Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

A Guide To Anger, Conflict and Respect


In the above scenario, when Andy calls Marsha immature, does he insult her?

Hmmm.  Before answering this question, I think I’ll first take a little peek over here in my Webster’s College Dictionary.

Considering Webster’s Definitions of “Insult”

I see here that one definition of insult is “a deliberately discourteous or rude remark or act that humiliates, wounds the feelings, and arouses anger: an insult about her foreign accent.”  I see that there are other definitions as well.  I think I’ll spend a little time first considering this one, and then I’ll take a look at another definition.

Well, with this definition, I guess I can’t be sure just from looking at the pictures if Andy is deliberately trying to be discourteous or rude. And so, I’m not sure if he insulted her or not.

One way to interpret the two-picture scenario is that Andy became defensive at Marsha’s comment and in anger he deliberately tried to punish her by acting rude.  In that case, if Marsha reacted to Andy’s comment by feeling humiliated or wounded, then it seems to me that according to the definition I’m considering, Andy did insult Marsha.

Interestingly, even if Andy deliberately tried to punish her by acting rude, if Marsha didn’t react by feeling humiliated or wounded, with the definition that I’m currently considering, I would say that he did not insult her.

Another way to interpret the two-picture scenario, although less plausible to me, is that Andy genuinely believes that a mature woman does not mind her husband flirting.  If Andy, after saying, “Marsha, you’re acting immature,” gently explained his belief about this while remaining loving and caring toward Marsha, would his comment about her being immature still be an insult?  Not according to the definition that I am considering because he did not deliberately try to be discourteous or rude.  She might have felt insulted, but he did not insult her.

I see here that Webster does provide us another definition for insult–“something having the effect of an affront: That book is an insult to one’s intelligence.” In this definition, it doesn’t matter if Andy is being deliberately discourteous or rude.  respect4If Marsha reacts to Andy’s comment as if it was disrespectful and an open offense to her dignity, then he has insulted her.  And, even if Andy deliberately wanted to be discourteous and rude, if Marsha did not react as if she had received an affront, then we could say that Andy’s comment did not insult her.  Perhaps we can say instead that Andy tried to insult Marsha, but it failed to have its intended effect.

My Personal Experience with Insults

An interesting thing about my own life is that when I was young, if someone tried to insult me it usually worked–in that I indeed ended up feeling insulted.  As I got older–dare I say, more mature–I became less and less likely to feel insulted, even if someone called me stupid or an idiot.

I have become, over the years, more and more comfortable with who I am as a person, and I don’t rely as much on the opinions of others when judging my own worth.  I’m still very much interested in what other people have to say about me because I believe I can learn a great deal from these types of discussions.  But I respect myself for having this attribute.  And I don’t often automatically assume that a negative evaluation from others makes me a bad person.

My Blog, Immaturity and Insults“Judy, it’s so nice to see you,” I say as she comes into my office and sits down on my couch.

“I read one of your blog posts last night, Dr. Rubin–the one titled, Providing Negative Criticism: Five Levels of Maturity.  You say in it that if a person provides negative criticism by using name calling, insults, and shouting, that’s immature.  Well, I sometimes use name calling, insults and shouting when I criticize my kids and my husband. That means that in your blog post, you insulted me, calling me immature.  Calling me immature is calling me a name, and an insulting one at that.  So you’re as immature as I am!”

“I think I understand what you are saying, Judy.  Do you feel that I was trying to deliberately be discourteous or rude to you?”

“Maybe not deliberately, but what you said in your blog post felt like you were being insulting, and I felt insulted.”

“Well, Judy, I didn’t mean to be discourteous or rude.  I certainly am not trying to do anything that tears you down–just the opposite.”

“I know, but calling people immature is insulting.”

“Well, Judy, I don’t want you to continue to feel that I am insulting you, so let’s see what we can do differently.”


“Now, to begin with, let’s quickly review why you have been coming to see me.  As I recall, you were concerned about how you were getting along with your husband and kids and you wanted me to help you to address this–is that right?”


“Now, during my training on how to help people with this type of concern, I had professors who viewed themselves as developmental psychologists.  These professors view people as going through different developmental stages or levels, moving from relatively immature levels to more mature levels.  They didn’t merely name each level, they did their best to go beyond the name to describe each higher level so that people, if they chose to do so, could have enough information to make some life changes.

Although I like this approach, I had some other professors that taught me how to use a couple of other approaches that I think can be very helpful, and they don’t bother with words like immature and mature.  For example, one approach would have you stop reading my blog, and when you visit my office I’ll listen to you in a caring, supportive way.  From time to time, I’ll ask you a few questions to challenge you to think more deeply about the issues that you are raising.  When you reply, I won’t give you my opinion.  Instead, I’ll listen and empathize with what you are experiencing.”

“Well, actually, I look forward to reading your blog each week, Dr. Rubin.  They make me angry some of the time, but I must admit that they’ve been very helpful.  As far as just listening to me in a caring way, you already do a lot of that.  If I want your opinion, I ask and I guess I want you to be honest and  tell me what you really think.”

“All right, Judy.  Another thing that we can try is this.  Some people, when they are provided negative criticism, always feel insulted even when the criticism is provided without any name calling, insults and shouting.  Other people, even when they are provided negative criticism with name calling, insults and shouting don’t feel insulted.  Attempts to insult them are like water off of a duck’s back.  These people can hear the negative criticism that comes with efforts to humiliate and wound their feelings, and they can seek to learn something from the criticism.  Sometimes they do experience some strong emotions that arise when they hear the negative criticism, but this is experienced not as humiliation, but, instead, as an experience that helps them to come up with more efficient, effective, economical and beautiful accomplishments.  If you want, over the next few weeks we can work on this.”

“I like that, Dr Rubin.  I do think I’m a bit too sensitive about criticism.  Let’s give that approach a try.”


Well, I hope you found some worthwhile food for thought in this week’s post.  May the rest of your week be filled with wonder and delight.


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on.  This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence.  To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

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