It's possible for any of us to be verbally abusing. We may not do it intentionally, but that doesn't mean we aren't still being abusing with our words.
I find that we're most vulnerable to be verbally abusing towards the people we love. Sadly, those closest to us don't always get our best side. I see this everyday in couples counseling. What has become a normal way to talk to their partner is really verbally abusive.
So what can we do about it? Here's a post I wrote on my Google+ profile a while back about how we verbally abuse the wrong people and where we need to begin if we want to stop it (click the Read More button after the first 2 lines to read the rest of the post).
Step #1 to change is Honesty. We need to be honest with ourselves about our susceptibility to be verbally abusing. I've done it and I'm sure you have too. Denying this truth will stop you from ever getting started toward preventing it. This first step is crucial for us to be able to change it.
Okay, now that we're all being honest and admitting that we can abuse verbally the ones we love we can take the next step. Step #2 is Awareness. We need to become aware of when we do it and when we're most vulnerable to (Detroit Lions football player verbally abusing marching band).
We can become more aware in two ways. First, we can listen to our words. But it's crucial that we do this with an objective, open mind, not a subjective, denying one. Second, we can ask our loved ones when they feel we speak to them with words that hurt. Keep in mind that if it's possible you've been verbally abusive for a while, your loved ones may be apprehensive or even afraid to be totally honest with you at first.
Changing abusive behavior takes more than what I can explain here. But the two steps outlined above are the first steps. If you'd like to learn how to change your verbally abusing behavior and understand why you do it, please contact me.
Please share your experiences or thoughts about verbally abusing those we love by commenting below. If you like this post, you can sign-up on the right side of this page to get notified of each new post. You can also circle and follow me on Google+ (Kurt Smith on Google+) as I post daily relationship and self-improvement tips just like this one.
Q: We have been married for 42 years. From early on my wife has been sharp tongued and has verbally abused both our children and myself. It is always verbal accusations of how sorry you are, you are a screw up, and using the past as nothing but a weapon of hurt. It has escalated to physical abuse a few times on myself mainly. She did lash out at our children when younger but never in front of me. That I would have never tolerated. As the children have grown and moved away the shared abuse has now been mostly targeted at me. My company I worked for closed about a month ago. So the tension has grown. Not that it needed anymore fuel to the fire. I am tired of it. It has gotten vicious. I am weary, and no words ever help or apologies seem to never come unless they are from me. She gets almost violent. I am a big man and would never hurt her. How do I deal with being verbally abused, and can our marriage survive and I survive? -- Willie D.
A: You use some very accurate words to describe what it’s like to be verbally abused. I’m sure others can relate to how you feel: “I am tired.” “It has gotten vicious.” “I am weary.” “No words ever help.” Women just as much as men can get abused verbally too.
You also give several really good examples of what being abused verbally can look like:
- A common form of verbal abuse is the put down - as she tells you "how sorry you are."
- Another way we can be verbally abused is by name-calling - "you are a screw up." And we all know that the names can get even more hurtful than that.
- The final one you describe is extremely common in a lot of relationships - "using the past as nothing but a weapon of hurt." I can't tell you how many times I've had men tell me that their partner never forgets anything. A guy in counseling this week described how his wife told him last weekend (for the umpteenth time) how he had let her down for the last 24 years and then listed all the ways.
Now to your question about how to deal with being verbally abused. How you deal with it is to stop dealing with it. Another words stop accepting it. Most likely, barring a miraculous change by your wife, the only way to stop her verbal abuse is for you to stop tolerating it.
If you stop accepting her verbal abuse, one of two things will have to happen. Either she will change and stop being abusing you, or your relationship will change and potentially end.
It's very important to note though that since you've been together for more than 42 years there's a long history of her abusing verbally and your accepting it that has to be overcome. That means it's going to be hard and take some time for you both to start creating some different ways of doing your relationship.
How do you begin to stop tolerating verbal abuse? In many small and large ways you send the message "I won't accept it anymore." Here are a few examples:
- Walk away, hang up the phone, or leave the house when you're being verbally abused
- Tell her how you feel when she speaks to you like that and then follow that up by doing one of above
- Start to set consequences if she continues to be verbally abusive. That can look like things like you no longer do activities that she wants to do together, you don't pay for things she wants, you stop doing things for her that she expects from you. In different ways you have to exercise consequences for her continuing to mistreat you.
