The Identity Gestalt of Living Beyond a Fragile Ego

A Meta-Stating
Pattern to Create
the Gestalt State

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Are you un-insultable?   Would you like to be?  Would that empower you to feel more comfortable to take the needed risks in following your passions?  If you’re going to do anything of any value in the world—someone will criticize you.  Probably, lots of people will pooh-pooh it, tear it down, say you’re crazy for considering it, wonder what’s gotten into you, what’s wrong with you, and why can’t you mind your place?  Insults—they seem to be everywhere if you have eyes for them, if you have a frame that sorts for them.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  You have never stumbled over a hunk of “insult” and wiped your brawl in relief that it didn’t hit you.  “Insults” are not see-hear-feel things at all.  In the world outside of your mind (and the Matrix of your Frames), there are only words, comments, tones, and volumes.  “Insults” are things of the mind.  So, what if you just didn’t take insult?  And what if you had the frames that allowed you to be un-insultable?

Un-insultability doesn’t mean you don’t care about people or what they say or do.  It doesn’t mean you have become so hardened or apathetic that you have a “so what?” attitude.  It rather refers to being so grounded in your own self, in your values and visions about life, and so clear about what you are doing that when someone does attempt to “insult” you, you just don’t “go there” and waste your mental and emotional energy wallowing in bad feelings.  You get on with things.  You inquire innocently and naively, or curiously and with self-dignity about the words or tones given.  It’s really a very altered state and one not frequently visited by humans—but definitely a human possibility for those who want it.

In presenting, training, and coaching the un-insult-able state over the years, we have found that it empowers people to respond to "criticism" effectively and positively, to handle tense and stressful communication interchanges, to work through conflicts over differences and mistunderstandings, to confront without being obnoxious, and to deal with people in bad moods with much more grace and resourcefulness. 

If you can Give It, You should be able to Take It

Now since everybody seems very skilled at dishing out criticism, you would think that most people would also have the ability to take it well and use it for their learning and growth.  Right?  Well, not quite.  Actually a strange thing happens when it comes to criticism or conflict, namely, most people seem to be very sensitive about criticism.  Few people seem to know how to make good use of criticism.  Most respond to criticism with bad feelings and never even consider the possibility of responding to criticism with good feelings or of putting the best twist on criticism.  Most take insult all too easily.  How do you typically respond to criticism?

The Need for Un-Insultability:

We need the state of being un-insultable in order to take risks, engage people, and to receive feedback information about what doesn’t work, errors, and mistakes if we want to improve and not become sabotaged by fear.  This raises some pretty personal questions:

How easily can you move into a meta-state about that criticism so that you see and feel it as just information and feedback?

How easy can you respond from a state where you take criticism or conflict without displeasure, dismay, discouragement, depression, but with contentment, delight, appreciation, and understanding?

The power of un-insult-ability lies in how it eliminates the emotional black-hole of criticism.  When we access this state and operate from it, we are empowered to positively work through communications exchanges in a constructive and transformative way.   This state further allows us to hear out complaints, even harsh and cruel criticism, without getting defensive.  And when we don't get defensive, when we don’t get hooked into it, we can maintain our dignity, explore the situation, and come up with creative solutions.  So, given that, how much un-insultability would you like?

Elicit your Insultablity Strategy — Your Skill in Taking Insult

First let’s elicit your strategy for how you take insult.  You can do that, can’t you?  Take insult, that is?  Can you even take it when it’s not even being offered?  This is no trivial task, you know.  You have to prepare yourself with expectations and numerous belief frames so that you can be “wired up” (anchored) to “get your buttons pushed” and then quickly respond with defensiveness, hurt feelings, and feeling insulted.  Use these questions to elicit your strategy:

How do you think-and-feel about criticism? 
How do you think-and-feel about negative information? 
How easy do you take offense? 
What do you think-and-feel about the person of the critic? 
Do you inevitably feel a sense of displeasure?

1) Identify a referent experience:

Have you ever took insult from someone?  How did you do that?
What enabled you to do that?
Where did you send your brain?  What movie did you create in your mind?
What was the internal sound track like?  How loud was it?

2) What internal conversation did you have with yourself about the criticism?

If you used any of the following, check them.

