When a Comment Hurts More Than it Should


A few weeks ago, I met a friend at a local cafe. While I was in the middle of paying for my coffee and scone, the woman behind me in line tapped me on the shoulder. She told me that she liked my dress but that I would look so much better if I stood up straight and pulled my shoulders back.

While unnecessary, her comment wasn’t untrue. It was hurtful and discouraging for a number of reasons, but maybe what bothered me most was how much it bothered me. It isn’t my goal to not care what anyone else thinks , but I also don’t want to be derailed by every random piece of criticism that comes my way.

On paper, this comment is easy to dismiss. It came from someone I don’t know, who has no relevance to my life. Her words didn’t offer any new information as I’m already keenly aware of and actively addressing the issue.

So why was it so hard to let it go?

Comments can impact us more deeply if they touch on our insecurities.

I know I have problems with my posture. I have lived in this body for thirty-five years. I own a mirror. I have seen photos and videos of myself.

I don’t like the way my poor posture looks and I don’t like the way it feels. I worry about what it prompts people to think of me. Hearing someone criticize my posture reinforced the insecurities I already felt.

If she had instead told me I would look better if I wore makeup, I still would have thought her comment was inappropriate, but I don’t think it would have bothered me nearly as much. I do tend to think I look better with a little makeup. In particular, I like to highlight my eyes, which are one of my favorite features. Over the years, however, I’ve grown more and more comfortable with choosing whether or not to wear makeup based on my own preferences for the day rather than on my assumptions about the expectations of others.

Unlike makeup, my posture isn’t something I can easily change each day. It’s something I don’t like about myself. I am working to improve it, but that takes more than simply deciding.

Comments can disregard the work we have done and are doing.

I have been working hard to improve my posture. I do stretches and exercises. I lift weights. I’ve even worked with a physical therapist on a related issue.

And I’m seeing results from my efforts. I stand taller and feel stronger. I experience far less neck and back pain. I have fewer headaches. I’ve received encouragement from family members who have noticed a change in the way I carry myself.

I think part of the reason the woman’s comment stuck with me is that it shifted my focus from the progress I’m making to how far I still am from where I want to be. My brain translated her words to mean that it didn’t matter how far I’d come because I still wasn’t perfect.

The thing is, change takes time and effort. My mind and muscles and entire skeletal structure are used to holding me this way.

Similarly, we may get used to operating out of a particular mindset. We might fall into certain patterns of interacting or reacting. We may repeatedly turn to the things that help us cope instead of the things that equip us to thrive. It takes focus and practice and stretching and strengthening to make changes in our lives—no matter how badly we want them.

When we’re told to just be happy or just spend our money more wisely or just make time for self-care or just move on or just ask for what we want and need—it implies that these are easy shifts instead of some of the hardest work we’ll ever do. It minimizes and process and makes it seem like we should be able to effortlessly leap straight to the destination. And when that’s not what happens (because that’s not the way it works), we’re stuck wondering what’s wrong with us or trying to force ourselves to change faster than we can grow into the changes instead of persistently showing up again and again.

I’m not telling you all this so that you’ll judge the woman at the cafe or try to make me feel better (don’t worry, I already do). Although I am hard pressed to think of an instance when it’s appropriate to verbalize one’s judgments about another’s body, particularly the body of a stranger, I can give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she believed she was being helpful.

Rather, gaining some clarity on why I was bothered by so much by her comment helped me let it go and move my focus back to where I wanted it to be. That day I wanted to be focused on connecting with my friend and enjoying my treat instead of worrying about how I looked to the other patrons. In my posture journey, I want to focus on showing up consistently to work toward my goals and celebrating my progress along the way.

When we don’t understand why something bothers us, we can get stuck trying make ourselves believe it doesn’t. If we can see why something hurts more than it seems like it should, it can become easier to let ourselves feel what we feel and then get back on track.

I’d love to know…when have you been particularly bothered by a comment that seemed like it should be easy to dismiss? Why do you think that happens? What helps?