally I’d feel no shame in giving as good as I got to a boor like this.

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Pen^2 June 28, 2013 at 9:22 am

Once again, admin gives excellent advice here.

C invited someone she knows you aren’t friendly with, and did nothing when he made his extremely inappropriate remark. She is neither a good hostess, nor a particularly caring friend when it doesn’t suit her to be. I would be wary of future invites from her.

I like responding thus: say offhandedly, and almost to myself, “wow, what an inappropriate/rude thing to say.” And then immediately ignore him and start talking to the W’s about how much you appreciate their gift. A lot of people are taken aback when someone calmly and neutrally points out their rudeness. The usual response is either silence, or, something along the lines of “it was only a joke, sheesh.” to which the correct response is the sort of disapproving, disappointed look you give a child, before again moving on in the conversation with people worth of your attention.

I was once at a dinner party where a woman came up to me and said loudly and obnoxiously, “wow, you must be due soon, look how pregnant you are!” I was not pregnant, nor did I particularly look it. It was a very obvious jab at my weight. I cheerfully replied, “what a rude thing to say!” before promptly turning 180 degrees and talking to someone else. The woman in question stood there, stunned, before snorting a great “humph!” and storming off.

I hope you can find ways to buffer people like this in your life. They are so far beneath you that it’s worth learning how resist them pulling you down into their nastiness and misery. Good luck with your healing, be strong, and we all wish you the best of luck with growing a spine for scum like this!

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TimeLady June 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm

@Waitress Wonderwoman – I was told to my face by my clinical psychiatrist (since left the local service) that I “could wallow in self-pity, or TRY being positive” and that I was “In a better off position than famine victims in Africa” after she refused my carer entrance to the room and I was having an anxiety attack. Previously, another psychiatrist told me there was nothing wrong with me and that I just had a brain tumour, and in any case it was my mother’s fault for not getting a divorce sooner. Part of me wants to lump all psychiatrists in the same boat, because I haven’t had much luck, but I have had, in my 10+ years as a mental health service user, a single psychiatrist who clearly wished to help her patients.

OP, I am so glad to hear that you are on the road to recovery, and I hope the odious J does not make any more appearances to you! What a nasty little piece of work he sounds.

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Angel June 28, 2013 at 7:48 pm

It’s a shame that one rude jerk put a damper on your birthday celebration. Even though C was in the other room when the offensive comment was made, since she was the one who invited him she is kind of at fault here too. She knows that he has a penchant for rude comments and that you don’t know him nor get along with him that well. If I was hosting a birthday party for a friend I would invite their real friends, people who make them feel good about themselves. If C was in a relationship with J that’s one thing, but you don’t need a date to your friend’s birthday party.

A comment on the former psychiatrist aspect to the situation. My experience is that they are often the worst offenders when it comes to drawing out a person’s weakness and analyzing it to death. I hope that J didn’t make the comment with that spirit intended. Not only would that be thoughtless but it would be downright cruel.

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Dr Trousers June 28, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Unfortunately self-harmers are viewed very negatively by mental health professionals. It’s a stigma that has been around for a long time and doesn’t look like going anytime soon. Being articulate and calm is the best way to challenge the rudeness that comes from it- because it’s not the behaviour they expect. In this case, an appeal to the psychiatrist in him may have been effective “whatban unprofessional comment. I expected more from you”. I have a few ways of dealing with it when it’s brought up:
1 pause to acknowledge receipt of the comments and then continue without addressing it. The exclusion from the conversation is powerful.
2 bald sarcasm “gosh, really? I hadn’t realised”
3 I also like to point out that crass jokes about medical conditions are the sole property of the sufferer.

Sorry you had to deal with that. It’s not nice, fair or necessary.

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Michelle C Young June 29, 2013 at 12:44 am

Was J *forced* into retirement, because of too many malpractice suits? I would not be surprised. What unethical behavior from a mental health “professional.”

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Michelle C Young June 29, 2013 at 12:53 am

In general, I find that if I am too shocked to think of something to say, embracing the shocked silence is a good thing. That is when you stare, silently and pointedly, at the rude person, until they start to get uncomfortable. Then you ask them, “Excuse me, WHAT did you say?” IF they dare to repeat themselves, you will have at least bought some time to come up with an appropriate reply. However, if the silence, followed by the shocked question actually does make them uncomfortable enough to hem and haw about it, then it was most likely an unintended faux pas, and forgiveness is in order.

It’s good to have a pre-planned response to those twits who actually do repeat themselves, when they say something horribly rude. “No, you could not possibly have said something so unimaginably rude. You must have said something else. Well, never mind. How about that bean dip?” In this case, the bean dip would be to effusively thank the Ws for the gift. After the bean dip, you ignore the person for the rest of the visit, because they are obviously not worth your time.

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Nikki June 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

As a former cutter myself (luckily my scars are on my legs) I can only imagine how mortified you must have felt, OP. I am so sorry. I am a middle school teacher and often kids treat cutting as a joke, literally. A kid, for example, appreciates a “darker” poem and a kid will say, “Why don’t you just go cut yourself, emo?” for all the class to hear. They are joking around, of course. Little do they know their teacher has done, in the pretty near past, just that. I always use this as a time for a little lesson. “Now remember, we never know what is going on in someone’s personal life, so we must remember that comments like that can hurt. Maybe someone in this room struggles with that and maybe no one does, but one never does know. You aren’t a cruel person, of course, so you don’t want to accidentally say something cruel, do you?” Of course what works on middle schoolers doesn’t work on grown guests. In the real world I’d have pretended I didn’t hear it. In my fantasy world, I’d have said something like, “Someone’s skills are a little rusty, unlike this knife, which is perfect…”

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Mabel June 30, 2013 at 6:59 pm

WOW.
I’m afraid I would have gone to Ehell, had I been there. If I were the OP, I would have been tempted to say, “Good thing I don’t cut other people!”
If not, I might have said, “Too bad J’s an a-hole!”

Seriously, the ignoring thing is the best. Let his remark hang over his head while the party moves on–that will only make him look like a doofus. In the future, I would avoid J. if you can. Life’s too short to spend time around idiots.

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Heather April 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Or. You could say “Yes. I WAS a cutter. But I’m not anymore, and I will love to use these wonderful knives to make beautiful food. Thank you so much!”

This does 2 things: 1) it shuts up the pompous ass who mentioned it in the first place because it takes away his power and shifts it to you
and
2) it puts the guests who gave you the knives at ease: they’ll see that, while it is something in your past, you’re obviously over it and they won’t worry that they gave an inappropriate gift.

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