Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Handling verbal abuse

It is possible to violate NAP through the medium of language. Any initiation of unwanted communication, which is not a response to prior violence, is verbal aggression.

Below is a fantastic example of verbal abuse I borrowed from Steve Pavlina's blog together with my analysis.

I really need help! I have a problem with confrontation. Its not that I want to be violent or anything (!) I'd just like to be able to think on my feet and hit back at people who seem to want to put me down at every opportunity. The other night I was at a rugby match when I asked this bloke if he was in the queue for the tickets (he was pretty close- hence the question). He said no, and then added for good measure "does it look like it?" and laughed. Now I thought of a dozen things I could have, should have, would have said to him after, but at the time, I was completely lost for words - which trust me, in a non-confrontational situation is a very unusual thing for me! Why can't I hit back with those fantastic one-liners that make arrogant and rude people squirm as much as their one-liners hurt and embarrass me? Why can't I stand up to people who make me feel inadequate and small? Why can't all those things I can easily think about afterwards come to me when I need them most?

Everytime I'm put on the spot about something I'm not really prepared for, I fold and my mind goes completely blank. Am I just a big woos, or a doormat, or too nice, or too shy? My own brother takes pleasure in telling me I have a fat arse,(which people say I don't have) or my hair's a mess, or that my opinions are "screwed up" - and I just laugh, and say nothing - can someone tell me how I can deal with people who actually hurt and embarrass me without being a complete ♥♥♥♥♥- I really hate to upset people, so prefer humour to angry reposts - so that I can stop looking like I'm the stupid one!!

I really need lessons in assertiveness!!!

My analysis: both the stranger and your brother attacked you verbally. The stranger implicitly said that your perceptive skills are impaired and your brother said that there is something wrong with your arse.

In general the best strategy against violence (including verbal abuse) is:
1. Avoid dangerous situations if you can.
2. If you are already in a dangerous situation then leave the area as soon as possible (flight).
3. Only if you cannot flight then defend yourself (fight).

So in case of the stranger, you should just leave the area. Say nothing, keep straight. Move on to do your business. Do not let the predator waste any more of your energy.

In case of your brother, assuming you want to maintain contact with him, you cannot escape and therefore you need to defend yourself. The assertive defence is to reject the claim "I do not believe that my arse is fat" and not to counter attack. It is important that you do not explain or give reasons why you do not think this way. Assertive responses are short and they do not invite a further debate of the issue.

And then you have three options:

a) abandon the conversation "I do not feel like talking to you after what you said",
b) show honest curiosity "why do you say my ass is fat, help me understand why you keep saying this",
c) show your feelings if you think your brother will not hurt them again "I felt uneasy after you said this because I need respect, I would prefer if you tell me nice things in the future instead".

I recommend a) as a good start on the path of verbal self-defence. It is simple, low risk and it feels great.

The question why you are sensitive to verbal abuse is a separate one. I suspect this has a lot to do with your history and if you had been verbally abused by your family as a child. If this had been the case then I sympathise with you massively. If it is of any conciliation, many people have similar problems.


  1. What's the difference between a verbal violation of NAP, and giving offence? It sounds like you would be opposed to e.g. http://reformsection5.org.uk/

  2. Giving offence is a general term and it is too vague to be useful in my opinion. Some people take offence if you say that Muhammad was not a prophet. Some people take offence if you say that taxation is theft.

    For me verbal violence means specific verbal behaviours which I made attempts to list here (this can be improved): http://naplab.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/does-nap-apply-to-language.html and http://naplab.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/verbal-warning-signals.html

    Reform Section 5 wants to make verbal offence legal. I do not support verbal offence and I also do not support using state violence to solve problems. So yes, I'm for Reform Section 5.