__ "This is insulting!" 
__ "I don't want to hear this." 
__ "I don't want them to say these things." 
__ "These words mean I am inadequate." 
__ "They don't have any right to talk this way to me!" 
__ "This feels like an attack of my self-esteem!" 
__ "If they are right, that means I'm going to have to invest time & trouble changing."

3) Check for the following features:

Since there’s a structure to every experience, find out the frame structure of “taking insult” by focusing on the following variables.

Caring about what the other thinks: Do you want or do you need approval?
Lack or weakness of personal boundaries.  How strong are your boundaries?
Lack of a strong sense of “self,” confidence to handle things.
Lack of a strong sense of values and visions.
Map/Territory confusion: Do you consider or feel that words or tones are real?

Design Engineer a Meta-State Structure of Un-Insult-Ablity:

With that preparation you now should be aware of the key variables that play a role in “taking insult” and can use them to build up a meta-state of un-insultability.  In doing so, use the basic meta-stating process of accessing the resource, amplifying it so that it is strong enough, applying it to the primary state of receiving some communication and behavior.

1) Boundaries:

What are your sense of “boundaries” like when you are criticized?
How strong do you feel within those boundaries?
Are those boundaries like walls, glass, an energy field?
How present are you to the other person or persons?
How much energy and strength do you feel within your boundaries?

2) Sense of Self:

Do you have a strong and unconditional sense of your core self?
Are you fully inside your Power Zone (response-ability) and take complete ownership of those powers?
Do you have a robust sense of self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-awe or esteem?
How strong is your sense of self-confidence in your skills and abilities?

3) Beliefs about external things:

What can you believe about words and actions “out there” in order to keep them “out there?”
What do you believe about other people?
What do you believe about those closest to you who seem to know how to push your buttons?

4) Frames of Meaning about Insult, put-downs, reputation, honor, etc.

What supporting beliefs, meanings, etc. would enable you to reframe “insult?”

The Primary State is a “Critique”

As you build up the meta-state of un-insultability, remember that we are working with the primary state of receiving some information, communications, or behaviors that we either don’t want, find unpleasant, or reflect another person’s unresourceful state.  Remember also that most of us criticize due to a positive intention.  What is that?  We are trying to make things better, that’s why we criticize.   The sequence goes like this: We feel bad, we evaluate something as not meeting our expectation, standard, or desire, and so we offer one of our brilliant critiques!

Let’s now shift gears.  Think about a time when you listened to criticism without feeling bad.  Think about a time when you heard critique about yourself that you actually appreciated, evaluated it as useful feedback, and used it to alter your behavior for the better.   If you can’t recall a time, then use your wild imagination to imagine what that would be like.  

After you have fully stepped into that state, then consider what would have to be true for you in order for you to pull that off. 

What do you say to yourself in response to a criticism? 
How does that contrast with what you found for “taking criticism?”

Menu List for Picking Resources for Un-Insultability

Each of the following offers possible resources that you might want to pick in putting together your personalized formula for creating un-insultability. 

1) Get centered to separate yourself from the incoming information.

Step aside from the content so that you can think about both the information and your thoughts about it.  Get "psychological distance" from it.  Don't get caught-up in the content of the criticism.

Make your representations of the criticism as an internal Movie that you observe at a great distance.  Listen to the criticism as if you were two blocks away or two miles away.  Imagine the person behind a wall of Plexiglas so that you feel safe.  Now turn your pictures into a black-and-white snapshot and see you in your internal pictures and someone criticizing you.

Be sure to highly esteem yourself as valuable human being no matter what— unconditionally, and to fully own your innate dignity.  Refuse to allow criticism to question your value, worth, dignity, visions, principles, etc.   Refuse to let it de-motivate, break your spirit, or hold you back from living fully.  Do not put your self-esteem on the line. Access the meta-state of unconditionally self-esteeming.  Consider your esteem, value, and dignity as a given.

2) Access a non-personalizing state.

If you fear information you must give words and ideas lots of unresourceful symbolic meanings.  Somehow you are doing what a five-year-old days, you are personalizing and making it about you.  Practice hearing the words and seeing the gestures without personalizing as you see that it is about the person speaking.  It comes from his or her mouth, not yours.

3) Fully own your Power Zone.

Step into a robust sense of your basic powers and draw the "responsibility to/for" line that allows you to distinguish what you are responsible for, namely what comes out of your power zone, and what you might be responsible to, namely those relationships that you have promised to talk or act in a certain way.

