Suzette Hagen Elgin, in her book The Gentle Art of Verbal Self- Defense, reminds us that the old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” does not necessarily hold true. Words can hurt and when they do, they hurt terribly. Many of us have a working knowledge of forms of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual etc). How acquainted are we with verbal abuse? Could this be a form of abuse that we experience daily, be it on the receiving or giving end? Who do you call when you experience verbal violence?
According to Elgin, when someone has been verbally abused, they often find themselves struggling to find the root of the pain and aggression that they feel, directing their anger inward rather than toward their aggressor. Very few of us are trained in verbal self-defense.
There are four basic principles of verbal self-defense.
Know when you are under attack
How easy is it for us to exit a conversation feeling “silly”, “paranoid” or “childish”. If you find yourself assuming these labels for your feelings, you are at risk for being a victim of verbal abuse. Verbal abusers avoid those who are prepared to fight back. Potential victims need to be aware of the signs of abuse even when those signs are subtle or non-verbal.
Know what kind of attack you are facing
An understanding of our opponent’s strengths and skills (weapon) is of utmost importance. The usual and expected scowl or loudness of someone’s voice is not a reliable indicator of potential abuse. Looking for the obvious may be misleading.
Know how to make your defense fit the attack
When your opponent attacks, you must respond with equal intensity. Your response must be “exactly enough”.
Know how to follow through
The most difficult part of defending oneself verbally is usually in follow through. Once we have decided on our response, we must stand our ground and carry it out to the end.
Verbal Behavior Patterns
Nationally known family therapist, Virginia Satir, developed a system which describes five verbal behavior patterns in the form of personalities.
The Placater – is the person who is often referred to as “Good Old…..” Afraid of being left alone or abandoned by angry people, the placater acts out of fear. Common speech patterns of the placater are “oh, you know me – I don’t care” or “nothing bothers me! Do whatever you like”.
The Blamer- is often bossy and desires to be in charge; fuelled by the perception that no one cares respects or has affection for him or his feelings. Two blamers will most likely find themselves in screaming matches. Blamer can be heard saying, “you never consider my feelings” or “Why don’t you always insist on having your own way, no matter how much it hurts other people?”
The Computer – is a pro at masking feelings. Driven by the fear of being found out, the blamer would rather give the impression that he has no feelings. Computers may say “no rational person would be alarmed by this crisis.” Or “there is undoubtedly a simple solution to this problem”.
The Distracter – is a chameleon. Always in a panic, he must say something even when he knows not what to say. The distracter moves rapidly through other patterns, anxious for a fit.
The Leveler – is either the easiest or the most difficult type to handle. The person reasons, or levels with you. When a leveler is genuine, he says what he feels. The leveler does not generally struggle with communicating.
Do you see yourself in any of these patterns? Do you see your attacker? Regardless of what you see or who you see, let us remember, not so much to focus on the process of defending ourselves but the outcome of our actions. Let us find that balance between turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:1) and asserting ourselves. As we strive to gain understanding of the behaviors and motives of those around, consider the one who created them, recognizing that He is allowing them to pass through various levels of spiritual and emotional growth. While coming to terms with the level at which we find ourselves, we must be prepared to relate and respond to others at their current level. James 1:19 puts it best.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Bio: Devie is a Marriage and Family Therapist Student who has a passion for healing and restoring broken and wounded relationships. She is a native of Kingston, Jamaica and she has a strong desire to guide and empower her clients to obtain their peak potential in both their personal and professional lives. Devie is committed to each client, which has proven to transform their lifestyle in many ways including spiritually & emotionally.
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