Self Defense: 10 Steps to Surviving a Violent Confrontation – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part article from Richard Dimitri’s acclaimed book ‘In Total Defense Of The Self’ which has been dubbed one of the best books ever written on self defense! Reproduced here under Authority

5) Verbal Defusing:

What you respond to the sociopath has to be non-threatening or challenging.  You need to give and take as much information as you can in order to get him thinking and let your strategy come into play.  You also have to defuse the situation by using verbal tactics; this will allow you to assume control without making the sociopath aware of your intentions.

When speaking of self-defense in the martial arts, most people often associate the act to a physical one. This is a common and widespread misconception, for self-defense is not only a physical act but a psychological and emotional one as well. Since self-defense is sixty percent psychological, twenty five percent emotional and only fifteen percent physical, it is needless to say that verbal defusing in confrontation plays an imperative role in the ability to defend one’s self.

Unfortunately, many, for various reasons, ignore the psychological aspect of fighting.  Ignorance, emotional variables and self-destructive behaviors such as ego, pride and machismo are usually the dominant reasons why people very often get involved in many unnecessary physical fights. Consequently, they neglect or at least forget all about their moral and social responsibilities.

By moral responsibility, I mean the obligation one has to all those who surround their life and care about them such as friends and family. By social responsibility I mean the obligation one has as a human being to respect another so as to live in a safe and collective environment.

* Someone who is like a little brother to me as well as a 2nd generation Senshido Instructor, Daniel Tirado contributed the following:

* The world in which we live in is a world intoxicated with verbal pollution; we like to equate it to social anorexia. Whether we notice it or not, our language environment is filled with verbal abuse. Suzette Haden Elgin, leading expert on overcoming verbal abuse and author of The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, explains in her book that verbal abuse rarely takes the form of one person yelling curses, obscenities or threats to another. That is only our common understanding of it. As a matter of fact, verbal abuse is more subtle and wide spread then we think or realize. It can take form in the tone of voice your spouse uses in response to a question, or a co-worker’s choice of words in the office. Nothing is trivial in verbal abuse. In the long run, it can cause ulcers, heart attacks, misery, chronic fatigue, migraine headaches, etc. I can go on and on.

Hence, the ideal would be to engage in what Haden Elgin calls a  “syntonic conversation.” The term “syntonic” is often found in psychology or ancient music theory. When 2 radio sets are so well in tuned with respect to one another that they can be used to transmit information effectively and efficiently, they are said to be syntonic.

The difficulty in attaining a syntonic conversation is that in every discussion (not ‘conversation‘) we engage ourselves in, whether we are conscious of it or not, there is a constant ‘struggle for power’ as James Redfield clearly explains in his fourth chapter of The Celestine Prophecy. 

Indeed, when two individuals are having a discussion, one of two things can happen: the individual can come away feeling strong or feeling weak depending on what was said in the interaction. Humans are always in search of energy so, to prevail in a discussion, we feel the urge to steal it from another. Once we are successful in convincing our point of view, we receive what Redfield calls a “psychological boost.” Consequently, whether we know it or not, our ego and self esteem are fed at the cost of stealing someone else’s energy, thus making someone else feel weaker.

There are four basic principles offered by Haden Elgin to avoid verbal aggression:

1) KNOW THAT YOU ARE UNDER ATTACK.                                                                      

Most of the times we don’t know that we are being verbally attacked. Verbal abuse, as said earlier, is not always someone yelling threats or curses. Since communication is sixty percent body language, twenty percent tone of voice and only ten percent the actual words used in an interaction, verbal abuse can be cleverly masked when the attacker shows no physical signs of aggression and regulates his tone of voice.

So how do you know when you are being verbally abused? Trust your intuition. As Gavin De Becker says in The Gift of Fear, “intuition is a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situation“. Verbal abuse, properly defined, is very simply language that hurts, causes harm and/or disease. Therefore, when you feel that you are being verbally aggressed, chances are, you probably are.


