Verbally abusive people use tactics like shouting, swearing, mocking, sarcasm and veiled threats. Their aim is to intimidate and control you.
You don’t have to put up with verbal abuse. Whether it happens at work or at home, there is something you can do about it. Here are four steps to take when you’re the target of verbal abuse.
Remember you’re not to blame
Verbally abusive people use shaming tactics to gain power. Don’t be fooled by their superior attitude. Remember that you’re not the one at fault. No-one deserves to be shamed or humiliated. It is the verbal abuser who is acting inappropriately, not you.
Apply emotional first aid
When you’re the target of verbal abuse, you might feel overwhelmed by fear or helplessness. Manage these emotions before standing up for yourself. Do this by noticing and naming the emotion you’re feeling. For example, say to yourself “I feel really scared right now.” Then think of a more resourceful state to be in. For example “I’d like to feel calm.” Next, remember a time you’ve experience the resourceful state in the past. Recall what you felt like physically when you were in the resourceful state. Then imagine yourself being in the same physical state right now.
Set limits on their behaviour
Make it clear that the abusive behaviour has to stop. First describe what you see and hear when the abuser communicates. Then state that you won’t tolerate being spoken to this way. For example, say “You’re pointing at me and raising your voice right now. I don’t appreciate that. I not discussing this issue until you change your behaviour.”
Focus on solutions
De-personalise the situation by zeroing in on the issue which has sparked the abuse. For example, if an abuser calls you “an incompetent moron,” they might be angry about a decision you’ve made. Focus on their sub-text, rather than their abuse. Respond to them assertively by saying “You obviously don’t like this decision. We need to discuss your concerns and sort things out.”
Leave if you have to
If the verbal abuse continues, refuse to participate in further discussion. First, remind the abuser that you will walk away if they don’t change their behaviour. Then walk away if they continue abusing you.
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