Can you marriage survive? That's up to you and whether or not you'll continue to accept getting abused verbally, and whether or not your wife will choose to change. You've lasted 42 years, but certainly not in a happy or healthy way. Sadly, a lot of people just accept the abuse and don't ever do the hard work to force change. I hope that's not you. For the best interests and happiness of you, your wife, your kids and family, I hope you'll start today to stop accepting being verbally abused.
--Kurt Smith, Marriage Counselor
Looking for signs of verbal abuse? Here's some real, subtle signs of verbal abuse, and how a verbally abusive relationship can look in our hi-tech world.
Ever wonder if it's possible for verbal abuse to occur by texting or IM? Patrick and Vanessa have a verbally abusive relationship, here's one example of what the signs of verbal abuse look like in their lives (more on What Verbal Abuse Looks Like).
It's Friday about 1 p.m. Patrick and Vanessa haven't spoken since their fight the night before ended with Patrick choosing to sleep in the guest bedroom. Patrick's day is ending early so he sends Vanessa a text saying he's on his way home.
According to Patrick, a “barrage” of texts from Vanessa follows his text that "about made my phone blow-up" (Note - phone blowing-up can be signs of verbal abuse). Each thought she had about the night before was tapped out on her phone and sent as soon as she thought it.
Is this the modern-day signs of verbal abuse? Yes.
"It gave me the same kind of anxiety I had in my first marriage," Patrick later told me. Feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what awaited him at home, Patrick turned his phone off and drove an hour and a half out of his way to go have dinner at a favorite restaurant. After dinner, still not wanting to go home and face Vanessa, he went to the movies. He finally got home after 9 p.m., more than 7 hours later than he could have.
Patrick and Vanessa then avoided talking face-to-face to each other for another 2 1/2 days. Be sure to take a look at the Signs of Abusive Relationship.
When you're in a verbally abusive relationship, the verbal abuse can come by way of any number of different modes of communication. It's easy to dismiss the immediate communication we can have with our hi-tech devices as being normal rather than verbal abuse.
Have you got signs of verbal abuse in your relationship? Please share what verbal abuse looks like in your relationship in the comment section below.
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Many women are in an abusive relationship and don't even know it. At Guy Stuff Counseling we hear every week from women looking for relationship advice. Many of these women are in an abusive relationship, but just can't see it.
These women often feel confused, lonely, and helpless about their relationship, but don't know that the reason why is because they're in an abusive relationship. The majority of women we work with aren't in a physically abusive relationship, but instead suffer emotional abuse and verbal abuse, which can be much harder to call out as abusive.
Here are 4 signs to look for to spot an abusive relationship. These are excerpts from the About.com article What Are Some Types of Domestic Abuse?
- Living in an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and unpredictability.
- Does your spouse react with a violent rage to the slightest upset? If your spouse’s reactions to events are exaggerated then you are living with abuse that is disproportionate to the imaged offense.
- The abuser engineer’s impossible, dangerous, unpredictable, unprecedented, or highly specific situations in which he is needed, depended on or considered the only source of authority, knowledge, skills, or useful traits.
- Most abusers lack empathy. They dehumanize and treat people like inane objects, extensions of themselves, or instruments to be played as they wish.
You can read more description of these different forms of relationship abuse in the article, What Are Some Types of Domestic Abuse?
If some of these descriptions sound like your relationship, but you're still not sure whether or not you're really in an abusive relationship, get some professional help from a licensed counselor. Confusion is a byproduct of relationship abuse, so be sure to get some objective relationship advice so you can really see the truth of your relationship.
Wondering what verbal emotional abuse looks like? Let's start with what it feels like. Verbal emotional abuse feels like getting punched and hugged at the same time.
Verbal emotional abuse can be very difficult to recognize when you're in the middle of it. Often a verbal abuser will appear to care for you while at the same time they're hurting you deeply. The hurt from verbal abuse isn't an obvious, external wound. It's a subtle, internal wound to your self-identity.
Here are some examples of verbal emotional abuse from a few victims:
- I am in a verbally abusive relationship with my husband. I am called stupid, dumb etc..he even tells me I'm stupid for being with him. . . My self esteem is in the gutter.
- My boyfriend always said it was my fault he called me a names. I shouldn't have been late, because he had prepared dinner. . . I BELIEVED him. . . The abuse happens after they have you believe in them. They make you actually think, it's your fault they can't control yourself. . . I was brainwashed into thinking I'm fat, unattractive, nobody would want me while he was going to go on living his rocking life.