Doctor Virginia Satire is a world-renowned family therapist who specializes in the language of people under stress. She came up with five categories of verbal conflict, aggression and passiveness that we will take a look at so as to know what kind of psychological profile we are facing when we are verbally abused or challenged.

BLAMING: Blamers often use threatening language and use words like “every”, “all”, “always”, “anybody” and love to finger point. Their body language matches their words. They sound something like this: “Don’t you ever listen to anyone?” “I told you to put the files in the other case, but you always have to do things your way.”

Blamers generally feel the need to control and manipulate behavior to their advantage, they like to feel in control of the situation and be the ones to dictate the turn of events.  If things aren’t done their way or to their liking, that is when they will use verbal tactics to gain back their advantage such as the ones mentioned above. For example, “Don’t you ever listen to anyone” states to the receiver that they are stubborn, non-cooperative and generally mistaken.  This as a result, will begin to eat away at their self-confidence, create insecurity and in turn make them defensive towards not only blamers but unfortunately any general constructive criticism as well.

PLACATING: Those who placate use words and body language that express a desire to please. They seem agreeable but deep down they are terrified that people will get angry at what they would really like to say. They fear being judged and labeled.  They often use expressions like “I don’t care” “It’s fine with me“. For example: “If you guys want we’ll spend New Year’s at my place or if you want we’ll all go to John’s.  Whatever you want is fine with me. I don’t really care 

Placatory people are highly insecure individuals who fear being judged for having a mind of their own.  They worry they might not be as well liked and that maybe they’ll lose their friends because they have different tastes or ideas.  This is not so much a verbal attack or assault, but in the long run will cause conflict due to the complacency of these individuals behavior’s.

COMPUTING or as we like to call them ANDROIDS: A computer or Android’s body language is close to no body language. They speak in generalities and abstractions. They give the impression they have no feelings or emotional content. They don’t use the words “I” or “you”. For example: “There is undoubtedly a good reason for this shortfall, no reasonable person would be upset about it.”  They also use terms like “Affirmative” or “Negative” for agreement or disagreement.

DISTRACTING: Distracters cycle rapidly through the other modes, switching body language as they go along. The impression they give is one of total disorganization and panic. You get a sentence of placating, another sentence of blaming, than a line or two of computing. Distracters sound something like this: “What is the matter with you people anyway? I mean, not that I care, come on you know me, I could put up with anything.”

Or “However, common sense would seem to dictate that no rules be changed in the middle of the game, and I’m sick and tired of this kind of garbage.

These emotional roller coasters are in a “mind, spirit” state of confusion.  They say something that elicits a response they are not prepared to handle then quickly try to rectify the situation by adding something else.  Their aim is to get their point across without hurting anyone’s feelings but if they are not being understood they will aggressively pursue their point.

LEVELING: Leveling can be recognized by the absence of the language behavior associated with the other four Satire modes. The leveler’s words and the leveler’s body language are in complete harmony with the leveler’s inner feelings. Leveling is just the simple truth, as the leveler perceives it. The leveler is self-syntonic: “Listen I’ll be frank with you, I don’t like you so stop trying to be so nice cause it won’t get you anywhere.”

The leveler is blunt and doesn’t care who he may hurt in the process.  He’s definitely not a hypocrite but his words may certainly offend.


No matter what you do, do not match together the same modes unless you want to add more fuel to the flame. Blaming a blamer means a scene; placating a placator means undignified delay, time is being wasted severely; computing a computer means dignified delay (it’s a great way to stall); distracting a distracter means that panic is feeding panic; leveling with a leveler means syntonic communication, but, to what avail?

When you are being attacked, always make sure to identify the mode used by the attacker and try to make the defense fit the attack. Let’s take for example this attack: “If you really cared about the budget, you wouldn’t be spending money the way you do.”

Now the attacker is expecting you to focus on the bit of the attack that states that you spend money in an inappropriate fashion. This is what we call the bait. The bait is the part of the attack that is designed to infuriate you.

