Denigration Confusion

confused woman


I was sitting in a group of women the other day listening to them talk about themselves in the most disrespectful manner. One woman described herself as being “such a mess and so disorganized.” When asked if she actually believed what she said, this patient replied, “Well, in some areas of my house I have little piles of stuff, but in others everything is neat as a pin.” This woman reported that her mother came over to her house every day and told her that she was “a mess and so disorganized.” My patient added that she had started to question herself if she actually was “such a mess and so disorganized.”

Another woman said that she is not beautiful anymore. Group members were amazed that this particular woman thought of herself in this manner. When asked who told her that, she said, “my spouse.” The group members fed back to this patient that she is beautiful both inside and out (which was accurate and not patronizing) and that what she was telling herself was not true. My patient explained to her group that her wife had kept telling her how “ugly” she had become during their 5-year marriage because my patient had gained 10 pounds. This woman was questioning herself as to if her idea of “looking good” was somehow “off the mark.”

I could share example after example of what I have come to call “denigration confusion.” When people put us down or demean us, we often tend to adapt to the emotional abuse and start questioning our own reality. We become confused. At a core level we know the denigration is simply not accurate but, on the other hand, what if it is? We question our own vision of the world and compare it to the feedback we have received from a person who is talking to us from their own agenda. If the denigration goes on long enough, we take on the inaccurate feedback as truth.

As a result of denigration confusion, we can become defensive in our attempts to have the person who is denigrating us see us as we see ourselves. We can repeatedly explain why we are not disorganized or messy. We can indicate the parts of ourselves that we think are beautiful. We defend ourselves because what we are hearing is not OUR truth . . . but maybe the other person is right and we are not.

Examine the two “scripts” below that will assist the reader with extricating themselves from denigration confusion.

What Supports Denigration Confusion

Spouse: I’ve counted 3 piles of “stuff” on the kitchen table and you know how that irritates me. Honestly, you are so disorganized and such a mess!

Partner: I was just sorting out some bills. I’ll move this somewhere else and try to sort through it and get it organized. I’m sorry. The rest of the kitchen is clean. I wish you’d understand what with the kids and the limited space in our house sometimes it’s important to have these little piles because there’s nowhere else to put them. I wish you would understand this. And, you have piles too. I look in the bathroom every night and there are your dirty clothes piled up on the floor waiting for me to put them in the wash. I used to be really neat and organized. I don’t understand what happened.

In this interaction look how the person denigrating his/her partner is making up a story about how their partner IS at their CORE – messy and disorganized. The partner tries to explain and solve the “disorganization” accusation. The partner becomes confused because the rest of the room is neat. The partner defends him/herself and then brings in examples of how her spouse does the same thing.

What Doesn’t Support Denigration Confusion

Spouse: I’ve counted 3 piles of “stuff” on the kitchen table and you know how that irritates me. Honestly, you are so disorganized and such a mess!

Partner: (This really does work!) I know you think that. Right now, I have to take Fido for a walk. See you in a while.

Look at the detachment in this last example. It is amazing. Denigration is about power. It is about the other person’s need to elevate him/herself over another person so he/she will feel better about themselves. If I can denigrate YOU and unfairly blame you for something, then the focus is rarely on me and my imperfections.” When we detach from it by not defending, not engaging, and not interacting with the person who is making denigrating personal remarks, we take our power back!

Don’t let yourself become confused! If someone in your life is denigrating you by criticizing you unfairly, YOU do NOT need to defend yourself! Accept the criticism as the other person’s point of view and take your dog for a walk!


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