It's not the case that people who come to me as students or clients always do so because they're aware that others are verbally attacking them. Some do, of course, and begin their relationship with me by saying that verbal abuse is making their lives miserable -- but that's by no means universal. A lot of people tell me that they're consulting me because "everybody who works for me is weird" or "my parents are impossible to get along with" or "all the time, when I'm at work, my stomach is tied in knots and I can't figure out why" or "I have to spend a lot of my time with extremely difficult people and I need to do it more efficiently" or "I'm not getting ahead in my life the way I feel like I ought to be, and I thought it might have something to do with communication" or "I have to testify in court next month and I don't want to mess it up".... that sort of thing.
Consider the person who comes to me because "everybody who works for me is weird." It's typical for that person to tell me, after we've worked together on his or her language behavior for six weeks or so, that "the people who work for me aren't as weird as they used to be." The idea that the change is the other way around -- and that improved behavior from the employees is in response to improved behavior from the boss -- may never enter that person's mind unless I explicitly make it clear that that's what has happened and why. The same thing happens when the "weird" behavior reported to me initially was in family, class, or other group.
Verbal self-defense isn't just a matter of learning how to deal with the open attack coming straight at you. In the same way that you couldn't achieve your full potential in life if you had to work and live waist-deep in polluted water, you can't achieve that potential when you have to work and live in a language environment polluted by hostile language. Verbal self-defense has two goals, and only one of them is responding approriately to attacks. The other is to develop for yourself a presence that makes hostile language rare around you. Rare -- because in your presence people understand that hostile language is neither appropriate nor necessary. Rare -- because when someone does make the mistake of trying to handle conflict with verbal violence in your presence you immediately demonstrate a far better way to handle it. Establishing that sort of presence and maintaining it is critically important for your own well-being and the well-being of everyone else who shares your language environment.
While I'm here, I want to thank you for making me welcome in this forum and for being willing to give your attention to the question of verbal self-defense. I'll do my best to deserve that attention and to answer your questions fully and adequately. I also want to thank you for your courtesy in referring to me and addressing me as Dr. Elgin; I appreciate that very much. It's all right now to switch to just "Suzette." There are environments in which insisting on "Dr. Elgin" is necessary; this forum isn't one of them.