Verbal Self Defense May Save You From Violence

Verbal self defense against hostile words & actions requires more self-control than yelling & screaming at your attacker. Learn to properly defend yourself.Verbal abuse underlies most domestic violence, so verbal self defense can help you when your abuser flies off the handle. Hostile language is dangerous to our health not only because of its destructive nature but because it so often abusive anger escalates into physical violence. Learning the Art of Verbal Self Defense is learning how to create a system (in any environment) where you can diffuse hostile language as well as give the victim or yourself an opportunity to get to a safer environment.

This is not to say that this is a panacea for violent, unsafe situations! But it is an opportunity to develop a skill for self-protection during a verbal attack. The more tools we can put into our “Life-skill” tool box the stronger we become! When you are in a verbal conflict that cannot truly be avoided, these strategies may help you handle the situation efficiently, effectively and safely. Unlike physical violence (that hurts the body) verbal attacks hurt our psyche and spirit; we must learn to avoid them.

Three Steps for Verbal Self Defense

1. Understand the truth of what is really going on.
When we are verbally attacked it is common to respond in a defensive, scared and intimidated way, especially if we do not understand what is going on. The key to understanding what’s happening in the moment is to stay detached and rational. In a split second it is possible to decide “is this about me or something else?” That’s the detachment piece. The rational piece kicks in when we realize this is “not about me” but rather the attacker’s personal issues.

Chronic verbal abusers behave the way they do for a couple of reasons:

  • out of pure ignorance and/or low self-esteem, or
  • due to their need to manipulate and control a person or situation.

Verbal abusers expect negative, loud responses to their attacks. They are not ready to deal with someone who can use verbal self defense adeptly.

2. Listen instead of leaping to conclusions for good verbal self defense reaction.
In learning to listen and understand what another person is saying, you must find the truth to what the person said or insinuated. Listen with your full attention, with the understanding that you may not agree but in attempt to find out if there is any truth to the statements. This is not easy to do because when most of us receive a verbal attack, we immediately react negatively and shut down. We believe there is no truth to what our attacker said and try to discredit the information without hearing all the information (leaping to conclusions).

Once we are in that place, all our active listening STOPS! What usually follows is an argument or a fight…or both!

3. Know how to respond.
We typically respond to a verbal attack in one of these three ways:

  • Attack back (How dare you say that to me!),
  • Plead (I can’t believe you’re going to start that again when you know I am getting ready for work) and
  • Debating (There are at least 3 reasons why what you are saying doesn’t make sense).

The problem with these three responses is that they all reward the verbal attacker by providing them with either an immediate response and your attention. Throw emotional intensity into the mix and you have a recipe for a full-blown argument. This response only encourages the attacker to repeat this behavior.

Your response needs to show your attacker that you are not their victim. Running away and ignoring the attack won’t work. Try using a monotone almost computer tone of evenness, avoiding anything personal and speaking in a hypothetical manner. Your body language and tone must stay as calm and neutral as possible. This technique is successful because it doesn’t give the attacker fuel to keep going.

For every verbal attack, there are as many ways to respond. Different responses require varied reactions and have varied consequences.

Verbal Self Defense Saves Lives

What’s important to remember, is that chronic exposure to verbal language attacks threaten your life and the lives around you. The Verbal Self-Defense technique is no guarantee for anyone’s safety or a guaranteed way out of a volatile verbal attack, but it is a great alternative to attacking back, pleading and debating which could result in physical violence.

