Cartoon of angry woman with crossed arms

Communication Skills for Relationship Explorers: GAVSD

Cartoon of angry woman with crossed arms“If you REAlly LOVED me,
you’d be willing to LIsten

to me and HELP!”

This sentence is a Verbal Attack.

No, really, it is.  Let me ‘splain….

I’ve been having a useful conversation with my almost-ex in his Facebook (and my LiveJournal, but that part is FriendsLocked for the comfort of my commenters there). Over a few days last week, we unpacked one of our really major BAD DYNAMICS from our relationship.

[It’s one of the reasons that I still appreciate him and our relationship–even at our worst, we’ve always tried to look at this stuff and learn from it.  The fact that we were so mired up at one point that we could no longer make progress is of course why we’re not together anymore. But the other fact that we’re still both willing and able to examine these behaviors and learn is why I still sometimes present workshops with him. By learning from our own mistakes we might be able to help others, so at least that way all our pain might not have been completely wasted! ;^)]

So as I said, over the past week or so we’ve discussed a particularly challenging type of interaction for us, one that was especially poisonous, and which dogged us for the entire course of our relationship.  And in the course of this analysis, one of the sentences I unpacked was one that I labeled a Verbal Attack Pattern, after the work of Suzette Haden Elgin, the author of the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense series.

The idea of the Verbal Attack Pattern (or VAP) is from a book called The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin (this link is to the Revised version from 2009, which appears to be available only in hardback. You Can’t SAY That to Me!
is another book in the series that discusses the VAPs, and is available in a less expensive paperback form.) As Dr. Elgin (or Suzette, as she is known to her many enthusiastic LiveJournal readers, myself included) says,

“VAPs are English language patterns used to demonstrate power over a targeted victim by (a) capturing and holding their attention and (b) evoking a highly emotional response. They have two parts: an open attack (the “bait”) and one or more attacks sheltered in presuppositions.”

In the sentence at the beginning of this entry, the “tone” is written by indicating stresses in capital letters. The stresses form what Suzette calls the “tune” or “music” of the utterance.  It is this particular pattern of words combined with its specific “tune” that makes the utterance a VAP.  In this case:

“If you REAlly LOVED me, you’d be willing to LIsten to me and HELP!”

Suzette explains why this is an attack so much better than I ever could, on her GAVSD summary page, along with a whole lot of other useful information such as Satir Modes, Miller’s Law, Sensory Modes, and the basics of how to respond to a VAP.

(Here’s a BONUS page of a “new” VAP for those of you already familiar with her earlier work. :^D)

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface here, and I really recommend checking out Suzette’s work by reading one or more of her books. The GAVSD system is very good stuff, though I personally find it a bit difficult to USE it in the heat of the moment (it requires a certain amount of impulse control to avoid blurting out inadvisable words in a heated conversation… something that hot-headed Scots with ADHD are not overly known for… *wry smile*).

In fact, I often use Nonviolent Communication (created by Marshall Rosenberg), because it’s simpler and easier for me to remember when I’m “hijacked” by my emotions. However, the GAVSD concepts have been foundational for me in recognizing when a communication is hostile and attacking (other people’s…or my own…). They have formed the basis of my understanding of communication in general, and informed my view of communication as something learned (not fixed) which–in the absence of mental illness such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder–can be understood and changed for the better.

I hope you find this helpful as well.

~♥ Dawn

8 thoughts on “Communication Skills for Relationship Explorers: GAVSD

    1. dawnd Post author

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    1. dawnd Post author

      Thanks, Dboll! Glad you liked the site, but steroids aren’t in my list of things I want sold through my site, so I’ve deleted your direct links. Feel free to ask me questions about the content on my site, though!

    1. dawnd Post author

      Hey tattoodesigns! I’m guessing you’re probably a spammer, but in case not, what’s your favorite content here? Do you have any free poly tattoo designs for us??

    1. dawnd Post author

      Glad to be helpful, Mike. What in particular had you been looking for, that you found here? What have you found most helpful on the site? Anything I can do better?


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