BASICS OF VERBAL SELF-DEFENSE 201
Lesson 6 - 8 Basic Verbal Attack Patterns (VAPS)
Many verbal attacks have two parts: a presupposition (or set of them) which is the attack, and something else offered as "bait." They expect you to respond to the "bait" and ignore the presupposition - the real attack - entirely.
The "bait" in the sample conversation at the beginning of this class is "I need a calculator to pass algebra." When Mom takes the bait, and starts arguing about the calculator, they wind up in a bad argument, which Mom is losing. This results in the son being punished - because in verbal conflicts, just like other conflicts, if someone is losing, they work to change the playing field. Mom wasn't doing well with "whose needs are more important" (not a good thing to argue about), so she switched it to "who's in charge here?" And Mom can always win that one.
The way to avoid these fights is DON'T TAKE THE BAIT. Ever. No matter how easy it is; no matter how much you think "She can't SAY that to me!" Always respond to the presupposition. You can't just pretend the presupposition was said out loud - if someone says, "You're SUCH a POSEUR," it doesn't make sense to say, "I am not disgusting!" But you can say, "What's wrong with being a poseur?" - which isn't the same as admitting she's right. (Try imagining there's a nonsense word in place of "poseur," if it helps.)
You'll now read about eight of the most common verbal attack patterns (VAPs), the hidden messages built into them, and examples of how to counter them. These counters are built to stop the attack, not "win the argument." They're meant to move the argument to a different topic, one that doesn't include hidden insults and messages of "I'm right and you're wrong."
Just as in physical martial arts, the purpose of verbal self-defense isn't to "win fights," but to prevent them - to recognize the beginnings of a conflict, and stop it from growing. A person who masters these techniques won't become known as "a great debater" or someone who others are afraid to argue with... instead, she may be known as someone who just doesn't argue much, someone who doesn't seem to get upset, someone others can't stay angry with. A master of verbal self-defense isn't someone who wins flamewars, but someone who prevents them - without allowing people to get away with attacking him at will. The goal is not to reflect the attack back onto the attacker, nor to absorb the full force, but to deflect it harmlessly away from all people involved.
The counters aren't the only possible ones - but you should probably stick to them, or things very like them, until you're comfortable enough identifying presuppositions that you can make your own. Some comments that seem like they should work, just make things worse.
In each case, after you stop the initial attack, you'll have to figure out if the topic (the bait) is something that still needs discussion. In the opening example, Son really does need a calculator, so Mom can't just steer the conversation around to "why do you think I don't care about you?" However, in the "SUCH a POSEUR" example, if you wind up discussing "what makes a poseur" and "what's wrong with that," you haven't missed out on anything important... and your attacker may wonder how she got dragged into a long discussion when she meant to just throw out a quick insult.
You can read more examples at the Verbal Self Defense Attack Patterns page.
For each of these Verbal Attack Patterns (VAPs), there's an outline of the attack, and two sample attacks, with the "bait" described, and expected answers-which will lead to an argument that the victim is likely to lose. The presuppositions are explained, and an effective counter is also given.
If you really __X___ [presupposition] you wouldn't __Y__ [bait].
"If you REALLY loved me, you wouldn't WASTE MONEY the way you do."
Bait: You waste money.
Expected: "I don't waste money," or something like that.
Presuppositions: You don't really love me.
Counter: "When did you start thinking I don't love you?"
"If you were a GOOD student, you wouldn't ALWAYS show up LATE."
Bait: You always show up late.
Expected: "I didn't show up late on Thursday," or "I can't always catch the 7:00 bus."
Presuppositions: You're not a good student. Good students are not late.
Counter: "I work to be the best student I can be."
(note: you may get a response of "then why are you always late?" But that's okay; now you can talk about being late without the extra, unspoken baggage of "good students are never late.")
If you really __X___ [presupposition] you wouldn't want [presupposition 2] to __Y__ [bait].
"If you REALLY cared about my feelings, you wouldn't WANT to hang out with Sherry."
Bait: Your hanging out with Sherry hurts me.
Expected: "Why do you care if I hang out with Sherry?" or "I like Sherry; what's wrong with that?"
Presuppositions: 1) You don't care about my feelings. 2) You can control what you want to do.
Counter: "I'm always surprised when people think that others can control what they WANT to do."
2nd Counter: "Where did you get the idea that I don't care about your feelings?" (or "When did you..." or "Have you always thought that...")
"If you REALLY wanted to make the team, you'd WANT to get enough sleep on the weekends."
Bait: Not getting enough sleep will keep you off the team.
Expected: Either "I DO get enough sleep" or "What does sleep have to do with the team?"
Presuppositions: 1) You don't want to make the team. 2) You can control your wants.
Counter: "Have you always thought I don't want to make the team?"
Don't you even care [presupposition] that __X__ [bait]?
"Don't you even CARE that you're driving your father to a heart attack with your drug use?"
Bait: Your drug use is bad for your father's health. (This contains a presupposition of its own: it claims that you use drugs. DON'T TAKE THE BAIT.)
Expected: "Of course I care about Dad!" or "I don't use drugs!" or "How can me smoking pot give Dad a heart attack? That's stupid!"
Presuppositions: You don't care about your father.
Counter: "Have you always thought that I don't care about dad's health?"
"Don't you even CARE that you're failing English?
Bait: You're failing English.
Expected: "Of course I care! I spend three hours on that last report!" or "How would you know if I'm failing English?"
Presuppositions: You don't care about English grades.
Counter: "When did you start to think I don't care about my grades?"
Even a __X__ [presupposition + bait 1] should know __Y__ .[bait 2]
"Even a FRESHMAN should know where the parking lot is."