The more we empower ourselves with tools to strengthen our body, mind and spirit, the closer we come to reaching peace in our lives.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    When I am verbally abused I respond in the wrong responses you have described. Somestimes I feel hopeless and just don’t know what is the right thing to say.
    The only thing what works if I say a Bible verse which fits in the moment. Then the attack disappears. That’s why I started to memories the Bible piece by piece but I have a bad memory.
    My abuser has a community of friends who adore him. My abuser is very successfully at work and well respected there. My abuser has a picture of his life and beautiful family at Facebook.
    I finished college and have a bachelor degree. I gave up my job to be a excellent homemaker and mom. After so many years of abuse I experience now that my physical body goes against me with autoimmune diseases like allergies, intolerances to food, indigestions of protein and sugar, Hashimoto autoimmune disease, muscle pain, heavy periods with blood clots. Besides the emotional ones like feeling anxiety and stress, having a mild depression because of the abuse.
    It is like my body wants to shut down because I don’t end the abusive situation I am in.
    I just can’t. I would ruin my family financially. I ruined them already emotionally with having children at the first place. I want them to grow up successfully living a life I couldn’t. I take most of the abuse. He doesn’t target the children so much. But lately they noticed and fight with him because of how he treats me then he threatens them to do something they won’t like.
    I took counseling for one year and she said to build a life around this life one I would like. To find myself again. To think my like my former self.
    We found that him feeling rejected is one trigger of acting abusive. Since I am introvertiert person he can pull a reason to verbally abuse me of me just being quiet while eating my salad at meal times. I do talk but I actually am afraid to say something he can pick on. I do talk more when he is not around.
    Since he is successful, adored and smarter then me he thinks he has a right to say anything what makes me feel bad about myself.
    I quit counseling because I did it secretly and couldn’t stand the stress of being discovered. Also the person who counseled me was a student and I got the counseling for free and she finished to work at the doctors office after a year. I didn’t get a lot out of it. I would have liked more advice instead of finding the things I should do by myself. It is hard to find any advice. I read a lot of books and articles but when it came to it, there was no advice what to do. Because you can’t do anything about it, just to get out of the relationship. But if you don’t want to give up your marriage what can you do not to get mental and physical sick, to protect yourself and your children?
    I do exercise, eat raw vegan ( the most healthiest diet) and do yoga and meditate on God’s word. I have people who pray for me and I can feel the prayers. But everything is an effort and needs a lot of discipline. Besides of taking care of myself I have to take care of my family and a dog. Often I feel overwhelmed, tired but I do it anyway.
    Sometimes I feel the real me was killed and I am a living dead person to do what she supposed to do but not living a life I am suppose to live.
    I don’t know how to enjoy life but I know how to work hard. I also do feel like a slave and not being appreciated for the hard work.
    Everything I like to do I have to do when I am alone or he is feeling rejected of me doing what I like to like reading and get lost is a good book or exercising or visiting a friend.
    My counselor said the more I do what I like to do the less abusive he will get. I feel the opposite. I feel that. He gets more abusive to take any motivation or strength away from me to do what builds me up.
    I don’t know why I am his enemy and he needs to treat me bad to feel a self -esteem kick out of it. I can’t imagine that kind of thinking. Family is suppose to be a save haven and because of his need to abuse verbally it is hell on earth sometimes.
    So that’s on my mind today. What’s on yours?

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent comments anonymous. So much of what you said mirrors my situation as well. This in particular: ” I actually am afraid to say something he can pick on. I do talk more when he is not around.” I try to not tell my wife anything I don’t have to which is extremely hard to do when it’s just the 2 of us. Anything I say can and will be used against me at a later time. It’s happened many times. I tell her something personal or about my history before her and it comes back on me later by her ridiculing me or being sarcastic about it.

      Mainly though I’m just frustrated that our relationship is not an even playing field. She can say whatever she wants to me. If she doesn’t like something she tells me and expects an immediate change. If I slip and do whatever it is, she scolds me. Scolds me like a child.

      Anything I say, she takes the opposite side. Almost everything. Even innocuous stuff like what the weather was on a day in the past we’re discussing.

      She also rewrites history. Things that we’ve done in the past she now either denies it ever happened, or changes the facts so that it is something I’m at fault for. Maddening.

      And of course all of this stuff she does not ALL the time. Sometimes she doesn’t which makes it confusing and give her plausible deniability.

      She is also very popular and quite the outgoing fun loving charmer out in public. At home she is often condescending, sarcastic, insulting, and orders me around.

      I have gone to counseling a couple of times and it did help some. I’m probably going back soon.

      I have come up with my own short synopsis for Verbal Abusers. The are bullies. They always get their way, and they get their way by being assholes. Pretty much sums it up I think.

      So that’s on my mind today. What’s on yours?

    • Im in the same shoes. Sometimes I just wanna cease to exist. I’ll pray for us.

  2. I disagree. I disagree because my abuser absolutely hates when I am calm. It enrages him further. When and if I show any competence or self regulation, he is further enfolded against me. It invites a worse attack in my cases so I disagree. I have learned to be calm on the inside while having to play the part of some emotional reaction in order to make things blow over sooner. Yes, I’m planning on leaving very very soon.

    • It is amazing how you’ve come to read him so accurately. I remember long ago my ex-husband traced the wrinkle between my eyebrows. He traced the wrinkle that becomes prominent when I’m angry. He said, “Why don’t you get mad no more? Why don’t you call me asshole no more?” I realized he felt sad that my anger towards him had eroded into the calm distance I projected instead. He didn’t like for me to be calm, either.

