Then there are much more obviously physical insults such as punching, slapping, or spitting.
All of the above involve actively doing something and therefore count as insults of commission. But insults of omission are equally if not more common. Examples of insults of omission are not inviting or including someone, not deferring to his rank, not laughing at his jokes, or studiously avoiding making eye contact with him.
1. Anger. This is the weakest possible response, and this for three main reasons. First, it shows that we take the insult, and therefore the insulter, seriously. Second, it suggests that there is truth in the insult. And third, it destabilizes us and causes us pain.
2. Acceptance. This may seem like a very weak response, but in many cases it is actually the strongest response of all. When someone insults us, we ought to consider three things: whether the insult is true, who it came from, and why. If the insult is true, the person it came from is reasonable, and his motive is worthy, then the insult is not an insult but a statement of fact and, moreover, a potentially very helpful one to us. Thus it is usually the case that we do not or ought not take offence at our teacher, parent, or best friend.
In general, if I respect the person who insulted me, I ought to give thought to the insult and learn as much as I can from it. On the other hand, if I think that the person who insulted me is not worthy of my consideration, I have no reason to take offence at him, just as I have no reason to take offence at a crying child or barking dog.
Notice that, whatever the case, I have no reason to take offence. I could stop this article here, but I shall go on just in case we might want to have some fun.
3. Returning the insult. There are several problems with the put-down, even if it is very clever. First of all, it does have to be clever, and, second of all, it has to occur to us at just the right time. But even if we are as sharp and witty as Oscar Wilde, a clever put-down is unlikely to constitute our best defence. You see, the problem with the clever put-down is that, however clever it is, it tends to equalize us with our insulter, raising him up to our level and bringing us down to his. This gives him, and therefore his insult, far too much credibility. In fact, the clever put-down should only be used amongst friends, and only to add to the general merriment. And it should end with something like a toast or a rub on the shoulder. In short, it should only be used for the purpose of humor.
4. Humor. Humor is an especially effective response for three reasons: it diminishes the insulter, it brings the audience (if any) on side, and it diffuses the tension of the situation. Here is an example of the effective use of humor. Cato the Younger, the Roman statesman and stoic philosopher, was pleading a case when his adversary Lentulus spat in his face. After wiping off the spittle, Cato said, “I will swear to anyone, Lentulus, that people are wrong to say that you cannot use your mouth.”
Sometimes, it might even be appropriate to exaggerate or add to the insult so as to make a mockery of the insulter and, by extension, of the insult.
5. Ignoring the insult. One downside of humor is that it has to come to us at just the right moment. In contrast, ignoring the insult is both easier and more powerful. One day, a boor struck Cato whilst he was out at the public baths. When the boor realized that he had struck Cato, he came to offer his apology. Instead of getting angry or accepting the apology, Cato replied, “I don’t remember being struck.”
Subtext of his reply: “You are so insignificant that I don’t even care to register your apology, let alone to take offence at your insult.”
6. Punishing the insulter. If the insulter has set an unacceptable precedent, or if he persists in his bad behaviour, we should consider whether we can and ought to punish him. As with a child or a dog, the aim of the punishment is not to get even but to prevent future bad behaviour, both on the part of the insulter and on the part of others who might otherwise think that such behaviour has become acceptable. It is, in effect, a form of behavioural therapy, and similar principles apply. For example, if at all possible, the punishment ought to be proportional and directly attached to the bad behaviour, and ought be carried out in public or with public knowledge.
In conclusion, we need never take offence at an insult. Offence exists not in the insult but in our reaction to it, and our reactions are completely within our control. It is unreasonable to expect a boor to be anything but a boor; if we take his bad behaviour to heart, we have only ourselves to blame.
Source: Psychology Today.com