Ever had someone say that to you?
You’re having a discussion, and it’s going in a direction they don’t like. So they shut you down:
“I’m not arguing with you about this.”
It’s like a bombshell. You open your mouth, only to realize there’s no possible response to that.
You’re confused. You weren’t arguing; you were having a conversation. Maybe the other person even invited your feedback.
So let’s clear up the confusion. Here’s what was really going on.
Your conversational partner just delivered a particularly cutting example of verbal abuse.
Verbal abuse is any attempt to define another person. Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship, describes it like this:
“[Verbal abuse] is a lie told to you or about you. Generally, verbal abuse defines people, telling them what they are, what they think, their motives, and so forth.” [http://www.patriciaevans.com]
When your conversational partner told you, “I’m not arguing with you,” they were defining your motives. They were redefining your discussion as an argument. They were implying that you were just trying to argue with them and prove them wrong.
That immediately shames you. It discounts everything you said as “just an argument.”
This statement effectively cuts off any further discussion. It marks the topic as off-limits. Your conversational partner is not willing to consider what you have to say, not now, not ever.
What can you do when someone cuts you off like that?
The first step is to recognize that it’s a verbally abusive statement. It’s designed to make you feel small, silence you, and make the other person feel like the victor. It’s a cheap and cruel way to cut off a discussion.
The second step is to decide whether or not to make an issue of it. If this is someone you don’t have to interact with regularly, then exit the conversation and make a mental note of what happened. You may wish to avoid getting into discussions with that person in future.
However, if this person is your partner or a family member, then it is an issue.
None of us are perfect; all of us say verbally abusive things from time to time without realizing it. But verbal abuse has a tendency to snowball. If your partner can get away with silencing you like this, then they will likely employ the same strategy in future.
Here’s what you can do.
Exit the conversation. Let some time elapse. You may even wish to wait a day so that you can sleep on it and consider what you want to say.
Then, when you’re feeling calm and ready, tell your partner you’d like to talk about something. Mention what happened the other day and how it made you feel. Ask your partner to refrain from saying to you that in future, because that statement doesn’t really belong in the kind of loving relationship you have.
Should you call it out as verbal abuse?
I’d be cautious about doing that. The term “abuse” sets off all kinds of alarms in people. Unfortunately, there’s not a better phrase for it. What matters is that you know it’s verbal abuse, and you also know it doesn’t belong in a loving relationship.