- The first time he made me cry he felt so bad I thought it would get better. But it never did. I am called all sorts of names, told to shut the f*** up, that he doesn't want to look at my stupid face. I never get an apology or if I do it's "I'm sorry but really this is your fault."
- I have been with my husband for 16 years now and the last 10 years have been hell. I never do anything right in his opinion. The food is never good enough, the house never clean enough. I'm not thin enough. He calls me fat and bitch in front of our children and now my little boy has started calling me fat. How am I suppose to react to that? He tells me I am worthless. He will not give me money when I need it. He tells me I don't pay the bills so why should he give me anything? I don't know what to do. I am so lost and alone.
- Every stressful moment in his life is taken out on me. His insults are so shocking I sit, stunned, as he tries to degrade me. In the beginning, I trusted he meant the things he said, and of course I would cry my eyes out. My face was always puffy from crying. Slowly I noticed how my mind altered due to his insults. My self esteem was a complete zero. . . Ex: "Your life is a joke." "Every decision you made in your life was a mistake." "You are a sh*t-head (because I won Trivial Pursuit. How trivial.)" And worse and worse. He often uses what others think against me. . . He uses my insecurities against me.
- In the beginning I met a great guy, charming, smooth talking, talked himself up to everyone. He was s dream. Once we became official, my clothes weren't right, my hair was too messy, I was a c*nt. I embarrassed him etc. I was told to have sex twice daily or he would leave me, my self esteem dropped drastically. I went from successful to lazy and always wanting to sleep. I did everything for him in order to make him happy. His drinking became horrible, his fists hit the walls during a fight. I was never GOOD enough but he "loved me" and everything was for "my own good". Crying everyday, depressed, feeling "crazy". . .
Can you see yourself or someone you love in these stories of verbal emotional abuse? If you're in a verbally abusive relationship, get the help of a licensed counselor to learn what to do. As the last quote said, verbal abuse can make you feel "crazy," so you need a professional therapist to help you recognize the truth and restore the real "you."
Find Out More:
Read More Stories of Verbal Emotional Abuse: Readers Respond: Were You A Victim Of Verbal Abuse?
Source: Readers Respond: Were You A Victim Of Verbal Abuse?
Part 2 of 2
So you're in a relationship with verbal abuse. What can you do about it?
If you're not sure if that's you, read about verbal abuse signs: Verbal Abuse - What's It Look Like? Are there Signs?
Below are 8 things you can do to stop verbal abuse from the article How Can Someone Identify and Respond to Verbal Abuse? by Cathy Meyer:
- 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.
The most important thing to remember about verbal abuse is that its purpose is to control. The key to responding to verbal abuse is learning how to break free of the control and get your power back. Don't underestimate how difficult this can be. In order successfully stop verbal abuse it's critical to have the guidance and coaching of an experienced professional counselor. Don't go it alone any longer.
* This is the second article of two on verbal abuse. In the first article we looked at verbal abuse signs -- Verbal Abuse - What's It Look Like? Are there Signs? Sign-up for Our Blog on the right side of this page and don't miss other informative articles.
Part 1 of 2
Verbal abuse is a common form of abuse in many relationships. However, it can be very subtle and hard to recognize, so much so that most of the time victims don't even know its happening.
Verbal abuse is often disguised or explained away as something else, such as humor ("I was just making a joke") or love ("you know I love you"). A skilled abuser can destroy your self-esteem while at the same time making you believe that they really care for you. Verbal abuse can also become so regular that it becomes normal communication.
A common problem for victims of verbal abuse is that the abuse makes them confused and they don't know what to believe -- their own thoughts or the abusers words.
So if verbal abuse is so hard to recognize, are there any verbal abuse signs? Yes.
Below are 8 verbal abuse signs. These are from the article How Can Someone Identify and Respond to Verbal Abuse? by Cathy Meyer.
- 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.
Do you recognize any of these verbal abuse signs in your relationship? If so, in the next post we'll take a look at some of the things you can do to stop verbal abuse.
* This is the first article of two on verbal abuse and signs of verbal abuse. In the next article we'll identify things you can do to stop verbal abuse. Sign-up for our blog on the right side of this page and be sure not to miss the next part of this series (you can get notified by email or RSS feed).
Part 2 of 2
Think you might be suffering emotional abuse? Or maybe you're wondering if you might be a perpetrator of emotional abuse.
So what's emotional abuse look like?
To see the signs of emotional abuse, read over these excerpts of transcripts from Mel Gibson talking to his girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva (Mel Gibson Rant).
