Verbally Abusive Relationships
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Articles by Patricia Jones, M.A.
Copyright © 2006 - 2013 Dove Christian Counseling Center. All Rights Reserved
If you have been or are the victim of verbal abuse from someone you love, or who says they love you, it can be a terrifying experience. In fact, it makes you sick to your stomach, that "hole in the pit of your stomach" kind of feeling. And many times, verbal abuse comes when you least expect it. Everything appears to be going fine, and then WHAMO, out of nowhere YOU are all of a sudden the TARGET for someone else's anger or their inability to control their own emotions. They get upset at something THEY DID, usually, and then they verbally lash out at you, as if you are the one who messed up. And it happens over and over and over again.
I call it VERBAL RAGE. This supposedly calm person erupts like a firey volcano over the slightest thing, and then can also remain calm over things that most people would respond to very vocally. It is maddening! If it were not so pathetic, it would be funny.
First you must identify verbal abuse for what it is: ABUSE To be the target of someone else's rage is never fun. And over time, it can weaken every strength that you have. You begin to live in fear of the next explosion. You begin to cower whenever the abuser is in the room. You pick and choose your words carefully. It has been called "walking on egg shells, but I think it is more like "walking on thin layer of ice," that can crack open at any moment.
Verbal abuse is difficult to identify but it IS a form of abuse and is found in most abusive marriages. Not all words that are meant to hurt are "ugly words." A master at verbal abuse can damage your self-esteem while, at the same time, appear to care deeply for you. The use of words to punish is a very covert attempt to control and regardless of how loving your spouse may appear to be, verbal abuse is wrong and can be just has harmful as physical abuse.
The categories are withholding, countering, discounting, joking, blocking and diverting, accusing and blaming, judging and criticizing, trivializing, undermining, threatening, name calling, forgetting, ordering, denial and abusive anger.
Physical abuse is easily identifiable. You know when you have been physically hit, shoved, kicked, or choked. You don’t second guess yourself because the bruises and scars are visible evidence that abuse has taken place. Physical abuse is external. It can be seen and exposed. Verbal abuse is different. The damage is internal, there are no physical bruises or scars, and unless you have a tape recorder going or a witness, many times it is your word against the abusers words when you are trying to seek outside help.
Below are some common signs of Verbal Abuse:
Being called names by your spouse. Any negative form of name calling is unacceptable. If you feel that it is a put down, then it most likely is. There are names that are obvious and, without question abusive.Then there are the covert, veiled attempts to put a spouse down that are more subtle. Verbal abusers love to use constructive criticism to beat a spouse down. If your spouse is constantly criticizing you, “for your own good,” or they are "trying to teach you a lesson." then be careful. This is the most insidious form of verbal abuse.
Using words to shame. Critical, sarcastic, mocking words meant to put you down either alone or in front of other people. Some verbal abusers save their worst criticisms of you to be delivered in front of family or company. They actually think that by putting you down they will gain friends and support from others. Quite the opposite is true though. They are making a fool of themselves for all to see. And the "others" feel sorrow and disgust for what they observe you enduring.
Yelling, swearing and screaming. I call this the “walking on thin ice" syndrome because you are living with someone who goes verbally ballistic for very little cause. Have you ever lived with a man who was trying to make or fix something that broke in your home and it goes wrong when he is trying to fix it, and you would think that World War III just broke out with all the cussing, screaming, and yelling that you hear coming from the basement, or wherever he is working, and then all of a sudden it is YOUR FAULT? And you were not even there?
Why do most verbal abusers sound like they are three years old?
Using threats to intimidate. No threat should be taken likely, even if your spouse tells you they are only joking, especially if it causes you to change behaviors or to feel on guard in the relationship.
Blaming the victim. Your spouse blows his/her top and then blames you for their actions and behavior. If you were only perfect they wouldn’t lose control! if you had only known what they wanted without them having to ASK you, then such and such would have never happened. They always "pass the buck" because verbal abusers have this inability to find fault with themselves. If something goes wrong in their world, it is always because of someone or something else.
