Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Respond to Malice:
Options when someone
 seeks to hurt you

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/malice.htm

Updated  04-11-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you get your  primary needs met well enough, and both people feel heard and respected enough.

      This article offers perspective on "malice," and options for responding well to it. The article assumes you're familiar with:

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • effective assertion and empathic listening skills.

  • options for resolving interpersonal boundary problems


      Try defining "malice" out loud, as tho to a pre-teen. A thesaurus lists these synonyms; ill will, grudge, spite, malevolence, nastiness, and unkindness. Have you ever met an adult or child with any of these attitudes and behaviors? Would anyone ever accuse you of displaying any of them?

      If you've ever met a malicious person, how did you feel? How did you react? Common responses include feeling intimidated, resentful, anxious, aggressive, angry, critical, righteous, disrespectful, and/or defensive. It's hard to feel neutral when someone wants you to suffer for some reason (like revenge).

      Significant and/or chronic anger, hostility, and ill-will is a sure sign the person has inherited psychologically wounds. It's also a sign s/he doesn't know how to assert needs and feelings effectively. Understanding this can help keep an attitude of respect and compassion vs. lose-lose antagonism or intimidation.

      Perhaps the easiest response to such a person is avoidance - at the cost of feeling anxious and furtive. Where avoidance or endurance aren't practical or acceptable, is there a "best way" to respond effectively to a malicious, spiteful person? Experiment with these...

Response Options

      This brief YouTube clip provides perspective on effective confrontations. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site - I've simplified that to seven.

      Begin by (a) having your true Self guide you, and (b) choosing an attitude of mutual respect toward the malicious person. Then (c) mentally review your rights as a worthy, dignified person.

  • Decide what you need - specifically - with this person: to vent, to apologize, to set or enforce a boundary, an admission ("Yes, I want you to suffer!"), a different attitude, a promise, willingness to problem-solve, and/or different behavior.

          As you decide, be aware - if a false self rules the malicious person, s/he may be unable to feel or behave differently. Requesting or demanding something beyond a person's capabilities will only increase antagonism and mutual resentment.

  • Mentally review the steps to making an effective assertion.

  • Decide if you're going to vent, request, or demand.

  • Compose a calm, direct, response that expresses your feeling or need clearly. That might sound like...

"(Name), can you tell me what's bothering you (about me)?" 

"My sense is that part of you wants to see me suffer. Is that right?"

"So you're / bitter / angry / resentful (at me) because ________." This is empathic listening, not agreeing).

"(Name), What do you need from me now?"

"When you speak / act / behave like that, I lose respect for you."

"When you seek to hurt me, I feel _______________ (and I need _____________)."

"I don't like the way you're treating me."

"When you need to be sarcastic / critical / demeaning, I can't hear you."

"(Name), are you willing to problem-solve with me?"

"I'm not going to respond to your false self any more."

"When you spread malicious rumors about me, I feel ________  (and I need ______________.)"

      Notice the theme of these responses: they clear, brief, direct, here-and-now, respectful, and factual (vs. emotional) statements. As with any assertive or confrontive communication, these are best delivered calmly, with steady eye contact. Expect the other person to "resist" you, and use empathic listening to acknowledge (vs. agree with or engage) them. Then calmly restate your assertive response.

      If there is a malicious child or adult in your life now, imagine using attitudes and responses like these with her/him. How do you think s/he would feel and react? Would you satisfy your primary needs?

      Avoid (false self) responses like these:

"Oh, grow up! You're acting like a six year old!"  (1-up, blaming, labeling)

"OK, OK - I'll do _____________________ (give in)."  (placating)

"(Name), You give 'obnoxious' a whole new meaning!" (sarcastic put-down)

"You think that bothers me? Dream on..."  (I'm 1-up - superior to you)

"With a mean attitude like that, how do you live with yourself?"  (sarcastic put-down)

"Did someone put lemon juice in your mother's milk?" (insult).

"OK (Name). If you want to fight dirty, so will I!"  (lose-lose challenge).

"You're totally wrong. I never said / did that!" (arguing / challenging / 1-up)

"Do you realize what a fool you look / act / sound like?" (1-up insult, name-calling)

      Disrespectful responses like these suggest a false self dominates you, and will probably amplify the malice!  Lose-lose!


      This is one of a series of brief examples of how to respond effectively to common annoying social behaviors. This article offers ways to respond effectively to a malicious person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude;

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and personal rights; and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening (Lesson 2).

       Also see these response-options to hostile and/or aggressive people.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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