As you read, ask yourself these questions:
- How does Mel try to control her?
- Does he threaten her? How many times? In what ways?
- Does he want her to be submissive to him? What does this look like?
- What does he blame her for? Are these things she really is responsible for?
- In what ways does he humiliate her?
Mel Gibson: Who the f--- cares? We agreed nothing. You agreed. You just f------ expect s---. Go to the g--damn jacuzzi yourself, go down to the f------ jacuzzi. You have no f------ soul! My soul is screaming because you don't have one to join mine. You have no f------ soul. I left my wife because we had no spiritual common ground. You and I have none. Zero. You won't even f------ try. (huffing again) You don't care. You don't care.
Oksana Grigorieva: You just enjoy insulting me. That's all.
MG: F--- you, I so f------ do. Because you've hurt me so bad. You insult me with every look, every breath, every heartbeat.
OG: I did not do anything. I apologize for nothing.
MG: What? What? You apologize for nothing? Well then you're a dishonest c---! Because you need to apologize for a reason.
OG: I wanted to have peace. You are unbalanced.
MG: Instinctively, I feel that. And I will not be patronized by you.
OG: You're unbalanced. You need medication.
MG: If you will not f------ admit that, then get the f--- out. I will make your g--damn life miserable. Alright?
OG: You need medication.
MG: What? What?
OG: You need medication.
MG: I need a woman, not a f------ little girl with a f----- dysfunctional c---. I need a f------ woman. I don't need medication. You need a f------ bat to the side of the head. All right? How about that? You need a f------ doctor. You need a f------ brain transplant. You need a f------ … you need a f------ soul. I need medication? I need someone who f------ treats me like a man, like a human being. With kindness, who understands what gratitude is because I f------ bend over backwards with my balls in a knot. and she gives me s--- with a f------ sour look and says I'm mean. What the f--- is that? This is mean! Get it! You get it now? What mean is? Get it? (huffing) You f------ don't care about me. I'm having a hard time and you f------ yank the rug, you bitch. You f------, selfish bitch. Don't you dare hang up on me.
OG: I can't listen to this anymore.
MG: You hang up, I'm coming over there.
OG: I'll call the police.
OG: I'll call the police.
MG: You f------ c---. I'm coming to my house. You're in my house, honey.
(Section cut out due to space constraints. For the full transcript, read Mel Gibson Rant)
OG: Because I'm saving my life and my daughter's life. That's what I'm doing. I don't give a damn about my music. And I don't give a damn about you spending another penny. I'm saving her life. You almost killed us, did you forget?
MG: The last three years have been a f------ gravy train for you.
OG: You were hitting a woman with a child in her hands. You! What kind of a man is that, hitting a woman when she's holding a child in her hands? Breaking her teeth, twice, in the face. What kind of man is that?
MG: Oooh, you're all angry now! You know what, you f------ deserved it.
OG: You're gonna answer, one day, boy, you're gonna answer.
MG: Huh? What? Are you threatening me?
OG: Nothing, nothing. I'm not the one to threaten.
MG: I'm threatening you? I'll put you in a f------ rose garden, you c---. You understand that? Because I'm capable of it. You understand that? Get a f------ restraining order. For what? What are you gonna get a restraining order for? For me being drunk and disorderly? For hitting you? For what?
How many signs of emotional abuse do you see?
- Make submissive?
That's what emotional abuse looks like. If you think you might be suffering emotional abuse, or perpetrating it, get some professional help. Marriage counselors or couples counselors can be a great help when you feel trapped and don't know how to get things to change. Change can happen, but only if you do something to make it.
Read Other Posts: Emotional Abuse Signs - Watch for These 5 Emotional Abuse Signs
Part 1 of 2
Looking for emotional abuse signs? Read over this transcript of Mel Gibson speaking to his girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, to see an example of emotional abuse (Mel Gibson Rant).
Look for the following 5 emotional abuse signs:
- Make submissive
Mel Gibson: Stay on this phone and don't hang up on me. I have plenty of energy to drive over there. You understand me? AND I WILL! SO JUST F------ LISTEN TO ME. LISTEN TO MY F------ RANTING. LISTEN TO WHAT YOU DO TO ME.
Oksana Grigorieva: I didn't do anything to you.
MG: A pain in the ass!
OG: You are ruining my life!
MG: You make my life so f------ difficult!
