The green index card in my purse is my backbone fortifier. The card contains notes on how to handle verbal attacks. A friend on Twitter sent me a link to Martha Beck’s post on the subject. I had to create a short-hand version of Martha’s approach so as to fit it on one side of the card. I wanted a quick cheat sheet to refer to when necessary.
(No, I haven’t actually pulled the card out in front of an attacker. Not yet.)
I refer to this card when I’m standing in line at the grocery store. I re-read this card when I’m in the parking lot waiting for Will to finish 18 holes. Looking in my purse to find chapstick, I see the green of the card and I’m reminded of the key points.
Here’s the version that has helped me.
1. Fighting Stance.
This isn’t some aggressive pose where I’m standing on the balls of my feet ready to pounce. I’m not holding a sword or bow and arrow. This means I approach every situation from the standpoint of believing that I don’t deserve crappy behavior. ( I know. Novel concept, right?) In my warrior pose, I refuse to be mean to myself by believing I deserve to be verbally attacked.
For me, this is the hardest part.
2. Be Invisible.
Get away from the abuser. Put distance between yourself and the person who insists on treating you poorly. This is often easier said than done, especially if we are talking about a spouse. For years, I used my kids as an excuse to remove myself from an uncomfortable situation. “Sorry, Jenny needs me,” and I’d make a hasty exit from his lecture.
a. Be politely honest. Tell them how what they’ve said hurts you. “Hey, your comment hurts my feelings.” “Hey! That’s mean.” Or my favorite, “I wouldn’t treat you that way.”
b. Come up with a calm retort. Ha! I’m an INFJ. I can think of a million witty retorts once I’m home. I am not quick on my feet, so this one takes some practice.
c. Take the high road. Be the adult in the conversation without being passive aggressive. “Hey, did you really mean to belittle me with that comment? I don’t think you enjoy treating people that way, do you?” This one requires more backbone than I currently possess, but I’m getting there.
This doesn’t mean I go around looking for abusive folks to have conversations with. My practice consists of remembering that I don’t deserve to be treated harshly. I practice kind responses and honesty. I help my kids rephrase comments when they are having disagreements with each other, and that often prepares me for new approaches in my own exchanges.
The cheat sheet helps me to be mindful. This is about being fully present in conversations and evaluating how I feel when I’m interacting with others. More importantly, this is about giving validity to how I feel. I have stifled those crappy feelings for years because I thought I was supposed to put up with being hurt. Because I put up with being hurt, I was hurt. That’s the role I play in all this.
I allowed myself to be treated poorly.
Is that what I want for Will and Jenny? Would I want them to assume that they deserve less? Of course not!
It is so important to model for them – for all our kids. They need to learn how to handle verbal abuse. Should they wait until they are 50 to figure this out?
Once again, I get to thank my kids. They have taught me that I deserve better.
*When dealing with a narcissist, there is little point in finding a calm retort, taking the high road, or being honest. Narcissists use gaslighting and lying. They contradict themselves or pull the rug out from under you. They are always right. You are wasting your breath trying to kindly point out how they’ve hurt you. The best defense with a narcissist is always distance.
Get away. Be invisible.