Words can be used as weapons
Words can be used to shame, blame, humiliate, hurt, discourage and intimidate.
Words used as weapons can create emotional distress even when the intentions are careless instead of deliberate. Words can be thrown out in anger or frustration. Words can be used in a deliberate pattern of verbal abuse. I think we fail to recognize the effect of verbal abuse on our physical and emotional health. We have been told to toughen up and ignore hurt feelings, that we are too sensitive and cannot take a joke.
In reality your response or understanding of the intended meaning of words is what counts. If you think you have been insulted or ridiculed: then you have been. Trust your internal instinct on how the words were intended.
Suzette Haden Elgin reminds us, “ That verbal violence is a toxic menace. The majority of illnesses and disorders that develop in the workplace have emotional stress as their direct or indirect cause.” (1.)
Words can be carefully crafted as a verbal attack. Elgin describes here how
to recognize the “Verbal Attack Pattern”.
“The most reliable clue you have to verbal abuse is to listen to how different words are stressed in the spoken sentence. Listen for odd or abnormal emphasis to be placed on words spoken.”
Examples: If you really cared about your health–you would get off the couch and start exercising
What is so difficult about eating healthy? It is so simple any one could do it.
In both these examples the attacker is not interested in your answer.
These words are not used to encourage or support. A verbal attack is meant to injure, blame or shame. You don’t have to apologize or explain when under attack. Here are some short ideas about how to defuse a verbal attack.
The attack will include a bait: Some part of the sentence will attack you personally and expect you to defend against that part of the sentence.
Your best defense is to recognize that attack pattern and ignore the bait.
Instead keep your voice calm and address the situation at hand or agree with something that has been said.
All words spoken are not absolute truths. Just by understanding and recognizing a verbal attack can help you reduce its impact or power to inflict pain. It saddens me to realize how often we accept criticism as our fault without questioning the intention behind the words spoken to us. My hope is to raise awareness of the words we hear and speak. That we focus on how to communicate with sensitivity to others and learn to defuse or deflect words used as weapons. I have gathered many tools and skills over the years as a martial arts instructor and teacher of verbal self-defense. I hope this blog gives you some new ideas and would be happy to discuss your specific situations with a coaching call. Schedule a call with Coach Gwen
Elgin, S. (2000). The gentle art of verbal self-defense at work. Paramus, NJ. : Prentice Hall Press