Bait: You don't know where the parking lot is, and that's bad.
Expected: "I do so know where the parking lot is!" or "They changed the signs so I couldn't find the entrance!"
Presuppositions: Freshmen are generally unaware of locations. You're worse than a Freshman.
Counter: "Did you always think that Freshmen know the layout of the entire school?"
"Even someone from SAN DIEGO should be able to finish this ON TIME."
Bait: You can't/didn't finish on time.
Expected: "What's being from San Diego got to do with my tests?" or "I would've finished on time if Chris hadn't been kicking my chair for the whole class."
Presuppositions: San Diegans are usually late, and you're even worse.
Counter: "When did you first notice a connection between someone's home city and their test times?"
Everyone understands [presupposition] why you __X__. [bait]
"Dear, we all know how you just don't fit in at the new school. We just want you to know that we understand your difficulty."
Bait: You don't fit in.
Expected: "I'm fitting in just fine!" or "I'm not having any problems!"
Presuppositions: There's something wrong with you. We all know what it is, and are making allowances for you. You should be grateful for our attention.
Counter: "I'm grateful for your concern. Thank you."
"Everybody understands that a black boy is gonna have problems if he's got a white girlfriend. Dude, we know how hard it is for you."
Bait: You're having problems because you're black. Or because your girlfriend's white.
Expected: "There's nothing wrong with being black!" or "You racist jerk!" or "You leave my girlfriend out of this!"
Presuppositions: same as previous... all that black/white, boyfriend/girlfriend stuff is part of the bait.
Counter: "Thanks for caring. I'm glad I've got friends."
A person who wanted [presupposition] __X__ [bait 1] would __Y__. [bait 2]
"Someone who really wanted to learn to drive would get home before dark."
Bait: You get home too late.
Expected: "It's not dark yet! It's only 6 o'clock!" or "It's not my fault! I always have to walk Cleo to her piano lessons, and that makes me late!"
Presuppositions: You don't want to learn to drive. But I'm not even going to talk about you - I'm going to talk about the large group of "people who don't want to learn to drive," and we'll all know I mean you.
Counter: "That seems perfectly reasonable."
(Note: You can't use the responses from the previous attacks, like, "When did you start thinking I don't care about learning to drive?" because it's not aimed at you - the attacker might say, "Oh? Did I say I was talking about you?" The counter given may lead to, "Then why did you come in at 8:30 when you know we need to get to East Bay Fields before dark?" But now it's about you - not "someone who doesn't care about learning to drive.")
"A patient who wanted to get well wouldn't eat so much junk food."
Bait: You eat too much junk food.
Expected: "I don't eat much junk food!" or "I DO want to get well! I just don't have time for good lunches!"
Presuppositions: You don't want to get well. But you're not worth talking to like a person, so I'm going to talk about patients in general.
Counter: "That seems perfectly reasonable."
(Note: Same problem - this may lead to "Then why the hell haven't you stopped eating candy bars?" Again, now you're talking about you... not unknown, hypothetical people.)
Why don't you ever __X__? [bait] or Why do you always __X__? [bait]
"Why don't you EVER try to do what I like on a date?"
Bait: You never do anything for me.
Expected: "We hung out at Tanya's house on Saturday!" or "You know I can't afford to go to movies!"
Presuppositions: You don't pay attention to my interests, and you ignore what I care about.
Counter: "Would you like to go scuba-diving next weekend?"
(Note: this should be something that (1) you're pretty sure they'll say No, and (2) you wouldn't mind doing if they say Yes. You have to be willing to follow through; this is your chance to say "here, I'll suggest something... and if you don't like it, you'll have to be more specific about what you want.")
"Why do you ALWAYS do such AWFUL things?"
Bait: You do "bad things."
Expected: "WHAT awful things?" or "I'm not as bad as John!"
Presuppositions: You don't care how your actions affect other people. You are selfish and mean.
Counter: "Do you think I should quit my job and volunteer fifteen hours a week at the homeless shelter?"
(Note: Again, has to be something you're willing to do if they insist.)
Some ____ [speaker's identity] would be ____ [negative emotion] when __X__ [bait].
"Some parents would be very angry when their son didn't come home until two a.m."
Bait: You came in late, and I'm angry at you.
Expected: "The car ran out of gas" or "It's not 2 a.m., it's barely past midnight!"
Presuppositions: I am not like most parents. You are like most sons, which are mostly irresponsible, and you should be thankful we're such terrific, forgiving parents.
Counter: "It would be interesting to hear your opinions."
"Some girlfriends would be very jealous when their boyfriend gives another girl a ride home."
Bait: You cheated on me, at least in spirit.
Expected: "It was just a RIDE! It didn't mean anything!" or "What business of your is it if I give someone a ride home?"
Presuppositions: I'm not like most girlfriends. You are like most boyfriends, which are mostly cheaters, and you should be thankful I'm such a wonderful, forgiving person.
Counter: "I'm sure some of them would. How about you?"
DISCUSSION FORUM: Look at the examples of verbal attacks you've included in previous lessons. Do they fit into any of these 8 verbal attack patterns? If so, which ones?
EMAIL INSTRUCTOR: Write sample counters for these sample verbal attacks, using these defense methods.
o "If you really cared about getting into college, you wouldn't want to waste your weekends going to concerts with those dropouts you call friends."
o "Everyone understands why you haven't got a date yet. We want you to know that we're very sympathetic, and it's not your fault."
o "Why don't you EVER get me a good birthday present?"
o "Some nurses would be very annoyed at seeing the same injury three times in the same football season."