      Lesson is that you must trust your gut instinct. React in a way that will keep you safe. Thank you for reminding me of this, Jen.

  3. I am trying to leave my abusive partner. I keep reading these stories about other people who are also dealing with abuse to strengthen my own resolve to go. These stories sound familiar to me too. I decided to leave when he started getting my 6yr old daughter to call me ‘the weak parent’ – our youngest daughter is his ally, she gains power by telling on both me and her sister, filling dad in on little things that might get us into trouble. She treats me with disrespect she has learned from her father. My oldest daughter is 9, but does not behave this way towards me – unfortunately (because my husband would not work, and hasn’t worked for 8 years) I had to go out to work when my youngest was 2, leaving her with her dad as the main carer, our oldest daughter was already at school and had mostly been cared for by me, so I assume she has not learned to be disrespectful as her younger sister has done, due to less exposure to her dad at this critical learning period for children. My abuser is intelligent, manipulative, and controlling. His abuse is verbal, emotional, psychological and financial. He can be intimidating and does not respect my boundaries (even while we have been trying to ‘work things out’ he still tries to grope and fondle me, because he ‘needs’ to – he sulks if I ‘reject’ him). I can now recognise how I have changed my behaviour to appease him, not spending any money on myself, not taking any time for myself, always looking after his needs first, taking responsibility when things don’t work out or need doing (earning a wage, paying the bills, looking after the kids while he makes a big deal about doing nothing much at all). I just learned that it was easier to agree with him. I often find myself protecting our kids from his abusive behaviour now. He is a perfectionist – particularly when it comes to other people. He has had our oldest in tears because he insisted on her re-doing her homework, it was not good enough. She is the top student in her class.

    He tells me that I am lazy. I worked even harder to prove that I wasn’t! He takes credit for things that I do, tells ‘funny’ (mean/hurtful) stories to my friends and family, denigrates anything I do/achieve, has deliberately not bought birthday/christmas presents (he was too busy, but has no job). I kept hoping that he would ‘grow up’, ‘mature’, that things would be ok if he would just get work (I am so sick of him being in my space all the time! He uses up my time and energy and gives little back. He says that he loves me.

  4. I find it hard to strike a balance. I don’t want to be forever agreeing, and apologising for things that I haven’t done, because it damages the way I see myself. I begin to see myself as someone weak, who won’t stand up to a bully. I worry as well about my children seeing me that way, that they may learn that if you are a bully you get your own way.

    But yes on the other hand having the seperation, the distance now, to see things as they are and not to get drawn into a pointless argument, does also help me feel more in control, and it can prevent things escalating. But sometimes I’m told off for being too reasonable, especially with the children, she worries that they see her as the crazy one, and I don;t help by coming in all reasonable.

    I’m only just begining to see my relationship as abusive and the practicalities overwhelm me. I don;t want to leave our house or the children, I wish she would leave but she won’t and I know she’ll lie and fight and try every trick to take the children away from me.

    Thanks for having this website, what a relief to see a way to communicate with others going through similar things

  5. This is so funny (in a not so funny way). My husband reacted the same way. I had not yet realized he was abusive (he has other mental disorders as well, and I assumed those were the cause) and I naturally shifted my speech from allowing arguments to complete calm. WOW. Did that anger him, my lack of reactions and eventually compliance was not okay with him in the least. He had become very use to arguments, which lead to exhausting me, and my eventually compliance.

    However, I only had to do this twice (although each conversation lasted seven hours each since he was more than persistent) before I was able to in turn exhaust him to be calm enough to explain. I was able to convey to him the level of damage he was causing me, that it was because of this abuse (and not just the mental illness like we had been thinking) and that he must take immediate action; which he did. He scheduled a therapy appointment and lucky for us had to leave for work for almost two days and we would be out of contact. When he came back I found he had researched more on abusive behaviors and tendencies. He was horrified and was looking into several programs to help what he admitted is HIS problem and NO ONE else.

    This has only happened over the last few days so I am hesitant, and scared, in a way. Part of me thinks it is another trick, or a ploy to placate me into staying by working on “fixing things.” The other part of me sees the signs of actual admittance and remorse, and wants to think he will follow through. I can only wait, and set my own boundaries and security, regardless of his actions.

  6. Once we see ( after many years -sadly). How do we keep the household calm until we are able to get out?
    I have been married for 27 years. My daughter who is almost 18 quicken me to this abuse. I started setting boundaries. Changing things. I have a plan- saving money and getting a support group for my exit. I just need to keep all under the radar until I can give him the papers next year. Trying to keep everything normal is challenging.

