The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense
How to recognize and properly handle verbal abuse
- Know when you’re under attack
- Know the type of attack
- Know the right defense
- Follow through with defense
Common Speaking Patterns (Satir Modes)
- Placater - afraid of angering others
- Blamer - Thinks others are indifferent to them, and tries to assert dominance/express anger
- Computer - Afraid of revealing feelings, talks robotically (only say “I” with heavy qualifiers). In uncertain times, this is the safest mode.
- Distracter - Rapid cycling of different patterns
- Leveler - Just levels with someone. Easy if genuine, very bad if fake. Good if an honest statement, invites more leveled answers
Recognizing verbal violence = Seeing the presuppositions, or hidden/implied meaning in a statement.
Basic defense strategy
- ID their Satir mode
- ID the presuppositions (PSP)
- Go into Computer mode
- Ask/remark about the PSPs
- Keep Computer mode
- When responding to a PSP, do so by asking about the general idea around it (computer more), or a “when the person felt this way” (later on). Don’t admit to it or make it personal.
Overview of Common Attacks
“If you really X, you wouldn’t Y”
- PSPs -> You don’t X
- Y is the bait, X is the PSP. Only respond to X!
- Responding to Y means you swallow the PSP in X, and the damage is done.
- Address the general idea expressed in X in Computer mode, or ask for specific of when attacker felt this way
- Attack: “If you really loved me, you would take out the trash more!”
- Response 1: “Isn’t it an interesting idea how couples think they need to express affection through things like chores and houswork?”
- Response 2: “When did you start feeling I didn’t love you?” (Leveller, also not it only addresses X, not Y)
- Attacker is Blamer Mode
“If you really X, you wouldn’t want to Y”
- PSPs -> You don’t X, and you can’t control your feelings
- Only address the first PSP in X
- The 2nd PSP is that we can somehow control our own feelings, which is ALWAYS FALSE. Do not acknowledge it or try to prove it false to them, rarely works.
- Good defense: Ask when did the person start thinking X. Stay in Computer mode or Leveler Mode (slightly riskier).
- Other bait is to blame others for this, don’t take it.
- Attacker is Blamer Mode
“Do you even care about X?”
- PSPs -> You don’t care about X, you should care about X, and you should feel bad
- Crude response to first PSP is No, why?
- Only one work per person
- Makes the attack turn more into instruction
- Don’t use it with people who have authority over you (boss, doctor, etc)
- General response of “When did you start to think X” also works here
- Another comeback: Directly say you do care, shows you won’t play their game.
- Prepare an alternate rational reason for any possible retaliations later?
- Say you’re surprised the other people would make such a stereotypical judgment (frame as a compliment).
- Low Blow version- Do you even care about starving kids somewhere?
- DON’T argue over the specifics of how much you care
- Talk about specific data, places, studies, or even something made up. Computer mode about the issue, not feelings.
- E.g. “Are you talking about the recent report on global poverty from X publication or Y university?”
- Attacker is Blamer Mode
“Even an X should be able to Y”
- PSPs -> Something is wrong with being an X, Y is common knowledge that you don’t have but X does, and you should feel bad
- Y is the bait again, do not respond to it. Only respond to X
- Safe counter: Surprised that such a bad PSP about X’s would come from a normally good person
- E.g. “That opinion about X is a rather common/interesting/typical one but I’m surprised to hear it from you”
- Aggressive counter: “Typical idea from an X in your situation”
- Be very wary of this, is going beyond self-defense and invites more retaliation
“Everyone knows why (you) X”
- PSPs -> Something is wrong with you, this “wrong” is well-known, it’s so wrong but everyone will forgive you, be grateful to use and ashamed of yourself
- Big trap: Confess to the secret, gives attacker ammunition for later. This attack prays on the fact most people have at least one dirty secret and the victim will fill in the gap.
- “Everyone” can be made more specific based on the context
- Safe counter: “How kind of them, I’m very touched”
- Must sound sincere! But can lay it on thicker if needed
- If the attacker tries to be more specific and change the attack later, claim it was a “misunderstanding” and keep control of the conversation
- Sounds like Leveler, is attacker is really Computer/Blamer
“A person who really X wouldn’t Y”
- PSPs -> You don’t X, others do
- Attacker is Computer Mode. Don’t take the bait and take it personally with your response!
- Attacks can very slightly with accusation around “wouldn’t.”
- E.g. “Someone who loved me would exercise more,” “Someone who loved me wouldn’t eat so much junk food,” etc
- Beginner counter: “That seems perfectly reasonable,” computer against computer will negate each other.
- Puts attention away from self and onto an abstract “other”
- Follow whatever their reasoning is without making it personal
- Don’t change any previous set stances of yours, as this would acknowledge you took it personally
“Why don’t you ever X?”
- Can also be phrased as “Why do you always X?”
- PSPs -> You don’t want X, and choose not to even though you can
- Do not make it personal and show hurt feelings, or try giving contradictory examples! Will lead to a long, heavy fight with these examples being dismissed and such.
- Safe counter: Quickly give an absurd suggestion that goes counter to X, will prove it wrong instantly.
- E.g. If the attack is “Why don’t you ever spend time with me,” counter by offering both of you can quit your jobs and move to Hawaii.
- Needs to be so absurd you know they’ll turn it down
- Most be played straight, not a mocking delivery
- Same counter for close and new acquaintances.
- Attacker is Blamer Mode. Often an attack by those close to you, hit very sensitive spots. Harder to stay in Computer mode, but must still do so.
- If this attack happens frequently, is a sign of a larger problem with that person or your relationship with them.
“Some X’s would Y if/when Z”
- PSPs -> It’s wrong that you’re Z, despite you being/doing Z I’m not going to Y in response since I’m better than other X’s, be ashamed of yourself and grateful to me.
- Is a tough attack due to all the PSPs, can be tougher to identify.
- E.g. “Some teachers would be mad at students being late to class”
- You’re late
- I’m a better type of teacher
- Because I’m a better teacher, I’ll let you be late
- You should feel guilty for being late
- You should feel thankful I’m a good teacher
- Attacker is Computer Mode. Be sure to respond in Computer mode as well!
- Z is the bait. Never respond to Z!
- Safe counters are seemingly vague Computer responses, but are neutral + impersonal and as phony + pretentious as the attack itself
- “Really? I’d love to hear your opinion on the matter”
- “That’s been said a good deal and is undoubtedly an interesting idea”
- Ideal flow is the attacker then drops Computer mode and shows their true intentions. You can then level with them
- Attacker response: “I wonder if your X is aware of your position on this matter”
- X is the attacker’s superior or something they’re accountable to
- Is a threat, so be very careful when using it as it could invite more retaliation