Breaking the Silence About Verbal Abuse
Written by Camille Langston
There is an epidemic spreading throughout the world in families and society in general. It is that of abuse. There are many forms of abuse which affects many people of different genders, ages, race, and situations. However, the most subtle, most common, yet unfamiliar to most is that of verbal abuse. Most commonly exhibited through marital relationships, this exposure is happening mostly because survivors have escaped the clutches and are telling their stories. Breaking their silence, so to speak.
Physical abuse is easier to detect because of the obvious marks and bruises left on the victim. However, verbal abuse is a sneaky, conniving beast that is harder to detect because the damage is taking place on the inside, destroying the self-esteem, self-confidence, and eventually the soul of the victim. In fact, a master of verbal abuse can appear to others that he cares about you deeply, covering any tracks of inappropriate behavior taking place behind closed doors. Now, I recognize that either the husband or wife has been known to be the verbal abuser, but because the woman is generally the victim in the majority of verbal abuse scenarios, I'll refer to "her" as the victim for the benefit of this article. And the information shared is through careful research and personal experiences. If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, or you know of someone who you suspect to be suffering from abuse, hopefully this will help bring understanding, comfort, and awareness to the reality of the situation.
First, verbal abuse needs to be identified. It has been defined as an ongoing emotional environment organized by the abuser for the purposes of control. It rears its ugly head in many forms, starting with some of the obvious:
- Name-calling—or using any other derogatory or expletive choice of words to describe their partner
- Threatening—He manipulates his partner by playing on her biggest fears, which could be threatening divorce or taking her kids away from her. Often, it may include threats of physical pain or damage, or threats of suicide, and blaming her for it.
- Forgetting—after the victim collects herself from an "outburst" of rage against her, she may confront her mate, only to find that he has "forgotten" about the incident or denies it ever happened.
- Outbursts or rage exhibited towards you - sporadic, with no reasoning, sometimes includes throwing or breaking items.
- Blame—accusing her of being "overly sensitive" or "blowing things out of proportion" or simply blaming her for his behavior or anything gone wrong. "I promised myself I would be nice to you today, but then you go and make me do this!"
- Denial—the abuser will not take responsibility for their actions. It's always someone else's fault and often believes the "world is against them". They feel that THEY are the victims, which contributes to a gradual confusion for the victim.
- Isolation—controlling the comings and goings of their partner, (i.e. visits, phone calls, emails, any form of communication with others) in order to isolate her from any support group that would consist of family or friends.
- Jealousy—typically includes insisting on detailed explanations for absences or tardies, relentless probing of workplace relationships or motives for activities without the abuser. He may even question why you're wearing jewelry, or putting on make-up, or any other step you took to enhance your self-esteem.
- Ignoring, ridiculing, criticizing or humiliating their partner.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you are in a verbally abusive relationship. The first thing you need to know is, despite what your partner may tell you, this is NOT a normal marriage/relationship! Verbal abuse is WRONG and if you are left in this environment, it will eventually destroy your self-esteem, confidence, identity and any will to progress. In addition, it could escalate to physical abuse. Getting help is a difficult and careful step, which will require a lot of caution. Since the abuser's purpose is to control, he will do anything to prevent you from trying to escape.
Another thing to consider is the potential effect the abuser’s behavior may take on your children. First of all, did you know that DCFS considers it child abuse if they are in the presence of, and witness domestic violence between their parents? Besides, your relationship is modeling to them what is the “norm” for acceptable behavior between a husband/wife or man/woman in general. Sons will be conditioned to believe that this is how women should be treated. Daughters will expect to be treated the same from their husbands, or any male in their life. If the abuser’s behavior isn’t directed towards the children right now, over time it will eventually, and they will suffer the same individual effects you will as the victim, complicating their adolescent lives and long-term relationships.
If you suspect someone may be in a verbally abusive situation, don't expect them to tell you. 99.9% of the time, they will lie and tell you that everything is fine. They know that any involvement from the "outside world" would anger the abuser even more, which would accelerate the level and severity of the abuse. Instead, watch for some of these red flags:
- Withdrawal—they start to make excuses as to why they can't attend friendly and/or family functions; or they just stop attending altogether.
- Self-critical—it's difficult for them to accept a compliment, or is repeatedly putting themselves down.
- A change in personality/mood/self-care
- An "empty shell"—the victim eventually loses self-esteem because she has been beaten down so much emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. She becomes so convinced that she's worthless that she believes that no one else could want her. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go.
There is a way out! The first step is recognizing that you are being abused and that it is not your fault and you can't change your partner's treatment towards you. In order for him to change, he needs to recognize his behavior and that it is wrong. If they are unwilling to seek help or acknowledge the abuse, you need to remove yourself from the situation. I know it's easier said than done so "proceed with caution". Find a shelter or move in with safe friends or family. Remaining in contact with the abuser will throw you back into the shame spiral and keep you from moving forward to recovery.
Finding healing after abuse:
Photo courtesy of Flickr.