As you create some useful boundaries and center yourself in your values, principles, relationships, and visions so that you feel and know your own self-integrity, then say,

"What anyone says to me is not mine!  I do not have to immediately believe it!  I can just perceive it."

4) Set Reason Frames to outframe the criticism.

Set reason frames for taking the criticism.  In order to feel insulted, you have to take insult.  So give yourself compelling reasons to stop that.  I like these:

"When a fool is annoyed, he quickly lets it be known.  Smart people will ignore an insult." (Proverbs 12:16)
"A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me." (Frederick Douglas)

5) Access Appreciation to Thank Your Critic.

When we really believe that "There is no Criticism, only information," we can then actually thank our critic, even when he or she unexpectedly blasts us or interrupts us.  Appreciation grows and develops as we look for the positives in the experience.  So listen with a quiet and receptive mind.  Then thank critic for his concern and straightforwardness.

"I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.  It offers me feedback that could possible benefit me."

6) Outframe the criticism as mere Information.

If the critic speaks in vague statements, then first gather more information.  Gather information in a matter-of-fact, curious and non-emotional way.  Then you can evaluate the criticism for its usefulness.

"Would you tell me more?  Just how do you think I exist as a turkey, or why I am clumsy.  How specifically do I remind you of a turkey?"
“Well it’s true that sometimes I act like a SOB, in what way specifically do you think I’m behaving that way right now?”

7) As you discern the Responsibility TO and FOR Line, cut it in your speech for the other.

The responsibility to/for line provides a method for stepping out of the primary state and owning our Power Zone or Bubble.  Someone screams at you, access the frame of mind that allows you to feel this fully:

"Whatever comes at me does not belong to me.  I did not produce it.  It belongs to another."

Then, with that non-personalizing thinking you can resourcefully respond:

"Apparently you have some very strong and negative emotions you want to express.  I want to hear what you have to say.  But given your volume, I can only heard bits and pieces of it, would you repeat what you just said in a calmer way?  I promise to listen carefully."    Un-insultable!

8) Humanize the Critic: 

If someone screams obscenities or acts in a stupid and obnoxious way, it is very easy to default to dehumanizing them and letting them have it!   Don’t do that.  It will not make matters better, although it will give you an immediate satisfaction of hurting the person back.  Instead continue defusing and do so by defusing yourself first.  Shift to think about your critic with a humanizing perspective, that will empower you to listen empathically:

"Interesting words.  His words, of course, not mine.  He has the right to say such. He must really feel insecure & grumpy to talk this way."  Un-insultable! 

"I really want to hear what you've got to say.  It sounds like you feel very angry at me, & I will hear out your anger.  But when you cuss at me like this, I have a hard time hearing you.  If I promise to listen to you would you promise to stop the obscenities?"  Un-insultable!

Distinguish your critic’s behavior from his or her person. Refuse to confuse the critic's behavior with his/her person.  Person differs from behavior.  These are two different things.  Your critic is not the as his or her behavior.  Esteem the person of your critic and refuse to let the hurtful words run your negative emotions.  Assume the person’s good will and positive intentions and explore for them.  Often you will help them create them in the process.  Hear your critic out, do not read his/her mind or motives, invite their disclosure of their intentions. 

"This seems pretty important to you.  How does it hold so much meaning to you?"  "What do you hope to achieve by this criticism that you consider of a positive benefit?"

9) Use your best defusing states and skills as you respond.

If you are trying to have a conversation with a hotheaded stressed-out cranky person, then take a moment to think strategically.  This will help you realize that this is not the time for talking, but for defusing. 

Then shift gears and set your aim to defuse the person and to create an atmosphere of safety for that person to share his or her angers, fears, confusions, etc.  This will enable you to mentally sort out the responsibility to/for and to empower you to stay emotionally and verbally clear and centered.

10) Stubbornly Refuse to Counter-Attack.

In defusing ourselves, we have to set ourselves to stubbornly refuse to respond in kind—in a defensive way that counter-attacks.  That will only escalate things.  Instead, simply explore curiously to find out what’s going on.

"It sounds like you have some things about which you really want to set me straight. Does that represent your position?  Do you feel that this comprises your best choice to accomplish this?  What do you hope to accomplish by this?  How do you expect me to respond to you as you so express yourself? I want to hear you out, would you express yourself so that I could feel you offer this within a context of care and respect?"

