Taking Attacks Less Personally


  • Gain clarity about the assumptions behind your responses to other people’s attacks
  • Get a more objective perspective on the factors that might be driving those attacks

Estimated time: 15–30 minutes

Think back to a time when someone verbally attacked you and you ended up feeling badly afterward. Tell your partner the attack (as best you can recall), and have them ask you three questions:

  1. What thoughts or feelings did you have about the other person?
  2. What did you assume the other person was thinking or feeling about you? (In other words, what mind-reads did you have?)
  3. What factors might have contributed to the attack that do not involve them thinking or feeling something negative about you? Consider:
  • The person’s style of communicating, and the types of communication they’re used to
  • Their past experiences in similar situations
  • What happened to them shortly before the attack, or earlier that day
  • The environment you were in at that moment
  • What they might have wanted or needed
  • Worries, fears, or concerns they might have had
  • Positive thoughts or feelings they might have had toward you or others
  • Anything else you can think of that might have influenced their state of mind or impulse to attack you

Ask your partner to help you brainstorm possibilities and take notes.

Once you’ve finished, talk together about anything you’ve learned from the exercise. When you considered possible contingencies in the other person’s life, rather than taking their attack just personally, did that change your thoughts or feelings about them or about the situation? Then switch roles and repeat.

Variation: Do this exercise on your own, writing your responses down on paper.


Attack: “I can’t believe you called in hospice for Mom! How could you give up on her like this?!” (from my brother)

My thoughts and feelings: I felt frustrated and angry, and thought, “He is in complete denial! How dare he accuse me of giving up on Mom?”

Mind-reads of him: He thinks I don’t love Mom as much as he does. He thinks I haven’t done enough to take care of her. He resents the fact that I’m her health care proxy.

Possible contributing factors behind my brother’s attack:

  • Shock and surprise (finding out about the hospice decision after it was already made)
  • Stress and fatigue (just having returned from a long business trip)
  • Love for Mom, and fear of losing her
  • Wanting to have someone to blame for how upset he feels
  • Not feeling ready to let Mom go
  • Wanting to be sure the doctors do all they can to restore her health, if possible

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