How to handle friends who show affection through insults

teenunchained asks: My friends are really cool and I love them so much, and it makes my dad happy cause he doesn’t think I’m antisocial anymore. But, my BFF’s show “love” by being mean and calling names. Bad things. I can’t eat without being self-conscious. I cry almost everyday. I want to be their friend because that’s how they are “loving” but it still isn’t nice, what should I do?

Hi teenunchained –

You’ll probably have noticed that not all dogs are alike.  Even though all us pooches want to be loved, some will run up and jump on you and cover you with kisses, some will stand there and wait for you to pet them, some will shy away in fear that you’ll hurt them, and some will see you as a threat and bark or even bite at you.

Similarly, although all people deep-down want friends, they’ll show and receive friendship in very different ways.  Some people show affection through complimenting each other a lot, some show it by relaxing with each other and not acting on any need to say anything, and others do it by trading humorous insults.  No one is correct, or better than the others; it’s just that different people are different.

However, just as you’d be a fool to treat a biting dog the way you do a playful Golden Retriever puppy, it’s necessary for people to note who they’re dealing with, and act accordingly.

If I could have my way, I’d love both you and your friends change a bit.  They would pick up on your sensitivity (which is a strength, no matter what anyone says!), and treat you in a way that makes you feel loved, while you’d relax a bit and feel more comfortable trading occasional insults with them.

I’ll give you a great example of this.  Handsome’s most frequent and loving nickname for me is “Knucklehead.”  When he calls me this, he’s telling me how much he loves my spirit and liveliness, and the way I just love everyone.  Well last week he was with a young boy and having a great time with him, and laughingly, lovingly, told him he was a knucklehead.  And after he left their house, that boy collapsed crying on his mother, feeling horribly insulted by a man he thought liked him!  Who’s fault was this?  No one’s.  But it was awfully important that the mother, and then Handsome, explained to the kid that the term wasn’t a real insult at all.  And guess what – a few days later, that little boy called Handsome a knucklehead himself!

So what can you do?  Well, start with a question: is it one or a few particular issues that are hurting your feelings?  For example, maybe you feel okay with your friends jokingly insulting everything about you but your looks, but when they do mention those, you’re really bothered.  If so, maybe you can tell that to your friends.  After all, I’m sure there are things about them they wouldn’t like to be the butt of your jokes, so it’s only fair that they treat you with equal care.

But I really urge you, so your life can be more fun, to also find ways to enjoy some of this exchange.  Once you do, getting mildly insulted by your friends can actually feel better than their saying something nice to you.  After all, they’re probably nice to strangers, right?  So it’s a statement of intimacy and trust that they’re able to trade jabs with you.

As long as it’s not on issues you’re particularly sensitive about.  So see if you can tell them about those.  If so, your life could be as great as it looks to your Dad!

Good Luck,? you wonderful knucklehead!



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Leave a Reply 2 comments

Ross - February 5, 2023 Reply

I’m sorry but saying that a person to be encouraged to enjoy being insulted is extremely harmful advice that justifies verbal abuse. Some of us also experience mental illness like depression, anxiety, PTSD and more that makes verbal abuse extremely triggering. We should learn to lift each other up. Nothing justifies bringing down others and insulting them regardless of intention. If you can’t show love and affection without insults, you are immature, insensitive, and lack basic human decency. She should have been advised to get better friends, not change herself for others. Toxic advice.

    shirelle - February 27, 2023 Reply

    Thanks Ross – your points are excellent. I was thinking of people with specific sensitivities, but you’re right that others have overall sensitivity that would mean they don’t like ANY insults, even mildly joking ones. I hate the idea of having to drop friends, but you’re right that sometimes that’s the only way to take care of yourself.

    Really appreciate your thoughts, and your heart,

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