Welcome to the brain-damaged club. Don't feel bad, everyone you know is a member. Of course by this statement I do not intend to demean those who suffer from TBI [traumatic brain injury] for which compassion and hope for new innovations in treatment are prayed for.
I am referring to all of us. We have all suffered from some sort of emotional traumas at some time in our lives. In retrospect they might even seem laughably small and quite irrelevant. Yet to a child even a taunt from another kid, pointing out some physical flaw, for example, can etch itself into our brain and produce lifelong damage. Likewise the statement of a teacher or adult made hastily can induce a lifetime of subliminal insecurity. The rejection of a sought-after lover can wreck havoc with our self-esteem for years.
What is fascinating is that we might even assume that we have long ago "healed" from such affronts, only to find that some contemporary insult or negative comment taps into these childhood injuries with a fury.
Defensive behavior in adults often reflects the damaged child who is determined not to be emotionally injured again without a robust response. This may explain how reactivity often appears excessive compared to the present day insult. To the brain damaged long ago, no insult can be ignored.
The good news is that these "acquired" brain injuries can be healed.
We can seek repair through the modalities discussed previously–psychotherapy, meditation, neurofeedback, cognitive therapy or perhaps just our own awareness of why we feel and react the way that we do.
And this awareness can do something else. It make us more compassionate towards those who seem to deserve it least–the adults who sling insults or make snide remarks. They are the most seriously damaged of all, and the least aware that they are so.
Perhaps the best response to someone like that is to confront the remark with an statement acknowledging their damage. Of course that might just set them off even more. But it might get them to think about their need for introspection and self-healing. And, even more, they can be encouraged to drive slowly while they attempt to do so.