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Words can be used as Weapons

  • October 14, 2016 11:36 AM EDT

    Words can be Weapons

    Words can be used to shame, blame, humiliate, hurt, discourage and intimidate. Words used as weapons can create emotional distress even when the intentions are careless instead of deliberate. Words can be thrown out in anger or frustration. Words can be used in a deliberate pattern of verbal abuse. I think we fail to recognize the effect of verbal abuse on our physical and emotional health. We have been told to toughen up and ignore hurt feelings, that we are too sensitive and cannot take a joke. In reality your response or understanding of the intended meaning of words is what counts. If you think you have been insulted or ridiculed, then you have been. Trust your internal instinct on how the words were intended.

    Suzette Haden Elgin reminds us, “That verbal violence is a toxic menace. The majority of illnesses and disorders that develop in the workplace have emotional stress as their direct or indirect cause.” (1.)

    Words can be carefully crafted as a verbal attack. Elgin describes here How to Recognize the Verbal Attack Pattern.

    “The most reliable clue you have to verbal abuse is to listen to how different words are stressed in the spoken sentence. Listen for odd or abnormal emphasis to be placed on words spoken.”

    Examples: If you really cared about my pet – you would not charge so much money for your services.

    What is so difficult that you have to get help with every injection?

     In both these examples the attacker is not interested in your answer.

    The attack will include a bait: Some part of the sentence will attack you personally and expect you to defend against that part of the sentence.

    Your best defense is to recognize that attack pattern and ignore the bait.

    Instead keep your voice calm and address the situation at hand or agree with something that has been said.

    When accused of not caring about a pet, respond with your treatment recommendation including options. Ignore the bait about money.

    When accused about always needing help. This is a general "all or nothing" statement that gives you no specific area to discuss. Your response here depends on who is making the comment and the circumstance. You could change the subject or ask more questions.

    All words spoken are not absolute truths. Just by understanding and recognizing a verbal attack can help you reduce its impact or power to inflict pain. It saddens me to realize how often we accept criticism as our fault without questioning the intention behind the words spoken to us. My hope is to raise awareness of the words we hear and speak. That we focus on how to communicate with sensitivity to others and learn to defuse or deflect words used as weapons. I have gathered many tools and skills over the years as a martial arts instructor and teacher of verbal self-defense. I hope this blog gives you some new ideas and would be happy to discuss your specific situations with a coaching call.


    1. Elgin, S. (2000). The gentle art of verbal self-defense at work. Paramus, NJ. : Prentice Hall Press.



    • 149 posts
    October 16, 2016 8:49 PM EDT

    Very wise, Gwen. This post resonates with me. Growing up, my grandmother impressed on me ... "if it's not necessary or nice, don't say it." Once a word is spoken, you can't take it back ...