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.
When you love someone and feel like they love you it’s hard to imagine that they could, or would, do anything deliberately to hurt you. Even when they do hurt you it’s easy to explain away their actions with, “he didn’t mean it” or “she was just angry.” Admitting that what person you love is doing to you is verbally and emotionally abusive can be really difficult.
Verbal emotional abuse can also be especially difficult to recognize when you're in the middle of it. Often a verbal abuser will make it seem like they care for you while at the same time they're hurting you deeply. The wounds from being verbally abused aren’t obvious like those from being physically abused either. They’re subtle, internal wounds tearing apart your self-esteem and self-identity.
Often victims will blame themselves, believing they’ve done something wrong or caused the abuser to act this way. And abusers will work hard to promote that belief, saying things like, “if you hadn’t...” or “you should never have...” After all, they love you, right? That’s not love, There's no abuse in a loving and healthy relationship.
What Do Victims Of Verbal Emotional Abuse Look Like?
The image of someone being yelled at and told how worthless they are may bring to mind a cowering woman with no self-confidence. The truth is that victims of verbal emotional abuse come in all forms. Accomplished and professional women, successful men, and everyone in-between can be victimized. The common denominator is that the abuser is someone they love, and that they believe loves them.
Take a look at what some victims of verbal emotional abuse have to say. Does any of this sound familiar?
- 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 a 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". . .
What Should You Do If You Are Being Verbally Emotionally Abused?
Can you see yourself or someone you love in these stories of verbal emotional abuse? If so it’s time to make some changes. That can be easier said than done, but it’s necessary. Start by setting clear boundaries within yourself and for your partner. Knowing and being able to articulate how you expect to be treated, and what you will and will not tolerate is as important for you as it is for anyone you love. Being treated with respect and dignity is a non-negotiable and is what you, along with everyone else, deserve.
If the abuse continues reach out to a friend or family member that you trust. If you're a victim of verbal emotional abuse in a 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."
Editor's Note: This post was originally published October 10, 2010. It has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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