What Should You Do When Someone Treats You Badly?

If someone treats you badly, don't react in the same way. That achieves nothing. The best thing to do is to set boundaries and show them the consequences of their actions. This will heal the effects that their unjust and hurtful behavior may've had on you.
What Should You Do When Someone Treats You Badly?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

What should you do when someone treats you badly? React? Distance yourself and pretend as if nothing has happened? As a matter of fact, there are few experiences more complex and controversial than responding appropriately to a grievance. Often, you’re advised to tell yourself that the problem lies in the other person, not in you.

While this may be true, what about the way it makes you feel? How do you handle those feelings of injustice, desolation, anger, disappointment, or even fear?  In reality, it’s often not enough to let a negative experience pass by. That’s because it’s not good to neglect your emotions in the face of a threatening circumstance.

A sad man looks sitting in the living room on the balcony of his house
Knowing how to act, with respect and assertiveness, will always be useful.

Coping strategies for when someone treats you badly

As a human being, you’re programmed to react to any situation of threat or danger. This is due to the role of the cerebral amygdala in your brain. Emory University (USA), conducted research that highlighted this fact.

This region of your brain urges your body to issue three different responses in stressful situations. Therefore, when someone treats you badly, your natural response mechanism urges you to either flee, attack, or stay put (freeze response). These are instinctive responses, those that have marked human nature since time immemorial. However, today, you must use a broader and more intelligent type of response.

This implies that you shouldn’t choose to attack. Indeed, using the law of retaliation or responding violently to those who’ve treated you badly only makes the situation worse. In fact, revenge brings you few benefits and only intensifies your negatively valenced emotions like anger.

Therefore, what should you do? Here are some tips.

Don’t react immediately, pause to process what’s happened

Imagine that your boss has criticized both your work and your efforts, your partner has insulted you, or a friend has betrayed your trust. These are painful and threatening experiences that urge you to react automatically. However, to do so isn’t appropriate.

After a situation of contempt or negative treatment, you should try and calmly process what happened. That’ll help you analyze the situation carefully. Perhaps it’ll also make you realize that this particular action isn’t an isolated one and that there’ve been other previous signs of contempt toward you from the person who’s upset you.

Self-compassion: the pain is real and there’s no need to hide it

Self-compassion is a valuable strategy in difficult times. It allows you to connect with yourself with empathy and respect, without judging yourself.

What you feel after someone treats you badly is real and shouldn’t be suppressed or hidden. In fact, only when you accept each felt emotion will you be able to better handle the situation.

Plan your next steps

Don’t leave anything to chance. Whoever has treated you badly once, may well do it again. Therefore, you should prepare a plan to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Think calmly and reflectively about what you can do, taking into account the following:

  • Your goal is to make the other person aware of what they’ve done.
  • Their attitude mustn’t be repeated. If it is, make it clear to them what the consequences will be.
  • Explain how they made you feel and what effects their action has had on you.
  • Think about what kind of boundaries you’ll establish with them.

Use assertiveness

Assertiveness is the language of clarity, respect, and courage. When someone treats you badly, you mustn’t remain silent. Because it’s extremely likely that they’ll upset you again and, if you haven’t dealt with the first instance, the next time it’ll be more serious. You must be assertive in order to defend yourself in the way you deserve.

  • Speak calmly, confidently, and directly (you can rehearse beforehand).
  • Use the first person (I feel, I notice, I want, I need).
  • Apply the following formula: “If X situation repeats itself, it’ll make me feel upset and that’s not permissible. That’s why I need you to do (…). If you don’t, then I’ll (…)”.
colleagues talking about self-disclosure
In these kinds of situations, it’s advisable to attend to each other and seek positive connections.

Take care of yourself

When someone treats you badly, everything hurts. Your spirit, self-esteem, and even the perception you have of others lessens. It’s like an invisible wound. Furthermore, it takes a great deal of effort to act appropriately, being respectful, but clear, so that the situation doesn’t repeat itself.

After these kinds of experiences, you must exercise self-care. Spend time with the people you love, share what you’ve experienced, vent your feelings, and allow yourself time to achieve calmness and well-being. At the end of the day, life is full of complicated moments. However, the good ones usually outweigh the bad. You just have to look out for them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Aguilar. (2012). Comunicación Asertiva. Documento del Servicio de Salud Personal del Estado de Morelos.
  • Daniel Goleman (1995) Inteligencia emocional. DeBolsillo
  • Ressler KJ. Amygdala activity, fear, and anxiety: Modulation by stress. Biol Psychiatry. 2010;67(12):1117-1119. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.04.027
  • Kim JE, Dager SR, Lyoo IK. The role of the amygdala in the pathophysiology of panic disorder: Evidence from neuroimaging studies. Biol Mood Anxiety Disord. 2012;2:20. doi:10.1186/2045-5380-2-20

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.