Verbal Self-Defense | Using Your Voice as a Safety Tool

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We live in a fast-paced and unpredictable world where personal safety has become a paramount concern.

Physical violence has always been a societal issue, but we are seeing increases in violent crime across the world. In developed nations like the United States, we see increases in mass shootings and general violent crime.

In developing nations like some in Eastern Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, we see individuals in society getting left behind not able to keep up with the "Joneses" which leads to greater dissatisfaction, mental health concerns, and lashing out in the form of physical violence.

While physical self-defense techniques and weapons are still essential, harnessing the power of verbal self-defense can be equally crucial in diffusing potentially dangerous situations.

Verbal self-defense involves using assertiveness, active listening, de-escalation techniques, and boundary setting to navigate conflicts and ensure one's safety.

Today we will delve into various aspects of verbal self-defense, exploring how to develop assertiveness and confidence, handle different settings, and address legal and ethical considerations while maintaining composure and respect.

Developing Assertiveness and Confidence

The backbone of effective verbal self-defense is knowing how to be assertive and having a high level of confidence.

This is because communication is made up of:

  • 55% Body Language
  • 38% Tone of Voice and Vocal Attributes (volume, clarity, projection, etc.)
  • 7% Spoken Word or Verbal Content

This breakdown signifies that it's not about what you say but how you say it. And how you say it comes down to being assertive and confident with your communication.

Building Confidence

Building confidence can be done in many different ways. Some of the best ways to boost confidence is by using feedback loops. An example of a positive feedback loop is something happens that produces a favorable outcome, so you can simply repeat the loop to produce the favorable outcome again.

Engaging in positive self-talk to build a more positive outlook on life and challenge any negative self-doubt and limiting beliefs is a great place to start. You can perform self-talk at scheduled times like in the morning when you wake up, throughout the day, or when you accomplish a small goal like going to the gym or obtaining a new customer.

Woman Looking in mirror giving herself positive self talk and affirmations

Positive affirmations are another great feedback loop to incorporate into your daily routine. They help reinforce positive beliefs about yourself and help you live in the present moment. Here are some examples of great positive affirmations to say out loud to yourself:

  1. My past is not a reflection of my future
  2. I'm in control of how I react to others
  3. I am exactly where I am supposed to be
  4. I am enough
  5. I am strong

Another great way to build confidence is to enroll in public speaking groups or communication workshops to gain experience and comfort with expressing yourself in front of other people in public. Learning how to communicate with other people in real time is very important in becoming a confident person.

Becoming More Assertive

Becoming more assertive involves developing the ability to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs confidently and respectfully, without being overly aggressive or passive.

Start by understanding your own feelings and desires. Many people decide to take up journaling to reflect on situations where they tend to be passive or aggressive, and identify areas where they'd like to be more assertive.

After understanding your own feelings and previous experiences, it's time to define your personal boundaries and communicate them to others in a clear and respectful manner. Establishing your own personal boundaries and being able to communicate them to others, whether it is your family, friends, significant other, or strangers, is one of the most important steps in developing assertiveness.

Woman Happy and Confident Outdoors

When communicating with others and expressing concerns, use "I" statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, say "I feel uncomfortable when..." instead of "You always make me feel...". This is a key component in self and social awareness and allows you to connect with others better.

Don't be afraid to say "no" without feeling guilty. Saying "no" is essential for maintaining boundaries and self-care. Politely decline requests that don't align with your priorities or values.

Lastly, learn to be open-minded with others. Life is about expressing yourself while understanding others, even if their viewpoints don't necessarily align with yours.


De-escalation is when you reduce the tension, hostility, or conflict in a conversation or situation. It is a key strategy used to prevent an argument or conflict from turning into a serious, aggressive, or violent situation.

Woman DeEscalating Conflict with Stranger

Recognizing warning signs is the first step in effective de-escalation. Agitation, increased vocal volume, aggressive body language, and refusal to cooperate are common signs that a situation is escalating. In some cases, a person may also display signs of distress, anxiety, or intense emotional reactions. By identifying these indicators early on, individuals can take proactive measures to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.

To de-escalate a tense situation, active listening is a fundamental technique. Giving the individual your full attention and showing empathy can help them feel understood and valued, thus defusing their emotions. It is crucial to remain calm and composed during the interaction, as reacting emotionally can exacerbate the situation. Maintaining a non-threatening body language, such as open gestures and avoiding direct eye contact, signals approachability and reduces feelings of intimidation.

