Question: How Can Someone Identify and Respond to Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse is difficult to identify and regrettably can be a common type of abuse in some 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.
Physical abuse is easily identified. There is no doubt, once you have been hit, that you have been physically abused. You don’t second guess yourself because the bruises and scars are visible evidence that abuse has taken place. Verbal abuse is different. The damage is internal, there are no physical bruises or scars, just a wounded spirit and sense of self-esteem.
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 harder to identify. Verbal abusers love to use constructive criticism to beat a spouse down. If your spouse is constantly criticizing you, “for your own good,” 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.
- Yelling, swearing and screaming. I call this the “walking on eggs shells” syndrome because you are living with someone who goes verbally ballistic for very little cause.
- 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!
- 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.
- You often wonder why you feel so bad. 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.
- 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. This form of verbal abuse is common at the end of a marriage. 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.
Responding 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:
- Abuse is never justified so, you should never feel that it is your fault.
- 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.
- Seek counseling, either together or separately.
- Surround yourself with a support system of family and friends. Discuss with them what is happening and how you are feeling.
- If the verbal abuse escalates to physical abuse, leave. Your personal safety is far more important than the relationship.
- 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…a reaction from you.
- 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.
- Leave the marriage. If setting boundaries, getting therapy and refusing to respond to the abuse doesn’t work, then it is time to consider divorce. There are times when the best thing you can do for yourself is, break all ties with your abuser. If you make this decision hire an attorney familiar with domestic violence, stay in close contact with your support system and focusing on learning good coping skills.