Verbal Abuse


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Verbal abuse is a form of abusive behaviour involving the use of language. Verbal abuse is different from profanity in that it can occur without profanity, and profanity can be used in a non-abusive way. Charges cannot be layed for verbal abuse. Verbal abuse leaves no outer mark and no proof.


Verbal abuse affects the way the brain develops. Suzette Elgin realized most people cannot even recognize verbal abuse, and set out to teach what to do about it in her Gentle Art of Verbal Self-defense series, which achieved a cult following. In her ongoing work, she sets out precepts, such as "Know you are under attack," and in her article on, points out that a primitive part of the brain kicks-in under stress, totally bypasses reason, and says "Just anything!"


Ms. Elgin points out that "Anybody can verbally attack once in a while," when they are worn out, stressed, frightened, or angry, and strangely enough, their intention is not to hurt you. They're simply unaware of what they are saying, and for the most part, are simply trying to redirect your attention. Ms. Elgin suggests you look for underlying truths in the other person's "hostile language," and respond to those truths. Some people flee from verbal abuse, some people ignore it, some people engage in fierce argument, validating the hostility by mirroring it. One thing is certain: Verbal abuse affects the way the brain develops.


Practitioners of workshops on verbal abuse generally work alone, creating literature, websites and followings, essentially trying to make a living outside the mainstream. It's a precarious living, because classes, unless carefully screened, are fraught with psychological difficulties. Some people can be very abusive, without knowing it, exposing the classroom to unforeseen tantrums and traumas, which many people would have difficulty understanding, or to mundane, though "well-meaning," rehashing of verbal abuse, which, rather than enlightening, simply "heaps on" to the general load. We have enough trouble in the ordinary world!


There's an even deeper problem: Verbal abuse tends to elicit self-attack, because a part of a person "believes anything." Thus, upon hearing a certain kind of "tricky" attack, the listener simply attacks themselves! If a child goes to a parent, teacher, or trusted authority, for solace, that authority will almost always "give the wrong advice," thereby contributing to the child's fragmented development, increasing their dependence on "outside authority" to bury the pain of being physically, cognitively and emotionally neglected. The opposite of love, as any autistic child will tell you, is not hate; it's being neglected. Paradoxically, the only way to address this problem is indirectly, perhaps by giving any "helpful advice" to a third party, for anyone to overhear.


People who recognize verbal abuse, without automatically or unconsciously reacting to it, emphasize transcendental teachings, such as the essay on Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, or to the literature of mystical Christianity, seeing Christ as an embodiment of "the walking wounded." Some of us take solace from mystical literature, in general, drawing from the essential ideas of Navajo teachings, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Lamaism, the philosopher Gurdjieff, and the rootedness of these ideas in "that which happens every day." Since much verbal abuse is brought about in family settings, which "molds young minds," orphans, or those who have psychologically left home, are particularly lucky, gaining a sense of what is called, "street smarts," learning to sniff out rats, and to get away from them.


Ultimately, people have to get back to their innate sense of decency, without having to be lectured about it.


In my own research on Non-escalating Verbal Self-Defense, I use the tools of systems analysis to "divide and conquer," creating enough categories of verbal abuse so certain nuggets of gold can be mined: Mean people are almost never original, so you can respond to their "throwaway phrases," with precise "verbal tools." You can take verbal abuse out of its ordinary context, and see it as a "performance," and respond to it the way President Reagan (an actor) might have responded, or to the way President Clinton ("I feel your pain.") might have responded. The lesson that can be drawn from certain role models is, "When people attempt to treat you like a child, you can respond the way a good father might." People with a broad education tend to do better.


Many, many people, including myself, have enormous difficulty "thinking on their feet," or recognizing trouble "on the fly," so it helps to begin seeing language as a carrier, not just of "correct spellings" and "dictionary meanings," but as a potential system of carefully devised "verbal cues" embodying "tentative suggestions." That is, each individual word in a sentence can be seen as a cognitive construct for an answer.


For instance, the word "what" may be taught to elicit the response, "Nobody knows"; the word, "happened" can be taught to elicit the response, "We'll see"; the word, "before" can be taught to elicit the response, "Different times." With this "artificial teaching," (which becomes "natural") a person hearing the "irrational" attack, "What on earth happened here? Has this happened before?" might be able to put together a tentative, curiously backward, response, "Different times ... We'll see ... Nobody knows," using this powerful "stalling tactic" to re-engage with their own personal libido, or unlock their own psyche, (not their parents' psyche,) then to go on and express themselves in whatever way they see fit. A sense of humor helps.


The relaxed study, or contemplation, of verbal tools, has a therapeutic effect upon a person, because it's the preverbal parts of a person which need to see them, understand their uses, and to grow. It's just like arithmetic. You don't jump out of kindergarten knowing how to do multiplication. You need to learn, by rote, some basic mathematical principles and operations, which may seem "artificial." The most vehement, and curious, argument against the study of Non-escalating Verbal Self-Defence is calling into doubt the "meaning" of a response, without ever questioning the "meaning" of an abusive attack. A person has to ask themselves, whose side are they on? The attacker's side, or the side of a person that was buried alive, and which powerfully – at first awkwardly, like a newborn colt – responds to kindness, care and compassion?


There's a spark inside people. Verbal abuse tends to bury it. Learning how to respond to people without cowering and without shouting may be worth its weight in gold.


Richard Ames Hart, June 19, 2007


External Links


Non-escalating Verbal Self-Defense

Howstuffworks "How Verbal Self-Defense Works"

Why are so many people rude on the Internet?




This unabridged article on "Verbal Abuse" first appeared on Wikipedia; a few hours later, most of it was deleted.