The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense – I have another idea!

Dont get me wrong. The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin is excellent. It’s just that… well… come with me and we’ll get where I’m going.

I’ve read (what feels like) every conceivable book on talking to bullies, manipulators, verbal abusers and others who have the potential to harm. Why? Because I’ve known a few too many in my lifetime.

This book is among the best. It not only helps you to recognize when you’re being bullied, manipulated and/or abused, it gives you great reframing and redirecting ideas using scripts and exercises… among the best is called “Confrontations” with fill-in-the-blanks that help you to plan. Planning is a BIG DEAL in this book and for good reason. You don’t go in empty-handed with the kinds of people you have to defend against. There are also journal prompts that are done after-the-fact that ask you to recount “What I said” in a specific situation and “What I should have said”… again, with an eye to planning the next time.

This book is super easy to navigate and since it’s really about A PLAN, it’s practice, practice, practice!

Like I say, I’ve read many books on this subject. What I appreciate about this one in particular is that the end result proposes to be a reduced number of confrontations because you will become so skillful in early defence that it simply won’t happen.

Sounds good on paper, doesn’t it?

It does!

This is an excellent book and the exercises are thorough and helpful.


After years of learning all the tricks in the book to ward off verbal abusers – because Lord knows I attract them – aaaannnnd… let’s stop right here.

What do I mean by this? I attract them? Well. Emotional, empathic and empathetic people like me (and you?) send out signals to bullies and manipulators. The signal is like a neon light to people who are looking for the next target to deal with their disappointment with themselves and their world. Often, they come across as intelligent and caring. If they choose you, you’ll feel special, which will translate into fuzzy feelings, which you reflect back to them. They love this. You feel good/ they feel good. As long as it’s going to plan (theirs) all is peachy. And then you dare to disagree. It can be something big or small. Doesn’t matter. Suddenly, you are their biggest enemy #1. They will blast you in public – the more public the better. And you’d better hope they don’t know any secrets about you because they’ll use them against you to your friends, family and workplace. These are the kind of  people who remember that time you shared about your husband’s impotence or your breast augmentation or your deepest dream to become a dancer. They will pull that laundry out and put it on the line for all to see. Your humiliation complete, you will then become persona non grata.

Yeah, sounds like a know a little something about this subject, doesn’t it? Which is why I have a little trick I now do that doesn’t involve using the ideas in this book. Let me tell you about it.


I used to. I tried every-which-way to defuse situations and use love over anger. I set boundaries. I adhered to them but others would not and I couldn’t stop them. Nothing I said or did worked, no matter how many charts I filled out.

So, I made a decision:


When I meet someone new, I don’t even need to dig deep. My gut will tell me right away if they’re safe. I listen. If it’s someone I must deal with – like at work – I don’t let my guard down EVER. Luckily for me, I no longer work full-time with an office full of people coming and going. I’m part of a small staff that’s wonderful. That said, I’m in sales and as you can imagine, I’ve met my share of salespeople who think nothing of tripping you and stepping over your warm body for a sale. Honestly? I’d let them take it. I will walk away. It’s not worth the fight… and guys, I’ve won sales awards *with* that attitude. Seriously.

When a friend suddenly shows their true, ugly colors (i.e. are bullying, manipulative or abusive) I STEP AWAY and reassess the friendship. I may then choose to STAY AWAY. Chances are, however, that even if I remain friendly, I’m reassessing again and again. Hard to trust after that, isn’t it?

When a family member is like this, it’s one of the most difficult decisions. I am loathe to cut them out 100% … and have only done it two times … both were not my relations-by-blood, but it still hurt. A lot. But not as much as it hurt to deal with the abuse.

And finally, when a lover is like this, I think the intimacy involved makes it – in my opinion – the worst possible situation. I plan to stay married to my husband forever, so I don’t entertain ideas of “what ifs” but I will say that I have a built-in barometer that tells me – very early on – if the person I’m dealing with is dangerous for me to be around. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

If there’s a bottom line to my sharing all this – and there IS – it is this: STAY AWAY from people who trigger those feelings. If they feel dangerous, listen to that fear and STAY AWAY. If they *show you* who they are, try the excellent advice in this book if you want… or STAY AWAY FROM THEM.

My goal in sharing my opinion and advice (feel free to take it or leave it) is this: If you do what I do, you won’t need a book like this. You simply will NOT ALLOW this kind of person into your life, peripherally or otherwise. Life is too short!

But if you must (or choose to) interact with a person who has the potential to harm you, use this book first. It really is great!

Sorry for the YELLING… I get a little passionate about this subject.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts, as always.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.