Recognizing verbal attacks

A helpful first step in dealing with the verbal attacks is to recognize what they are. Indeed, just as a physical attack is one that causes pain or discomfort, 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. For the sake of having a basic illustration of the different forms of attacks, the examples in this section have been kept short. 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 we’ve recognized so far are:

  • criticisms and judgments
  • accusations and blame
  • objections and resistance
  • deception and bad faith
  • insults and mockery
  • pressure and demands

So how great would it be to be able to swiftly defend yourself against this litany of verbal assaults? Although there is often overlap between these categories, isolating an aspect of the form it takes is a significant first step in knowing how to overcome it. Let’s look at some examples and the characteristics of these attacks to begin to understand what they entail.


Criticisms and judgments

“So, you’re an arts student. How sad is that?”, “Your son looks cross-eyed.”, “All that religious stuff is just a load of hypocritical rubbish.”

We note the use of negatively oriented adjectives and generalisations in these forms of communication. They are directed towards the intrinsic qualities of our identity, our accomplishments or our creations. They may be particularly difficult to deal with when they touch something we are attached to or feel deeply connected to.

Accusations and blame

“You’re never there when I need you.”, “I know you’re lying to me!”, “You left such a mess in the kitchen again!”

These attack have a characteristically negative position or conclusion concerning our attitude or our acts. These charges of wrong-doing are often tied to victim plays, and are extensively covered in the Green Belt book.

Objections and resistance

“In your dreams!”, “That will never work.”, “Do you really think I’d go along with that?”

We can experience this sort of response to a suggestion as an attack through its directness of disagreement. It concerns any type of resistance or negative response to a suggested direction or idea. As with other attacks, it can be formulated as a statement or a question.


Deception and bad faith

“It wasn’t me!”, “Nobody would ever agree with you on that.”, “So basically you’re saying everything I’ve done is useless, well maybe I should just quit!”

We can recognize these forms of communication through their attempt to downplay, dissimulate, exaggerate, deceive, bluff and guilt-trip. They immedately create an imbalace in a relationship, particularly if we feel like we’re being taken for a fool. The underlying intentions, concious or subconcious, are generally to avoid discomfort or to benefit from concealing the truth about a situation.

Insults and mockery

“Screw you!”, “Don’t be such a dick about this.”, “Hey everyone, did you hear what this loser just said?”

These efforts to ridicule, provoke and/or dominate tend to contain vulgarity, sexual references or demeaning comments. They may seem violent or even impossible to respond to without escalating an exchange, but are surprisingly simple to defuse with just a little practice.


It may help you to assimilate these verbal attacks with their physical counterparts, but essentially becoming conscious of the type of attack being delivered, enables you to deal with it more effectively. To draw a comparison with martial arts, you won’t block a kick the same way you block a punch.

Fundamentally, words that cause emotional discomfort within you can be considered to be an attack, even though the same words may have little or no effect on another person. Now you’ve a better understanding of what attacks are, let’s look at different ways we react to them.

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