“Verbal Abuse – Words and Attitudes That Destroy” (2017) — When it comes to communication, consciousness, and interpersonal interactions, we live in a new era of understanding. Over time, as cultures have evolved, we have gained a fresh perspective on topics such as slavery, child abuse, spousal battery, respect for human life and human dignity. Our history books bare witness to the past and present existence of economically and politically repressive regimes where authority is maintained by the brutality of physical force. Yet, even in this age, we live our day to day lives often ignorant of the festering relational cancer known as psychological repression – a repression so dark, so controlling that it cannot be maintained without some form of factual or verbal manipulation and coercion.
We as human beings continue to fall victim to repressive relationships, whether they be political, spiritual, professional, educational, platonic, parental, peer to peer, or romantic in nature, when we choose to remain ignorant and blind to the signs of this all too pervasive form of control.
Cloaked in many forms of denial, and just as painful as physical battery. Verbal abuse is a form of psychological battery which often requires a much longer period of recovery than that of physical battery.
Every relationship exhibits some form of inter-relational power. Healthy relationships flow in mutual respect, mutual empowerment, and co-creation when personal power is exercised. Unhealthy relationships shrivel and erode when dominance and control is fed through power over a person or group of people. At the core of verbal abuse lays the issue of control, an evidence of one party trying to hold power over another. Verbal abuse can be blatant, subtle, covert, demonstrated to third parties boastfully, but in every case, once exercised successfully, it becomes an ongoing constant barrage of controlling expressions and behaviours. In 1980, George R. Bach and Ronald M. Deutsch, in describing verbal abuse, they openly referred to it as “crazy making”. Crazy making is a form of psychological undermining.
I sat across the dinner table from what could only be described as a beautiful husband and wife. Both divorcees, I listened as they shared the love story of how they met and just knew it was meant to be. As I listened, every few minutes a disagreement over how the facts of the story was being shared would result in one party saying to the other “f__k off…you are such a liar”, which would often be rebutted by the other party with a “f__k off to you”. Expletive name calling frequented their exchanges with each other.
The home was elegant, the food and wine both excellent, and yet, the only piece to this jig-saw puzzle that didn’t seem to fit, was the derogatory way in which these two people…supposedly in love with each other…spoke to each other. What neither party could see was the way they had sub-consciously negotiated and allowed a pattern of verbal abuse, a highly dysfunctional way of relating, to creep into their relationship. Two strong willed people relating through the practice of holding power over their partner, and yet, both very blind to what they were doing.
Most verbally abusive people do not realize they are behaving in an abusive manner.
They were an incredible couple, both had done well in life, and from all accounts they had managed to successfully merge their worlds, but as I sat there listening, I heard an argument which has haunted mankind since the beginning of time. Mankind has always, in one form or another, been preoccupied with the question, “Who is best?”
As I sat across the dinner table, I witnessed two people who were clearly struggling with those age-old questions of “Who is on top?” and “How do I measure up?” A destructive competitive relational style where a person often subconsciously struggles with feelings of inferiority, but tries to over compensate or re-gain position through the outer expression of superiority or chauvinistic behaviours – power over. Two people who claim to be in love with each other, while exhibiting inner signs of people who were struggling to feel adequate in their relationship.
Be it a communication form such as “divining”, “mind-raping”, “overloading”, or “emergency nursing” to name a few, all forms of verbal abuse bare witness to an inner struggle on the part of the abuser. The baseline struggle is always found in one’s difficulty to communicate what they are truly feeling inside. As innocent as all of this may sound, there is a lurking danger — while most verbally abusive relationships do not become violent, a good percentage of them do.
Verbal abuse always precedes the first occurrence of domestic abuse, and is an ongoing part of abusive relationships. When verbal abuse is observed in a relationship, there is always a very real chance that one or both of those parties is also experiencing physical abuse.
