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Responding by Not Responding to Verbal Abuse

My previous blog about the stages of abuse ( will help you understand this one. Read it first, then return here to learn how to detach from hurtful comments in abusive relationships.

In a Stage One response, you placate the abuser, believing you are at fault and this will stop the abuser. If he or she says something unkind about you, you mistakenly make the meaning that it is true. You think that the other person is right that you are “whatever” he or she says you are and respond by trying to correct this person’s negative view of you by acting nice—agreeing with him or her, promising that you’ll change, or apologizing because you’ve been bad. You reinforce the legitimacy of his or her illegitimate words by responding to them as if they’re true when they’re really false.

In Stage Two, tired of being nice, turning the other cheek to no avail (the verbal abuse keeps on coming), and still believing what your abuser says about you is important, you stand up for yourself and fiercely debate the comment. You defend yourself and try to prove that whatever the abuser says is untrue. In most cases, this does not change the abuser’s behavior, but continues to legitimize to both of you what he or she has said. After an argument, you feel spent and still angry because you didn’t convince the abuser that he or she was wrong and you were right. You also may feel disappointed in or annoyed at yourself for not defending yourself well and winning the argument.

In Stage Three, you make a different meaning of what the abuser is saying. Recalling that everything that comes out of other people’s mouths is from their brains and about their thoughts, you make the meaning that there is nothing necessarily wrong with you, but there is something wrong with the other person for saying so. You recognize that this person has problems that would make him or her want to hurt you. You don’t respond to the comments because you know they are about him or her, not you.

Because the words have absolutely nothing to do with you, you decide to treat them as gibberish or gobble-de-gook. You have no more interest in responding to them than you would to a bird squawking or a squirrel chattering at you. It might cross your mind that the bird or squirrel are afraid of you, but it would never occur to you that you’re doing something wrong. In Stage Three, you stop reinforcing abuse by disconnecting from the interaction and don’t respond because what has been said never had anything to do with you in the first place.