How to Handle Verbal Abuse From Friends

opposicional behaviorCan you handle verbal abuse here?

Do you know how to handle verbal abuse in everyday conversations? How familiar are you with this technique people will use against you for preempting conversations that they are not so sure of understanding? Before appearing as an ignorant, he’d better do: “Oppositional Conversation Style”…Friends would be alienated, but ego would be preserved from feeling “inferior”…

In her post, Gretchen Rubin says:

“A person with oppositional conversational style is a person who, in conversation, disagrees with and corrects whatever you say. He or she may do this in a friendly way, or a belligerent way, but this person frames remarks in opposition to whatever you venture.

I noticed this for the first time in a conversation with a guy a few months ago. We were talking about social media, and before long, I realized that whatever I’d say, he’d disagree with me. If I said, “X is important,” he’d say, “No, actually, Y is important.” For two hours. And I could tell that if I’d said, “Y is important,” he would’ve argued for X.

I saw this style again, in a chat with a friend’s wife who, no matter what casual remark I made, would disagree with me. “That sounds fun,” I observed. “No, not at all,” she answered. “That must have been really difficult,” I said. “No, for someone like me, it’s no problem,” she answered. Etc.”

Reading this description of OCS, my mind remembered several of those conversations around my group of friends. I would say some observation coming from my much trained brain, about politics, or any social aspect of life in Florida, and my dear friend would blurt: “NO! you are wrong, it is not X, is Z!” The passion of her reaction was what surprised me…and the fact that she would do this systematically when I was coming with an original, creative or witty comment.  Of course, she would not laugh with me, or say, excitedly: “Yes, that is damn right! I get what you say!” But always prompt her strong opposition to my comment. As a result, that conversation was dead on the water….and what could have been a witty interchange ended up with me feeling chastised and clamming up.

Of course, the real issue was NOT giving me any recognition that I had offered a witty, interesting observation…that was the purpose of the OCS! Even if she had to kill the conversation, she accomplished her purpose of cancelling a conversation where she would feel ignorant, or lacking information, or…

Yes, her abuse was a way of defending herself from an imaginary competition with me, where she would lose. Do I have to say that she was a person with unfulfilled dreams of having a career, graduate studies, workplace experiences and so on? Wasn’t it more honest to say: “I don’t have all the facts, please can you fill me in?”

Perhaps in life a lot of our time is spent decoding behaviors for what they really are: defensive mechanisms to protect a weak ego. Now, let’s think about several possible reactions you can have in similar situations:

  • Ignore the oppositional response and find yourself with nothing to say because your conversation is already dead;
  • Tell the person: “Can I finish without you repressing my thinking? It’s no fun when you oppose everything I say!”
  • Ask in a very calm way: “What exactly in what I say prompts you to try to block my thinking each time I say something important?
  • Are you competing with me? If you can’t tolerate my ideas, perhaps it’s time for me to share them with other people?

And, after that question and the probable response, can you try to get some new friends?

I’m quoting Gretchen Rubin,  The Psychology of Oppositional Conversational Style (OCS)


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