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Dear Doctor:

I am clumsy, overweight, and poor at sports. People tend to be scornful and contemptuous of me. What can I do about this?

Dear Bothered:

When my wife Rita was a child, she was overweight and poor at sports. She had at that time, and still has, the attitude, "Don't let anybody get away with anything." When a boy at school called her a name, she hid in the bushes after school and jumped out at him and bit him. He had to go to the hospital to get stitches.

She never takes criticism without a rejoinder, regardless of being in the right or being in the wrong.

She has a good sense of being inside her own skin.

Luckily for her, she was brought up in a wonderful family. Her father, particularly, adored her. If she had a problem with her school grades, he told her not to worry about it. His was unconditional love if ever there was. Coming from the family that she did, she was able to stand up to any scorn and contempt.

Most people are not so lucky. We are not as able as Rita to withstand scorn and contempt.

Unfortunately, all of us, the strong and the weak, live in a world where some people shame and blame other people regardless of sense. People use shaming and blaming to get people to conform in thousands of artificial ways as well as sensible ways, and a person can feel shame, whether or not it is sensible. A person can feel ashamed of his or her country accent just as easily as feeling ashamed of tripping an old lady, even though one is artificial and the other makes sense.

The most powerful social controls are scorn, ridicule, and contempt. Scorn, ridicule, and contempt seem to destroy people's defenses. The victims buy into the seeming superiority of the shamers and, instead of opposing them, become weak and confused. In such an instance, it is important for the victim (or the on-looker) of scorn, ridicule, and contempt to identify what is happening - someone is expressing scorn, ridicule, or contempt, and the scorner is not necessarily justified and certainly is not superior.

People who have been scorned can invoke their own compassion.

They can also make an effort to recognize their own complexity. They can deliberately avoid thinking of themselves as some name.

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