  7. I know it seems impossible to leave an abusive relationship, but I am living proof that it is absolutely possible. Difficult, but possible. After a devastating divorce, I was single and struggling with two young children. A few months later, I met a man who courted me. He (we’ll call him Roger) had wealth and power, and almost instantly made grand gestures and promises such as vacations to Disney World and trips to Maine (the first of many carrots he would dangle in front of me to keep me with him). At first we was the dream guy. He did it all, and because he was retired, he offered to stay home with my kids. My kids loved him and he was always very good with them. He was determined to “have me”, and things seemed to happen very fast, and he was very, very pushy about me moving in. Because I was struggling financially, and because I needed help in so many ways, and also because I desperately wanted love and companionship, I complied. My resolve was weak. He was endlessly curious and obsessed with my marriage/divorce. I confided in him about everything, which would later come back to haunt me. A few months after moving in, his abusive, controlling behavior began to show itself. Being bi-polar, his mood ranged from happy-go-lucky mania to sullen, silent and withdrawn. He began snooping through text messages, my emails, and my social media, and began obsessing over any males I spoke to and would bring up statements made out of context, or conversations and throw them in my face relentlessly. What I did not realize was how much he drank, which he hid very well. The more he drank, the more enraged he would become. He would bash me as a woman and as a mother, and if we fought, he would always tell me to get out of HIS house, simultaneously telling me that if I left, we were done. Any details I ever shared with him in confidence regarding my marriage were used as weapons against me both personally and publicly. Long story short, we were together for 4 years, and in that time we fought weekly, and exhaustively. I was grateful that he didn’t get angry or hateful in front of my kids, but he had no problem berating me to my family, my friends, his friends and family, and anyone who was unfortunate enough to be around him when he was in a rage. He was so extreme in either direction and claimed to love me deeply but would turn on a dime and degrade my character. That cycle kept me in a state of confusion for so long. The intensity of our fights escalated further and further. I am not a small woman, and I am not one to accept disrespect, and when pushed, I am definitely not a weak woman, but I don’t like fighting, and he had me walking on egg shells all the time. He wasn’t physically abusive YET, but his emotional and mental abuse became detrimental to my self-esteem. He tried to alienate me from my friends and family. Near the end of our relationship, he started corresponding with my ex-husband, stating that I was never with my children, that I was out every night at the bars all night while he watched my kids. He wanted to hit me where it hurt and he knew my relationship with my children and my role as a mother was extremely important to me. And he always dangled money in our faces. The bigger the fight, the bigger the gift: jewelry, laptops, clothes, toys for my kids, vacations, etc…all used as a leverage point to keep me in the cycle. He would give and then he would take in equal measure. I “left” him at least a hundred times, but he always lured me back with promises, gifts, tears, and apologies, which is a classic characteristic of abusive people. I’d packed my bags more times than I can count, but inevitably my resolve would dissolve when I thought about the financial burden and what my children would be giving up if we left. The final straw came when I was asleep with my son, and in a jealous drunken rage, he stomped into the room where we lay and punched me in my jaw while I was asleep. His eyes were black and full of rage, and I could tell he was literally out of his mind. Even for him, this was an unusually intense level of anger and abuse. We tussled and wrestled while he tried to choke me. Thankfully my son and daughter did not wake up, and my friend was there to break up the madness. He was taken to jail and I packed what I could and moved out. I was homeless for 3 months with my children in tow. And, because of my instability, my ex-husband filled for primary custody, further hurting and stripping me of what matters most. With the help of friends and family, I was able to raise enough money for a deposit on a rental home, and it has been a year and a half since I moved out. My kids miss Roger deeply, and for that I am very sad, but the relief I felt when I lifted that oppressive force from my life was indescribable. Being independent is very hard, but it is also extremely rewarding. Do not stay in an abusive relationship for anything. Children are resilient and will adjust, but watching you endure abuse will only instill in them the same acceptance, and it will teach them that abuse is normal, which will alter their interpersonal relationships for all time. Children deserve a home that is free of abuse and conflict, and as for money, it will come. I still endure verbal abuse from my ex-husband from time to time, but I know that it isn’t really about me anymore, and I can distance myself from its harmful affects. I feel like I am finally free, and it is the most fantastic feeling in the world. You CAN get out. Make a plan, save your money, and have a support network and an exit strategy. Look into local assistance programs in your area and find other people like yourself who have succeeded in leaving an abusive relationship. There is hope.
    Thank you for taking the time to read my message to you.

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