Your feelings are dismissed. Your spouse refuses to discuss issues that upset you. They avoid discussion of any topic where they might have to take responsibility for their actions or words. OR they actually SHOUT over you when you are trying to explain something because they don't want to hear that they had any responsiblity for the upsetting issue in the first place. They will change the subject or actually deny that whatever they were yelling at you about ever even occured. This is because their pride is enormous and admitting they made a mistake is almost impossible. They are blind to their own imperfections.
Is it any wonder that you feel bad most of the time? Do you start to notice that the only time you are even remotely happy is when you are away from your abuser or they are gone for the day? You bury your feelings, walk on egg shells and work so hard at keeping the peace that every day becomes an emotional chore. You feel depressed and have even wondered if you are crazy.
Why would anyone be happy when they are almost 24/7 being made the scapegoat for an abusive, raging, out of control bully? Because verbal abuse is really a form of bullying the other person. You might as well just get a red blanket and point it at your abuser and say hit me here! He is the bully and you are the bull.
Manipulating your actions. The persistent and intense use of threatening words to get you to do something or act in a way you find uncomfortable. If your spouse doesn’t want a divorce they will say whatever it takes to play on your emotions, to get you to stay in the marriage. All in an attempt to get you to comply with their desires, regardless of what is best for you as an individual. Some will even say they are "warning you" that if you don't tow the line then you are on your way out. Then later on they tell you they did not mean it and that you should not believe what they say when they are angry.
The Bible teaches us that the desires of the heart come out of the mouth. That what is really in our hearts will sooner or later come out in our words. Words are powerful. They have the ability to heal or to destroy.
What a way to go through life right? Being completely intimidated and controlled by someone other than yourself, and someone who pretends to love you, no less. The real truth is this: They never learned what real love actually is. People who go through life verbally abusing others are at their core, extremely insecure. They have learned early in life that the only way to hold on to someone is through intimidation, threats, and fear tactics. They are all about power and control because they cannot control who they are. Most of them don't even like themselves. And the only way for them to feel good, is to put you down. Which builds them up. They must put you down to build themselves up. Crazy isn't it. A complete reversal of logical thinking. If you say the sky is blue, they will tell you that it is green and then threaten you until you say "the sky is green."
How should you respond to verbal abuse?
If your spouse, the person you are closest to habitually, verbally abuses you and dismisses your feelings, you will begin to see yourself and your needs as unimportant, of little consequence and irrelevant. When you finally recognize and come to terms with the idea that you are being verbally abused you need to also become focused on getting help. Here are some steps you can take if faced with verbal abuse:
1.) You should never feel that it is your fault even though the abuser will try to make you think it is your fault, it is NOT. Verbal abuse of another person is never justified.
Let the abuser know how hurtful their words are and discuss with them the fact that it is unacceptable to you. Set boundaries on what you will and will not accept from your abuser. If this does not work, and they become even more abusive and possibly physically abusive, seek counseling immediatly.
2.) Have a positive support system of family and friends in place. This is because many times the abuser is so good at what they do, you begin to believe their lies about yourself. You need others, outside the situation, to validate your feelings about who you really are and to tell you that you are not going crazy. Discuss with them what is happening and how you are feeling.
3.) If the verbal abuse escalates to physical abuse leave. Your personal safety is far more important than the relationship.
4.) Do not engage in conflict with your abuser. If your spouse becomes angry stay calm, walk away and don’t give him/her what they want which is a reaction from you. Remember, verbal abust is all about CONTROLLING you. If you walk away they will have nothing to control but themselves, which is the real problem to begin with. Their lack of control of themselves and their inabiliy to blame themselves for their own actions, and their denial of their own imperfections is what is making them angry in the first place. They have lived their entire life this way.
5.) Take back your power. If you react to the abuser, you are rewarding them. Letting them know they have power over your emotions. Don’t allow the abuser to have control over how you feel.
6.) You may have to leave the marriage or relationship for your own sanity. After all, you are not the one with the problem.
God does not condone any form of abuse. He is aways on the side of the person being abused. Whenever you are being targeted by your abuser, remind yourself that everything he is trying to get you to believe that is negative about yourself is a lie, and that God would not agree with him.