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Don’t let the dirt in!

In my psychotherapeutic praxis, many of my clients are expats and other internationals.

I am deeply concerned to see teens and young adults complaining about being bullied in school. Moreover, I am saddened to hear that some students are avoiding going to school altogether out of fear of their schoolmates and teachers.

I am surprised to hear from adults with different cultural backgrounds complaining about their difficulty adjusting to Austrian work culture or being victims of discrimination. It is infuriating to me that even adults are being mean to each other.


What bothers me is that most people take these malicious comments seriously. They believe the words they hear as if they are coming from a qualified, reputable person.

When I ask the question:

"If you could evaluate the maturity of the person bullying you on a scale from 0 to 10, what rating would you give that person?“ Most times the answer is on the lower part of the scale, around 1 to 3.

So I continue „How come you believe the words they are telling you?“

There is no answer, but I notice their surprised and even amused faces. Right, because you shouldn’t believe everything a peer, a teacher, a colleague, or a boss is telling you that is intended to hurt.

We have to learn to make a difference between feedback, and a hurtful comment. It is our responsibility to select the information we let in.


Try to envision this experiment:

Imagine an empty glass and clean water pouring into it. It’s water you can drink, that will even make you feel good after that, refreshed and nourished.

Whenever people with good intentions tell us something, we can let their words in. It is safe to drink the water from the glass.

Unfortunately, it happens sometimes that we have to deal with people who are frustrated, angry, envious, mean, and critical and who are making inappropriate, unfair remarks about us.

Now look at the same glass of water, but this time, you pour water with dirt inside. Would you still drink it? Just imagine gripping the glass filled with dirt and bringing it to your mouth. Wouldn’t you be appalled?

So now I am asking:

Isn’t this exactly what we do when we take personally the mean commentaries others are giving to us? Aren’t we just swallowing the dirty water as if it were clean?

Have you ever thought of using a filter that can keep the dirt out of the water somebody pours into your glass?


When working with people who are being bullied, we try to identify the areas they can control and the areas where they lack control. While they cannot control that someone puts dirt in their water, they can add a filter to their glass.

They can separate the dirt from the clean water.

We have more power over what we can „filter“ than we believe. We can learn in time to differentiate positive from hostile messages and once we do that, we have a chance to react differently, to becoming more resilient.

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