11) Hold a critic responsible:

"If I do this wrong, what do you suggest I ought to do?  Will you help me to do it right?"

12) Optimistic Explanatory Style. 

We will inevitably wonder and question regarding why we have critics who criticize.  What does this mean?  Why is this happening to me?  What are the motives, intentions, or agenda of the other?  What motives and agenda do I typically ascribe to such people?

This describes what we call our “explanatory style.”   So, as you evaluate your explanatory style,

Is it positive or negative? 
Does it respect the critic's dignity or do you immediately become disrespectful? 
Is your style productive or unproductive for you in the long-run? 
Do you evoke a humanizing perspective or a demonizing one? 
What effect does your explanatory style then have upon you in terms of what state it induces in you?

13) Distinguish Language and Meaning:  

How do you "code" criticism in your mind?  Examine this. 
Remember: when people criticize, they merely say words that I dislike and do not prefer.  Evaluate thins: which puts me into a better state? 

To construe a person's critical words as "negative, hurtful, unfair, stupid, criticism" or to frame it as "feedback" about their thinking?  Don't over-evaluate and over-load the other person’s words with too many negative meanings.

14) Recognize as Feedback:

Word are just words, and not the territory.  Map differs from territory!  Criticism only exists as words, symbols of another’s discernment, evaluation, critique.  Nothing more.  Words only functions as feedback about that person, their world, symbolic meanings, state, thinking, limitations, etc.  When framed as feedback, we can listen more attentively.

15) Accept Graciously:

Can you take true and useful "reproof" in a good spirit if you have done something wrong and need to be reproved?  Here are some old proverbs that speak to this kind of inner wisdom:

"A wise man listens to advice" (Prov. 12:15)

"A scoffer will not listen to rebuke" (Prov. 13:1)

"A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool" (Prov. 17:10)

"Whoever loves disciplines loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid" (Prov. 12:1)

16) Simply say “No!” to criticism that does not fit. 

If someone offers a criticism you think inappropriate, matter-of-factly say,

 "Thanks, but it does not fit at this time." 

Then listen to criticism and explore it without buying it wholesale.  Evaluate it: true or false, accurate or erroneous, useful or irrelevant.

Gestalt the Higher State of being Un-Insultable for Yourself

Now, with all of that in mind, you are ready to create your meta-state or gestalt state of un-insultabilty.  Here is the process.

1) Identify a primary state wherein you can imagine that you might be insulted, criticized, put-down, etc. in a training situation.

This will be our primary Reference Event—to which we will meta-state with resources.
Identify and set aside.
Can you imagine any situation, inside or outside of the training room, where you might receive criticism or insult?
When?  Where?  Under what conditions?

2) Access a strong sense of yourself, “Me!”

What do you believe, think, value, want, etc. as a person?  As a trainer?

Step into a strong sense of your own Power Zone: with your powers of thinking, emoting, speaking, and behaving.

And as you fully own those powers  ... and access a sense of “Mine!” and apply it— how does that transform things for you?
Have you yet anchored your sense of self to your sense of space or territory?

Let’s do that ...  gesture out a circle of excellence that’s yours.  Set up boundaries and borders that distinguishes “Me!” from everything that is “Not Me.”         

How’s that?  Do you like that?

3) Use your Space of Self as your Beginning place.

Now I want you to welcome in the reference event of being criticized ... that’s right ... and notice how you experience that when you operate from a strong sense of being safe in yourself ... does that give you enough  of a sense of power and safety to be able to hear clearly and respond calmly?

4) Identify Additional Resources.

What else do you need?
What other resource would you like to temper and texture this state with?

Access each one, Amplify the resource until it is appropriately intense,then apply to your Circle of Self state.

5) Future Pace and Solidify.

As you keep designing and re-designing this state, keep stepping into it, experiencing it ... then stepping out to adjust it ... when you have it so that it is just right for you, just the way you want it, then step in to fully own and experience the kinesthetics of it, and imagine taking it with you into your future trainings...


The state of mind-body-emotion that we call “un-insultability” is a complex state, layered with multiple layers of resourceful belief frames, understanding frames, and decision frames.  This pattern comes from the book Meta-States and from Dragon Slaying and is now used in several Neuro-Semantic Trainings— Trainers Training and Living Genius.

2003 L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. All rights reserved.