BASICS OF VERBAL SELF-DEFENSE 201
Verbal communication isn't just words. It also includes body language, tone-of-voice, facial expressions, and emphasis. These nonverbal parts of communication are very important; they carry most of the emotional content, and they can make the difference between a statement and a question, or between a simple question and an abusive attack.
Verbal attacks are made, not by the exact words, but by the "tune" those words are set to: someone can say "You're a freak" in such a gentle, caring voice that you know that they love you, and someone can say "You're a good friend" in such a vicious, sarcastic tone that you know it means "I never want to speak to you again."
Most of the emotional parts of a conversation aren't carried by the words-they're included in the body language. And it's much easier to lie with words than with body language; that's part of why people say "look me in the eye and say that" or "he was so jumpy, I just didn't believe him."
In case of a conflict between words and body language, you can assume the body language is correct. If your friend says, "it's okay," but is frowning, biting her lip, and won't meet your eyes-it's not okay. You may not want to call her a liar, or challenge her (maybe she doesn't want to talk about it right now), but you should remember that just because she said "it's okay" doesn't mean it is, and it doesn't mean it's okay for you to pretend it is. If someone says "I'm sorry," but has an angry tone, is glaring, and making punching motions with his hands-he's not sorry. But you probably already knew that.
In many cases of verbal attacks, the attacker is careful to use words that sound acceptable, or even polite, if they're said in a different tone. That way, they can claim, "all I said was ______," and repeat their words with a different "tune" that takes away the attack. And the victim is left saying, "It's not what she said, it was the way she said it!"
Written communication can be very difficult because these things are missing. Punctuation becomes very important, because it's one of the few ways to put "tone of voice" into an email. Another way is capital letters... in email, words written in ALL CAPS are considered to be shouting, or have strong emphasis. And writing without any capitals at all is often read as "shy." Email and online posts made with no punctuation sound rushed, and those with too much of the wrong punctuation seem incoherent.
Here's a sample paragraph, from a book about magickal theory:
"Night follows day; and day night. The pendulum swings from Summer to Winter, and then back again. The corpuscles, atoms, molecules, and all masses of matter, swing around the circle of their nature. There is no such thing as absolute rest, or cessation from movement, and all movement partakes of rhythm. The Principle is of universal application. It may be applied to any question, or phenomena of any of the many planes of life. It may be applied to all phases of human activity.." -- The Kybalion.
Complex ideas, but not too hard to follow. Now, the same paragraph - with the punctuation changed to bad email-style punctuation. (I really have seen emails that were this hard to read.)
"Night follows day and day night....... the pendulum swings from summer, to Winter.............and then, back again........ the corpuscles..... atoms..... molecules..... and all masses of matter....... swing around the circle, of their nature.......,. there is no such thing, as absolute rest or cessation from movement---and all movement partakes of rhythm.......the principle, is of universal application........it may be applied-to any question or phenomena, of any of the many planes of life. It may be applied-to, all phases of human activity." - The Kybalion.
Because so much online communication depends on punctuation (and things like capital letters) to carry the "tone" of the words, it's hard to tell the difference between a polite statement and an accusation-or attack. If you can't tell for sure, it's always best to assume an email was meant politely, and reply that way. This will keep you from finding attacks that aren't intended.
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