Therefore ignore the bait. Instead, find the presupposition that will most effectively short circuit the attack. The presupposition in this case is that you don’t really care about the budget. Thus, if you answer the attacker: “Since when do you think I don’t care about the budget?” you will catch the attacker off guard. Hence, by answering the blamer with the leveling mode, you manipulate the attack so that it won’t escalate to an argument.

An attacker using computing mode would say something like this: “If a person really cared about the budget, they wouldn’t be spending money that way.” The attack is very much the same. However the attacker is not addressing you directly however he or she is addressing you implicitly but indirectly (as the ‘person‘).

Again, ignore the bait and answer the presupposition: “I couldn’t agree with you more, a person who did care about the budget would indeed in no way spend money that way.” By doing so, you are interrupting the attacker’s strategic pattern, therefor causing them to shift their focus.


This principle, for many people, is the hardest one of all. People usually think they are unable to follow through when their pride or ego is offended: “I know what I should have done but I was not going to let him get away with it.” This happens when an attack is so infuriating that the person hearing it ignores the goal of defusing the confrontation and goes into to conflict full force. This might feel good at the time. You might even think you won the confrontation with stronger arguments. However, this is a distortion of reality. The verbal abuser wants to engage in a conflict and create a scene. Therefore, by retaliating to his attack you are satisfying his desire. The verbal abuser marches you around and you lose.     

Others think they are unable to follow through because they feel too guilty: “I knew what I ought to do but I just felt so guilty, I couldn’t do it.” This problem is based on a misconception. You feel that it is necessary to endure the verbal abuser because you think it is a kind thing to do. That is an incorrect assumption. The verbal abuser is addicted to the sense of power that comes from being able to make others miserable in that way.

When you feed that addiction, it is not kind, just like offering an alcoholic a drink is unkind. If you really want to be kind, refuse the victim role. Know how to follow through.  Therefore, remember to ignore the bait and answer the presupposition of the attack with the appropriate Satire mode.


Although verbal abuse very often sneaks up on you without you even realizing, it also takes a more obvious form. Indeed, we can distinguish three types of verbal aggressions: one is more subtle and leaves you confused not knowing for sure whether you are being attacked or not yet still ill at ease; the other is obvious and assures you that you are being attacked. The former rarely escalates into physical combat (although it could lead to murder in extreme cases) while the latter will in most cases not end without bloodshed.

You obviously recognize being in danger when someone is yelling insults, curses or other obscenities at you. An important accompaniment to all these verbal aggressive displays is the body language of the attacker. Autonomic signals such as facial expressions, agitated and tensed-up muscular movements gear the attacker’s body up ready for action. In such cases, it is imperative that you adopt a passive stance. This strategic fighting stance gives you a tremendous amount of security, thus more confidence and control over the situation and your own actions. In any case it is necessary to try and verbally defuse the confrontation as much as you can.

If verbal defusing seems pointless, use verbal distractions, which consists in distracting the attacker from his or her immediate goal by using verbal initiators such as congruous questions or dialogue.

By doing so, you are strategically buying some time to ask yourself these fundamental questions:

1)‘What is my environment?’ Am I in a shopping mall? In an alley? In the woods?

2)‘What are my surroundings?’ Am I standing against the wall, near the escalators, am I alone or with someone I know? A girlfriend, a boyfriend, a relative?

3)‘Who am I dealing with?’ a drunk bum on the streets? A guy who has four friends waiting for him in the corner of a store? A sociopath? Is the attacker carrying a concealed weapon?

4) ‘How do I feel?’ Am I fatigued, sick, hurt, physically impaired etc. Even if you know that you will inevitably get into a fight, verbal distraction will give you some time to be aware of all these things.  It is imperative that you keep congruous behavioral tactics in the dialogue you choose.

Obviously one can say ‘how the hell can I think of all these things when my adrenaline is pouring in my blood and my heart starts beating faster every second?’ The answer is easy. You shouldn’t think about these things in any given circumstances; if you train your awareness regularly, it will come naturally. In confrontation, everything goes by so fast that you don’t have time to think; you only have the time to react. However your reaction will be more strategic if it is based on a proactive choice. As you react, stay aware. Hence, verbal self-defense, even if ineffective in calming the attacker, still becomes a strategy allowing you to become aware of your environment and your surroundings.