Verbal abuse, no matter how loving a couple might appear publicly, is always a form of hostile aggression. Usually only the recipient can recognize it, and generally the responsibility for recognizing verbal abuse falls upon the victim because the abuser experiences a “rush” or “high” while holding power over someone and as such has little to no motivation for change, while at the same time often living in absolute denial of his or her abusive behaviour.
What Does Verbal Abuse Look Like?
Verbal abuse is often clouded in confusion, as many verbal abusers are often heard saying things such as:
- “I love you!”
- “You mean the world to me.”
- “I’d never do anything to hurt you!”
- “I live and breathe for you.”
- “I’d never leave you.”
- “No one could love you as much as I do.”
- “You must be mistaken. I would never mean such a thing.”
- “Your happiness is my greatest priority.”
If you’ve ever been called “Fat-so”, “Dummy”, “Idiot”, “Ugly”, or “Stupid”, to give a few examples, then you know what it’s like to experience… if only on a small scale…some form of verbal abuse. Our school yards are the melting pot of children reflecting relational patterns they see everyday in their own homes and neighborhoods.
Verbal abusers require relational walls, and relational distance, to keep “the enemy” from getting too close. Consciously or sub-consciously, the perpetrator of verbal abuse sees the target of their abuse as an enemy or threat who needs to be controlled. Words are the weaponry of the verbal abuser.
There are 20 known categories or varieties of verbal abuse, and many of these will occur from time to time in healthy relationships, but in a verbally abusive relationship they are continual and progressive in nature. The categories of verbal abuse are as follows:
- Discounting – Discounting diminishes the true value and reality of a partner’s past or present life experience, or the feelings they are experiencing in a particular moment.
- Divining – Verbally attacking and putting down your partner for not “getting it”, being able to read between the lines of your comments, understand your indirect hints, or being able to read your mind.
- Withholding – Intimacy is a necessity in a relationship. Intimacy cannot exist if a partner is not willing to share themselves and emotionally support their partner in an empathetic way.
- Diverting – The abuser either refuses to communicate, dictates what can be discussed, or withholds critical information.
- Countering – Boxers, to survive in the boxing ring, must learn to counter punch when punched. Verbal abusers if approached with a differing opinion may feel they are losing control, and counter a person to regain dominance.
- Accusing and blaming – A verbal abuser will often attack their target accusing and blaming their target claiming the target is responsible for the abuser’s irritation, insecurity, and angry outbursts in response.
- Mind-raping – Mind -raping is characterized by patterned and purposeful behavior which undermines and controls the abuse victim. It is an attack on the victim’s personality rather than their body — the abuse of someone’s higher emotions such as love and self-respect.
- Trivializing – Trivializing is an act whereby one party (the verbal abuser) rips apart and removes all value from their targets opinion or experience.
- Overloading – The wilful overloading of a victim’s thought processes so as to cause the victim to fail in their desired endeavours or fall into submission.
- Undermining – Undermining often occurs after the target of the verbal abuse has experienced a shrivelling in his or her self-esteem due to previous onslaughts of verbal abuse. Undermining implies that a partner’s opinions and thinking processes are inadequate.
- Name Calling – Pet names in a loving relationship are common and healthy, but in a verbally abusive relationship, the abusive partner might use those same pet names as an expression of disdain, stripping any lovingness from their expression. Other forms of name calling can range from the typical childhood version of name calling, to expletives, to spirit crushing humiliating names.
- Forgetting – To keep their victim off balance, a verbal abuser will often forget saying words that cause injury, and they will often forget events that are important to the target of verbal abuse. In communications, a verbal abuser will sometimes wilfully omit details leaving their target in an eventual embarrassing situation.
- Belittling – Verbal abusers may verbally attack their target in ways that out right diminish their targets opinion and value of their communication. A minor example of this would be one adult saying to another, “Don’t be such a child.”
- Ordering – Verbal abusers are all about holding power over a person, and no where can this be seen best than in a dictatorial style of ordering their target around.
- Denial – Verbal abusers live in a world of constant denial, and will continually deny their abusive behaviour, never being able to take responsibility for their own actions and making corrective change.
