Stand up to Verbal Abuse by Imagining Power Animals

Verbal abuse often appears in personal relationships and the workplace. Learn how to use imagery of power animals to stand up to verbal bullies.

Verbal bullies usually hide their lion tendencies behind a sheep’s cloak. In front of the public eye, they serve as the pillars of their churches, communities, and jobs. In private they cause harm and destruction to vulnerable people (bully targets) in their midst.

Since bully targets typically suffered childhood abuse (often from multiple perpetrators), they tend to struggle with low self-esteem, undeserved guilt, and anxiety. Verbal bullies intuitively sense these vulnerabilities in others and often exploit them to compensate for their own inadequacies.

One solution to counter verbal abuse is to imagine a powerful animal (such as a wolf, bear, or panther) to empower yourself. For example, when you need to assert yourself, imagining the strong, intuitive characteristics of a wolf can help you to stand your ground. Below are suggestions on integrating strong animal imagery to withstand common forms of verbal abuse.

Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Many bosses use verbal abuse tactics to maintain power, especially when they feel threatened by supervisees. Common abuse tactics include:

  • Failing to respond to emails or phone calls in a timely manner.
  • Dismissing others’ concerns or problems.
  • Criticizing a coworker’s performance in public or behind their back.
  • Refusing to admit mistakes and falsely blaming others for them.
  • Burdening coworkers with their work responsibilities.
  • Falsely taking credit for others’ accomplishments.
  • Forgetting or distorting critical communications.
  • Branding others with amateur psychological diagnoses (a particularly vicious form of abuse).

Here are some tips to cope with work bullies.

1. Follow every verbal communication with an email documenting the conversation.

Since verbal bullies often employ deception, important communication about performance expectations and deadlines should always be confirmed by email. Before composing an email to a coworker or boss, please take a few deep breaths and imagine a power animal along with its characteristics. Remind yourself that you too have these qualities, even if they are not well-practiced. Write in a professional but firm tone.

2. Engage third parties.

When sending emails, always copy relevant third parties when appropriate. This will alert the verbal bully that another person is observing the interaction. A power animal, like a bear, would not worry about “tattling’ because the goal is to encourage team cooperation in attaining a common goal.

3. Employ cold logic and hard facts.

Verbal abuse, by its very nature, is illogical and nonfactual. Engaging the perceptive, observant qualities of an owl will help focus on the lies and illusions on which the verbal bully relies.

4. Refer to your job description.

When asked to complete unreasonable assignments or tasks out of your area of expertise, imagine the strong traits of a cougar while referring to your job description. Using email, firmly remind the verbal bully of the relevant terms of your job description and respectfully question the nature of the request. If necessary, seek out consultation from Human Resources.

Conjuring up the images of power animals can help to overcome self-doubts about asserting yourself at work. Keep in mind that the power animal seeks to protect; it does not have the human qualities of wanting to “be nice” or “seek approval”.

Verbal Abuse in Relationships

Many friends and family members employ verbal abuse tactics to manipulate and shore up low self-esteem. Insensitive jokes, vicious gossip, emotional abandonment, gaslighting, psychoanalyzing, belittling, invalidating, refusing to apologize, changing the topic, last-minute social invitations, and childish excuses are common bully tactics.

Here are some tips to protect yourself from verbal harm and destruction.

1. Seek safety in numbers.

Although the wolf can be a loner, s(he) usually travels in packs. Visualize the wolf seeking out the pack to add power against the abuser. Then follow up with a discussion with others who have suffered the effects of the abuser. Several people confronting the abuser’s behavior will have more power than one.

2. Place the magnifying glass on the abusive behavior.

Challenge the excuses and irrational justifications with logic. For example, imagine the giant bald eagle observing an aerial view of the situation. Calmly confront, “This is the fifth time you have failed to follow up on your promise to help me because you were busy. How do you manage to find time to shop, Facebook, and pursue all our pleasurable activities?”

3. Initiate discussion in writing; follow up face to face.

When approaching a delicate subject with a verbal bully, empower yourself with the strength and speed of a cougar. Clearly outline the scope of the discussion in writing. Follow up with an in-person meeting set with clear parameters (e.g., if the communication deteriorates into abusive tactics, the discussion will be ended immediately).

4. When all else fails, limit or leave the relationship.

Free as a bird, why weigh yourself down with toxic baggage?

Employing the practice of visualizing power animals can help you to assert yourself against verbal bullies both at work and in your personal life. As you gain more experience successfully standing up to abuse, you will strengthen your self-esteem and leave yourself less vulnerable to verbal attacks.

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