As you are verbally defusing or distracting the attacker, it is extremely important that you keep your vision diffused. Vision diffusion means to avoid critical focus. When in critical focus your mind fully concentrates on what it sees, and nothing else in the peripheral. Therefore, never lock your eyes on the attacker and make sure to always look to the attacker’s chest area so that you see all that surrounds you. Also by looking in the attacker’s chest area and not strait into his or her eyes, you appear more vulnerable and submissive, thus feeding the attacker the illusion of power. On the other hand, if you look into the attacker’s eyes, the attacker might take it as a sign of aggression and feel that you are challenging his or her threats. * End of Daniel’s contribution 

Verbal Defusing is a way to change your attacker’s focus without letting him know you are doing so out of strategy.  That is why behavioral tactics are extremely important in your choice of speech; keep your body language and tone of voice matching your words and the situation unfolding.  In other words if a guy has you by the collar because he believes you were staring at his girlfriend, don’t yell out “Hey Look… Superman!

6) Expected behavior: The gestures, phrases or movements that would be expected of the average person in a given situation.  In a violent confrontation, your attacker expects a certain behavioral pattern from you.  It usually goes two ways for the attacker or so he hopes.

1.) He attacks and threatens.  The intended victim freezes and panics.  The attacker gets what he wants.

2.) He attacks and threatens.  The victim attempts to fight back or struggle or does not immediately comply with the attacker.  The attacker escalates the use of violence and profane language in order to show he’s in charge and instills fear, doubt and hesitation in the intended victim.  The victim falls for it, freezes and panics.  The attacker gets what he wants.

As a strategy, do what the attacker expects of you at first.  Act afraid, let him believe he has you where he wants you, at that point, he will think everything is going according to his plan.  He will therefore be less defensive and over-confident.  His ego will rise and his guard will drop.  He’ll be more open for mistakes based on your presumed compliance.  That is when it becomes the ideal time to act.

7) Victim Assumption: Your attacker perceives you as being his victim, that is why he chose you. That is to be used to your advantage.  Since your attacker sees you as being week and compliant, stick with that plan and let him use this illusion. This will lower his guard and raise his ego making him the perfect candidate for a brutal and completely unexpected physical retaliation.  That is the ideal time to strike if necessary.

8) Thought process interruption/Distractions: These are techniques used to change the attackers focus. You see, the human brain cannot think of two completely different things at the exact same moment.  Thoughts can overlap each other at an incredibly fast pace, but no two separate thoughts can occur at the exact same time. 

So in the tradition of “Look! Superman!” thought process interruption could be verbal or physical such as asking an appropriate question or some dialogue that will shift the attackers attention away from his immediate goal.  Or they can be physical, like pulling out a wallet or playing with your watch to shift his attention and sight towards your wrist in order to sucker strike him with the back of your hand.

9) Element of surprise: Due to the above 8 steps, the attacker will perceive you as a victim and that is a psychological edge for you.  He will never expect you to fight back.  Your attack will come as a complete surprise to him and shift him into defensive mode as opposed to offensive.

*Steps 5, 7, 8 and 9 are examples of manipulation of human behavior.

10) Retaliate With Certitude: From peacemaker to piece maker, when de-escalation fails, an attitude reversal is required and a commitment to your own life has to take place.

Once it is determined that the confrontation cannot be verbally defused and is escalating to a physical level you are left with no other choice.  You have to fight back and fight like the devil.  In the words of the immortal Yoda from the movie The Empire Strikes Back, “Just do it, don’t try, trying implies possibility of failure“.  You’ve got to strike with confidence.  This will send strong messages to your attacker.  You’ve got to strike with everything you’ve got.

To get you hands on a copy of ‘In Total Defense Of The Self’ visit the secure online shop at  (Member of the International Senshido Allinance).

Source by Phil Thompson

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