Recognizing verbal attacks

In the peaceful art of Verbal Aikido, it’s empowering to recognize what verbal attack you’re dealing with in order to develop your response to it. Indeed, just as a physical attack is one that causes pain or discomfort if not shielded or deviated, we consider a verbal attack to be any remark that causes some form of emotional pain or discomfort. You may (as some novices do) create a link between a physical attack and a verbal one, for example you might see an accusation as a punch, or an insult as a head-butt, and so on. It’s not a necessity but it may help you to get acquainted with the many forms of attacks that exist.

In reality, many verbal attacks are developed using more than one sentence, may accumulate over periods of time, and can be particularly subtle and thus difficult to isolate clearly. Keep in mind that both the context and the intonation of each attack have great relevance, as would the context and delivery of a physical attack. The most common verbal attacks are:

– Objections
– Cynical criticism
– Blame or ‘guilt trips’
– Accusations or judgment
– Deception or bluff

So how great would it be to be able to defend yourself quickly and with agility against this panoply of verbal assaults? There are of course, many other forms of attacks that may create feelings of discomfort within you, but whatever they are, isolating the form they take is the first step in knowing how to overcome them! Here are some examples of these attacks so that we’re on the same wavelength about them.

“That will never work”, “Do you really think I’d go along with that?”
This sort of response to a suggestion or proposal is generally viewed as an attack in its directness of disagreement. It concerns any type of argument against a suggested direction or plan. As with many other attacks, it can be formulated as a statement or a question.

Cynical Criticism
“That’s just awful, no good at all!”, “What sort of an effort do you call this?”
Not all criticism is an attack. In Verbal Aikido the criticism we deal with is of the ‘non-constructive’ kind. Rather, the tendency to find fault with, demean or belittle content, context, purpose, points of view, etc.

Blame or guilt-trips
“This is completely your fault; you’re always doing this sort of thing!” or “Why do you do this to me?”
Blame and reproach are ways of holding someone responsible, usually morally, for an outcome viewed as negative. It is the opposite of praise, and often linked with ‘victim plays’.

Accusations or judgment
“You’re never honest about anything!” or “You’re so selfish!”
These attacks are some of the most common and are covered extensively in the book. They generally concern a charge of wrongdoing or a negative conclusion about an attitude or act.

Deception or bluff
“Nobody would ever agree with you on that!” or “So basically you’re telling me everything I’ve done is useless, well maybe I should just quit!”
There are various degrees of deception; lying, equivocating, downplaying, concealing and exaggerating which, consciously or subconsciously, have the intention of misleading the target in some way.

As suggested, it can be useful for some to assimilate these verbal attacks with physical counterparts, but essentially it is important to become conscious of the attack that is being delivered. The quicker you can detect whether the assailant is criticizing your actions or blaming you for something, the more effectively you will be able to deal with the attack. To draw a comparison with martial arts, you won’t deviate a kick the same way you would a punch.

Fundamentally, any uttering that causes emotional discomfort within you is considered to be an attack, even though the same words may have little or no effect on another person. Once you’ve understood what an attack is, the next step is to look at how you can deal with it.

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