Verbal de-escalation techniques are equally essential. Using a respectful and gentle tone, individuals can acknowledge the person's feelings and concerns while remaining neutral and non-judgmental. Offering choices and options can empower the individual, making them feel more in control of the situation and less prone to aggression. Simple reassurances, such as "I am here to help" or "We will work this out together," can also provide comfort and security.

Additionally, seeking common ground and focusing on areas of agreement can build rapport and create a shared understanding, fostering an atmosphere of cooperation. If the situation warrants it, calling for backup or involving a mediator can be instrumental in diffusing tense scenarios.

Verbal Boundary Setting

Another important verbal self-defense tool to help keep you safe is verbal boundary setting.

This basically means effectively communicating to someone your boundaries verbally.

Woman Asserting Verbal Boundaries in Public

Verbally setting your boundaries is important so that the other person knows what your boundaries are. You shouldn't assume the other person knows your boundaries since they might have different values than you. It also demonstrates to the other person that you are assertive and actually have clear boundaries. Lastly, it shows that you are a good communicator and are not afraid to vocalize your opinions.

Establishing personal boundaries is crucial in maintaining self-respect and safety in various situations and can be accomplished by:

    • Utilizing Non-Violent Communication Techniques such as "I" statements to assert boundaries without blaming others.
    • Stay calm and composed, avoiding aggressive or accusatory language.
    • Diffusing Aggression with Calm and Respectful Responses:
    • Respond to verbal attacks with composure and rationality.
    • Avoid retaliating with insults or aggression.
    • Be clear and specific, and clearly express your boundaries in a straightforward manner. Avoid vague language and make sure the other person understands exactly what you are comfortable with and what you are not.
    • Stick to your boundaries and being consistent in upholding them once you've communicated them. If someone crosses those boundaries, calmly remind them about your limits and ask for their respect.
    • Set consequences. If someone repeatedly ignores your boundaries, be prepared to set consequences. Communicate these consequences calmly, explaining that they are necessary to maintain the relationship's health.

    Overall, verbal boundary setting is not only important in terms of personal safety, but it plays a crucial role in families, interpersonal relationships, social circles, and work environments. In the next section we will take a look at different applications of verbal self-defense in different environments.

    Verbal Self-Defense in Different Settings

    Verbal self-defense can and should be used in different settings from obvious higher-risk situations like with aggressive strangers in public, to close relationships with your significant other at home. Let's take a look at some of these different environments and discuss how to apply verbal self-defense in them.

    Roommates Arguing and Setting Boundaries

    At home and with close family or significant others, you want to establish open communication so that everyone in the household feels entitled to share their opinion. Make sure to also address conflicts immediately so they don't fester over time, escalate, and end in an abrupt explosion.

    In the office, verbal self defense comprises multiple layers of authority and policies. In most instances, remaining professional and understanding will resolve the core issues, but if they persist, it's always best to bring the attention to your supervisor or HR department.

    Office Politics and Arguments

    In public spaces, it's best to stay aware of your surroundings and to always be ready for any situation to arise. Verbal defense will normally be your first line of defense before anything escalates to the point of physical violence. Don't be afraid to say no, to be assertive, or to act mean in public to someone you don't know if you are staying safe. And as always, make sure to carry a self defense weapon or personal alarm in case the situation escalates to a physical conflict.

    Couple Arguing in Kitchen

      In an emergency situation or in the face of aggression, it's important to respond confidently to the intimidating aggressor or behavior, but without reciprocating aggression or escalating the situation. Remaining calm and communicating clearly will help you to assert your boundaries verbally with an aggressive individual. If this doesn't work, it's best to disengage and remove yourself from the potentially dangerous situation rather than try to reason with them.

        Verbal Self-Defense Conclusion

        Verbal self-defense is an invaluable skill in modern society, allowing individuals to protect themselves and others without resorting to physical force. By developing assertiveness and confidence, employing de-escalation techniques, and establishing boundaries, individuals can navigate conflicts with calmness and composure.

        There are times when you have to put your ego to the side and realize that a physical altercation is not worth it and it will be a lose-lose situation for all parties involved. This might mean walking away from a physical confrontation that you think you can win, or even a verbal argument that you are right about. Many times the outcome for both individuals comes down to two possibilities: going to jail or going to the hospital, and it's a net loss for everyone involved.

        Learning verbal self-defense and applying these techniques can make your relationships and everyday life easier and less stressful. You will be more capable of resolving small conflicts and will gain more confidence that you can handle anything that life throws at you.

        Confident Happy Woman in Pink

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