- Verbal Abuse Disguised As Jokes – We all love a good joke, but as every public speaker knows, the best jokes are the ones which are told at our own expense and not the emotional expense of someone else. Verbal abusers will sometimes tell embarrassing/spirit diminishing jokes to family and friends at the expense of their target, being careful to always doing so within ear shot of that victim.
- Criticizing – For criticism to exist, their must first be some form of judgmental thought or expression. When a verbal abuser criticizes their partner, two things are happening of which the first thing is judgement, and the second thing being an expression of lack of acceptance.
- Sarcasm – Known as the lowest form of humor, sarcasm skirts the fine line between good humor and cutting or belittling humor. Rarely can sarcasm exist without it being expressed in a manner that looks down upon, diminishes the value of, or implies disdain for another person. Sarcasm is always a destructive toxic form of humor.
- Threatening – Verbal abusers will often make or imply threats against their target, often doing so in a way so only the victim perceives the threat.
- Abusive Anger – Anger is the ultimate quest for control. When expressed in a proper manner, anger is a healthy emotion. Verbal abusers rarely know how to manage their anger and this is where many verbal abusers cross the line to become physical abusers.
A scientist once conducted an experiment where she placed one frog into a pan of very hot water. The frog immediately jumped out. The scientist then took a second frog and placed it in a pan of cool water. The frog didn’t jump out. Slowly the scientist turned the heat up under the pan of water and the frog remained until it cooked to death.
Verbal abuse victims are often like those frogs who never jump out of the pan of warming water. They continue to adapt to a degrading environment until their inner spirit is crushed to death, and they find themselves living in self doubt, not knowing how they got to where they are relationally speaking.
Finding Emotional Safety In A Verbally Abusive Relationship
Each day of our lives we make decisions pertaining to how and what we think of ourselves. We may not realize we are doing so, but we make decisions nonetheless.
In the face of a verbally abusive relationship, a victim must do several things to build and maintain a deep, inner attitude of safety in their world. Even as we often make sub-conscious decisions which impact us negatively, we can discover those past decisions, make corrections followed with new, quality filled redecisions.
Bringing yourself to a place of psychological safety and health will include:
- Monitoring your self-talk;
- Re-evaluating your core responsibilities, needs and wants;
- Re-evaluating your daily lifestyle from nutrition, to exercise, to self-advancement, to self-pampering;
- Re-evaluating and making new decisions pertaining to how you handle the stress in your life;
- And finally, when you know you are in a safe place within your own attitude, re-evaluate and make redecisions pertaining to the relationships in your life.
You can never change a verbal abuser. You can ask them to change, but change is always up to, and the responsibility of the offending party. There may come a time when the healthiest decision you can make is to walk away. Should that time come, have a plan in place and a circle of healthy spirit building people to go to. Ultimately, the choice to remain in a verbally abusive relationship is the victim’s alone. The abuser will never want their victim to leave, but often it is the healthiest decision a victim can make.
In every instance of personal emotional healing, grieving the losses, the pain, the sorrow, and your past is vital to moving on. Arriving at a place of emotional health is vital to creating and living in a self-empowering place of safe attitude.
“Verbal Abuse – Words and Attitudes That Destroy”, is written by – James C. Tanner
“Pairing: How To Achieve Genuine Intimacy”, 1970 George R. Bach and Ronald M. Deutsch, Published by Wyden Publications
“The Verbally Abusive Relationship – How To Recognize It And How To Respond”, 1992 Patricia Evans, Published by Adams Media Corporation, Maine USA
“Safe Places – Finding Security In The Passages of Your Life”, 1997 Dr. Frank Minirth, Steven Arterburn, Dr. Paul Meier, Published by Thomas Nelson Inc, Tennessee USA
“Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: The role of gender and age”, 2013, Günnur Karakurt Ph.D and Kristin E. Silver B.A., Published in Violence Vict. by Springer Pub. Co. New York USA