A Survivor’s Cheat Sheet

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.


3.  Techniques.*

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.


4.  Practice. 

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.


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  1. Then get in your car and sing this at the top of your lungs!

  2. Z,

    Thank you.

    Thank you.

  3. First I must say that your purse (or Jenn’s if it’s hers) is awesome & I’m officially jealous LOL Some of the things on your index card really spoke to me.

    The “come up with a calm retort” bit is something I’ll be working on until I pass on more than likely. (This must be a common thing for INFJ’s. My instinctive reaction is usually one of 3 things: freeze, cry, or go into a raging fury. None of which are really helpful in the moment :-/)

    Something I had to learn (and am still learning for that matter) is just how much crap I’m willing to take. Because I’ve chosen to stay in a relationship where an N is very much present I have to be willing to take a certain amount of crap. So where do I draw that line? Logically I tell myself that I don’t have a relationship with the N – my husband has the relationship. It does help, but it just SUCKS when I see the N hurt my husband. Of course, it’s his choice to keep that relationship & it will be his choice if/until he ends it. The kids are a completely different matter. When the N hurts the kids I turn into Mama who will kill you if you hurt my kids. I’ve managed to temper it somewhat so that I won’t get sent to jail, but in the end I just want the N out of their lives. Which is out of my hands, so you just do what you can do to get through it.

    The best thing I’ve been able to do for myself & the relationship the husband has with the N is just to NOT INTERACT WITH HER. AT ALL. I talk to the kids about how they feel after visiting the N as much as possible. When they’re adults it will be their choice to keep a relationship with her or not, but for now I just protect them and talk to them about how they feel.

    I’m going to have to check out that video Z sent the link for ;-)

  4. Jenn,

    I’ve said it before – your kids are SO lucky they picked you.

    The NO contact thing is pretty difficult when dealing with a family member, but politely leaving a conversation is always a good option. It’s not like they’ll get the hint, but it keeps us from losing it altogether.

    Sending hugs for your husband and kids… and you, of course.

    p.s. I’ve had the purse since Will was a baby. Every now and then, I think I should get a “grown up bag” but I always go back to this one.

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