Excerpt from the upcoming book, STOP the Verbal Abuse, by Dr. Elizabeth Nyblade

Some Defense Tactics That Don't Work

Let’s define an attack as an attempt to control others. Let’s define defense as an attempt to keep others from controlling you.

An attack is an attempt by one person to gain control of another person’s psychological or physical space. A defense is an attempt to repel such an attack.

Remember the difference between aggressive, assertive, and passive behaviors?
•    Aggressive actions attack others.
•    Assertive actions defend against attack.
•    Passive actions are ineffective defenses. A failure to act is passive and allows aggressive actions to succeed.
Self-defense is a valid concept in law and in common sense. If someone attacks you, you are justified in defending yourself.

This chapter describes defense tactics that don’t work to deter the abuser. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t work, just that they don’t. These tactics don’t address the reason the abuser is attacking. They lower your effectiveness and they don’t stop verbal attacks.

Don’t ignore the attack
When you do nothing, you aren’t defending yourself. Think about raising children for example. All children misbehave. They aren’t born with an innate knowledge of right and wrong. The parents’ job is to teach children how to behave. But punishing children harshly when they misbehave teaches them to behave the same way toward others and toward themselves. Spanking, emotional abandonment, name-calling and threats of future punishments all distract children from learning to behave. The parent’s goal should be to teach children, not to punish them. Punishment doesn’t teach as well as rewards.

Ignoring the attack causes you to feel weak and helpless. The abuser knows the attack was effective because it didn’t cost him anything. The abuser’s tactics are mainly punishments. He’s punishing you to get control and he thinks if you aren’t in his control then you must be controlling him.
The abuser sees relationships in a black-and-white way. He sees a top dog, who gets all the rewards and an underdog who works for the top dog. So he’s going to be the top dog. If you do nothing, his behavior continues because it’s paying off.

Don’t beg or plead with the abuser

Don’t expect the abuser to stop the abuse because he realizes that you are unhappy. The abuser is behaving the way he does to cause your negative feelings. It doesn’t help you and it probably hurts you to tell the abuser that he is disturbing you.

But you don’t need permission from the abuser to do something or stop doing something that is in your own control. If the abuser tells you that you must or must not do something, don’t let the abuser con you into believing that you need his permission. If it’s in your own control, exercise your self-control and do what you choose.

It is easier to get
forgiveness than permission!   

Don’t attack the abuser
What’s the best way to respond to an attack? In the movies, characters respond by attacking back, applying more force, using bigger weapons. The media says the shootout at the OK Corral is the correct model for self-defense.

In real life, it’s not that simple. A Pyrrhic victory means that both parties are so badly injured that nobody wins. If I attack you when you attack me, and you retaliate, as you are likely to do, I’m likely to be injured in the fray. It doesn’t heal my pain to know that you are bleeding. My goal is not to destroy you, but to defend myself.

If someone attacks you and you respond when you usually don’t, you may surprise the abuser and he may be more cautious in the future. The abuser can learn that he can’t attack you without cost. On the other hand, if you snap back, you may begin an intense verbal fight that will leave you emotionally drained. You may still feel like the loser at the end of it.

If there is a fight, you aren’t to blame for it. You’re responsible for everything you say and do, but you’re not responsible for what the abuser says and does. Even so, try to avoid that unpleasant contact in the future. You can’t always avoid a fight, but attacking the other person raises the odds that you’ll have a fight.

Don’t forget that you can’t always know what the abuser will call an attack. When someone says you have attacked him, it may not be true. When someone acts as though you have attacked him, you might have done nothing offensive. An attack is an attempt to control the other. When I tell you what to do, call you names, or insult you, I am attempting to control you. If I respond to your attempt to control me by an attempt to control you, you may take that as an excuse to step up your attacks on me. If you are determined to control me, my attack on you is very recognizable. You’ll muster more of your attack forces immediately.
Besides, if I attack back, I may set us up for a long-running contest to discover who can attack better. The goal in stopping verbal abuse is not to win an abusive exchange by hurting the other more than he hurts you. Your goal is to end hurtful exchanges so you don’t have to deal with them another time. If I attack back, you may consider my behavior a challenge. You may decide to work harder at being negative to me to get me to stop punishing you.

One goal of self-defense is to teach the abuser that his attack behavior has a cost. However, punishing the other for an attack should be your last choice. You’d only attack to remove yourself from a difficult or dangerous situation. If you find yourself continually using attack behavior, something is wrong.

Your goal is not to become a better abuser. That’s the way to create an ugly relationship. Don’t call the abuser names, scream or yell, or threaten punishments you wouldn’t carry out.

Don’t hide his behavior from others
If the abuser attacks you in public, you’re going to have to respond to him in public. The others present are witnesses and potential allies. Most people are going to feel negatively about his attacks on you. They’re not going to think he’s charming and appropriate. They’re going to think he’s a bully and you shouldn’t take it. If your friends don’t support you, you need a new bunch of friends.
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