Power Animals

Verbal abuse often appears in personal relationships and the workplace. Learn how to use imagery of power animals to stand up to verbal bullies.

A sad truth exists that people who have suffered childhood abuse remain susceptible to various forms of abuse in adulthood. Verbal bullies intuitively sense vulnerability in others and often exploit it to compensate for their own inadequacies.

Imagining a powerful animal (such as a wolf, bear or panther) can help you to access the powerful parts of your own personality to counter verbal abuse. For example, when you need to assert yourself, imagining the strong, intuitive characteristics of a wolf can help you to stand your ground. Below are suggestions on how to integrate strong animal imagery to withstand common forms of verbal abuse.

Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Many bosses use verbal abuse tactics to maintain power, especially when they suffer low self esteem or believe their jobs are threatened. Common abuse tactics include: failing to respond to emails or phone calls in a timely manner, glossing over concerns or problems, criticizing a coworker’s performance in public or behind his/her back, refusing to admit mistakes, lying, “forgetting” important communications and offering amateur psychological interpretations (a particularly vicious form of abuse).

  1. Follow up verbal communications with emails.

Since verbal bullies often employ deception, important communication about performance expectations and deadlines should always be confirmed by email. Before composing an email to a coworker or boss, take a few deep breaths and imagine a power animal along with its characteristics. Remind yourself that you too have these qualities, even if they are not well practiced. Write in a professional but firm tone.

  1. Engage third parties.

When sending emails, always copy relevant third parties when appropriate. This will alert the verbal bully that another person is observing the interaction. A power animal, like a bear, would not worry about “tattling’ because the goal is to encourage team cooperation in attaining a common goal.

  1. Employ cold logic and hard facts.

Verbal abuse by its very nature is illogical and nonfactual.  Engaging the perceptive, observant qualities of an owl will help to focus on the lies and illusions on which the verbal bully relies.

  1. Refer to your job description

When asked to complete unreasonable assignments or tasks out of your area of expertise, imagine the strong traits of a cougar while referring to your job description. Using email, firmly remind the verbal bully of the relevant terms of your job description and respectfully question the nature of the request. If necessary, seek out consultation from Human Resources.

Although seemingly simplistic, conjuring up the images of power animals can help to overcome your own self-doubts about asserting yourself to a boss or coworker. Keep in mind that the power animal seeks to protect; it does not have the human qualities of wanting to “be nice” or “seek approval”.

Verbal Abuse in Relationships

Many friends and family members employ verbal abuse tactics to manipulate and to shore up low self- esteem. Insensitive jokes at the cost of others, vicious gossip, gaslighting, psychoanalyzing, belittling, invalidating, refusing to apologize, changing the topic, last-minute social invitations, childish excuses all serve the verbal abuser’s goals.

  1. Seek safety in numbers.

Although the wolf can be a loner, s(he) usually travels in packs. Visualize the wolf seeking out the pack to add power against the abuser. Then follow up with discussion to other who have suffered the effects of the abuser. Several people confronting the abuser’s behavior will have more power than one.

  1. Place the magnifying glass on the abusive behavior

Challenge the excuses and irrational justifications with logic.  For example, imagine the huge bald eagle observing an aerial view of the situation.  Calmly confront, “This is the fifth time you have failed to follow up on your promise to help me because you were busy.  How is it you manage to find time to shop, Facebook, go out for dinner and pursue all our pleasurable activities?”

  1. Initiate discussion in writing; follow up face to face.

When approaching a delicate subject with a verbal bully, empower yourself with the strength and speed of a cougar.  Clearly outline the scope of the discussion in writing.  Follow up with an in-person discussion set with clear parameters (e.g., if the communication deteriorates into abusive tactics, the discussion is ended).

  1. When all fails, limit or leave the relationship

Free as a bird, why weigh yourself down with toxic baggage?


Employing the practice of visualizing power animals can help you to assert yourself with verbal bullies both at work and in your personal life.  As you gain more experience in successfully standing up to abuse, you will strengthen your self esteem and leave yourself less vulnerable to verbal attacks.


Image is Under License from Shutterstock.

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