OG: Well you know what, it's so --
MG: Why can't you be a woman who f------ supports me instead of a woman that sucks off me. And just f------ sucks me dry. And wants, and wants. Go through this relationship if you're a good woman and you love me. I don't believe you anymore. I'm sick of your bulls---! Has any relationship ever worked with you? NO!
OG: Listen to me. You don't love me because somebody who loves does not behave this way. (crosstalk)
MG: Shut the f--- up. I know I'm behaving like this because I know absolutely that you do not love me and you treat me with no consideration.
OG: One second please. Can I please speak?
MG: I love you because I've treated you with every kindness, every consideration. You rejected … you will never be happy. F--- you! Get the f--- away from me! But my daughter is important! All right? Now, you have one more chance. And I mean it. Now f------ go if you want, but I will give you one more chance. (huffing with anger) You make me wanna smoke. You f----- my day up. You care about yourself.
OG: You're so selfish.
MG: When I've been so f------ good to you. You f------ try to destroy me.
Does your husband or partner speak to you like this? Then you may be suffering emotional abuse too. Emotional abuse signs are hard to recognize when you're in the relationship. So get some help from a professional counselor who has experience spotting emotional abuse signs.
Read Other Posts: What's Emotional Abuse Look Like?
Got a critical spouse? Is your husband verbally abusive? Below are some thoughts from other spouses coping with verbal abuse. The following are excerpts from Carolyn Hax's column, Return to 'Crazyville' -- More on Critical Behavior in The Washington Post:
My mom was (and still is) very critical of my dad, and growing up with it couldn't have helped me. Even though I can see it, it's still hard to shake, but I've talked with my husband about it. He knows I'm aware of it, and trying to do something about it, and that helps with his patience. And when you catch yourself doing it, say so: "I'm sorry, I think that was overly critical for me to say." And then try to do better. Sometimes just putting it out there helps both parties.
Thanks, I agree -- admitting fault quickly and completely is a crucial part of "great communication." Even if it's a warning of more nasties to come -- "I'm being a complete jerk and will probably stay that way until I make deadline/Mom's out of the hospital/I kick this cold" -- taking responsibility makes it clear it's about your shortcomings, not your partner's.
I'm dating someone who vacations there occasionally ('Crazyville'), and I wholeheartedly agree about apologizing on the spot. I know she nitpicks when she's stressed, and she knows I know; all I want is for her to acknowledge it without my having to say my feelings were hurt.
As someone who has broken bad patterns this way, I know the repetition of prompt acknowledgement got me to the point where I could anticipate having to apologize as I was actually doing something, until finally I was catching myself before I did it. Repetition is the best way to break patterns like this.
Clapclapclapclapclapclapclap . . .
My partner sometimes becomes a self-acknowledged complete jerk when his work gets stressful. He knows it, and apologizes, and I've learned to give him space during these times . . . to take the dog for a walk in the short term, or to plan a full weekend for myself when he is under a deadline.
But the way you describe this makes me wonder: Where is the line between forgiving jerk-ish behavior and forgiving abuse? Anything physical would be obvious, of course, but barring that, is it the intent (or the lack of intent) behind it? Or what?
While it's a valid question, I think it can lead you down a path of justification/non-justification that ends at a brick wall.
The question I would suggest is "Is this what I want?" Do you want a partner who unravels under stress? When you make it about abuse, then you're almost letting that make your decision for you: If it's abuse, you leave, and if it's not, you stay.
But behavior that doesn't fit the abuse definition can still be something you just don't want to be around, blow your weekends on, or accommodate anymore.
If on the other hand you see his moods as a small con in a world of pros, if being calm through his freak streaks is a labor of love, if you're relieved that this flaw of his gives your flaws a little more breathing room, then so be it. You don't owe anyone anything here except an honest assessment of what you want.
It's important to recognize as the first two readers examples show, critical and verbally abusive behavior can be changed. It's hard; it takes work; it takes time, patience, and persistence. But it definitely can be done -- by anybody.
I believe that Carolyn's last comments begin to drift into a murky area where we have to find the line between acceptance as a part of loving your partner and compromising ourselves that prevents the other person from changing as a way that they love you. Additionally, Carolyn is right that abuse should not be tolerated, and far too many spouses, husbands not just wives, accept verbal abuse. However, her firm statement that you leave needs to be combined with giving your partner the chance to change.
Sorting out where to draw these lines can be really difficult, especially when you're the one in the middle of it. Get the support, guidance, and wisdom of an experienced counselor who works with abusive relationships to help you.
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