Words That Diminish

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, and those soon to retire find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after retirement. Her public lecture on this subject is titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, available by clicking here Amazon.com, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class. Click here for her website: http://AdventuresWithDadTheBook.com

Now, on to my blog:


“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We learned that rhyme as children. We tried so hard to remember it when we ran home crying after someone called us a name. Words are powerful. They can enhance or diminish. Wars have been fought over words.

A friend, a retired pathologist and now a widow, recently lamented how demeaned she feels when someone refers to her as granny or honey. A few have done so even knowing she is a medical doctor, an amazing accomplishment especially considering she became one so many decades ago when very few women did.

Denigrating or childlike terms are often applied to elderly women, terms much less frequently used toward men. My friend mentioned that she is often targeted by high pressure salesmen whom she feels see her as an easy mark due to her age and being without a man to protect her. She had an assertive husband most of her adult life and now finds it difficult to stand up for herself.

Many women hide behind a husband or partner to deal with a hostile world. Even though some may consider themselves assertive, often they are better at it when they know they have a man to back them up. It’s like the child who dares to stand up to the neighborhood bully, but when it becomes too overwhelming, can run and hide behind mommy’s skirt.

Somehow, men seem better at setting boundaries than women. Why is that? Is it inherent or simply taught to us as young children? Why can’t the bulk of women and even a lot of men be assertive, stand up for themselves? What is the secret and how can we tap into it? I’ll venture a guess.

Stop being invisible, people! It’s time to get tough. Imagine how you would like to be treated by everyone with whom you come in contact, and then refuse to accept anything less. The term “dissed” has become popular in recent times. It means disrespected, and people kill over being dissed.

Your first clue that you’ve fallen into that vortex again is when that wonky feeling overtakes your body when someone speaks to you in a manner that minimizes you whether done subtly or overtly. Everything becomes surreal, and you have a vague sensation that it has something to do with what that person just said to you.

Halt everything you’re doing. Take a moment or two or ten to identify what is bothering you rather than waiting hours or even days to figure it out. If you must, ask the other person to be quiet while you think. Once you’ve identified it—he just called me (fill in the blank), and I don’t like that—you are ready to start. Don’t let it pass; let it energize you to action.

There are tools we can use at any age when we feel verbally discounted by another. Confrontation is one that yields rewarding results. If someone addresses you in a way you consider disparaging, call them out. Here are several suggested approaches using the irritating salesman as an example. Of course, it can be extrapolated to other scenarios.

Approach #1: Interrupt all interaction and transactions by saying “excuse me” repeatedly until your opponent stops talking. Then, pause, look him or her in the eye, and say something like:  “What was that you called me—(fill in the derogatory term he/she used.)?  I’d prefer that you address me as (fill in the blank) rather than (fill in the aforementioned derogatory term).” Continue the interaction if that suits you.

Approach #2: Do the same initial behavior as in Approach #1 and then say something like:  “I don’t like being referred to in disrespectful terms like (fill in the derogatory term he/she used), so I’m going to leave now.” Stay calm; do not get into a cat fight; go high as they go low (thanks Michelle Obama); and follow through. Walk out! You were born with feet. This is one of the best times to use them.

Approach #3: Do the same initial behavior as in Approach #1 and then request another salesman, server, bank teller, whatever. Your errant foe will apologize, posture, get angry, and use other types of behavior to convince you to change your mind. Don’t settle. When he/she pauses for a breath, repeat your request. Keep doing it at each pause, like the proverbial broken record. If that isn’t working, ask to see the manager. If nothing works, don’t say another word. Walk out! (Remember, you have feet. And, by the way, feet can be used in all sorts of situations without requiring the mouth to set the stage.)

If you’re not used to assertive approaches like these and have a more reserved demeanor, it will be hard at first. Keep practicing; it will become easier. You can still be true to your usual nature as none of these approaches has to be done in an angry, defiant, high pitched manner. Don’t sacrifice your dignity to gain your dignity. Retain your decorum, but be firm and insistent. If you must walk out, you may cost yourself some time and the product or service you came for. However, it will be worth it for the good feelings you’ll reap after taking charge of how you allow yourself to be treated. And, you will have done a good deed. You will have taught your adversary a lesson on how not to address older people. I bet he/she will never do that again.

Insist on being dealt with respectfully. That’s what the big boys do. 


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3 responses to “Words That Diminish

  1. Roger Trammell

    …good advice, LGG!

  2. thanks for addressing topic that’s important at any age – yeah! assertiveness.

    I know I’ve suffered from foot-in-mouth more times than I’d like to remember, hence I try to come from positive ‘you made a mistake’ place.

    ie clear mind of negativity & say, ‘Please call me…’

    couching, explaining the whys, etc, does worse than nothing – because it insinuates that its a negotiable issues

    wishing you & my fellow readers of your blog a wonderful 2017 🙂

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