(My own comments in italics and some emphasis mine)
The well-worn chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is just not true. As Dr. Grace Kettering writes in her book Verbal Abuse, “Cruel names and labels can hurt us – dreadfully! Many times the emotional damage is unintentional. Crippling comments may seem so trivial to the speaker as to be soon forgotten. But at a crucial moment or from an important person, certain words spoken to a vulnerable, receptive individual can make or break a life.” Verbal abuse takes on many forms including criticizing, insulting, degrading, harsh scolding, name-calling, nagging, threatening,
ridiculing, belittling, trivializing, screaming, ranting, racial slurring and using crude or foul language. Disparaging comments disguised as jokes and withholding communication are also examples of verbal abuse.
Hurling hurtful words at another may sound like: “You’re a nag just like your parents!” “You don’t know how to do anything right.” “It’s your fault!” “You’re too sensitive.” “Come on, can’t you take a joke?” “That outfit makes you look fat.” “You’re worthless in bed.” “Who asked you?” “You don’t need that second helping.” “All you do anymore is go to church stuff.” “Your ex sure screwed you up emotionally.” “You’re a spoiled brat with a princess syndrome!” <— (c) Dan
Verbal abuse can happen anywhere, at any time. Individuals who are teased and pressured at work or school may in turn take out their pent-up frustrations at home. “Kicking the dog” is not enough; instead, they verbally attack their spouse, children, parents, close friends – no loved one is safe.
Wounds that typically accompany emotional, physical and sexual abuse must not be ignored. Both men and women inflict verbal abuse, but women tend to be more often on the receiving end of this destructive behavior. What may seem innocent and infrequent at first can escalate. Verbal abuse frequently plays a major role in violent crimes. According to a 1998 U.S. Justice Department report on violent crimes, women are five to eight times more likely than men to be victimized by an intimate partner.
All forms of abuse follow a pattern that, left unchecked, will only increase over time. Injuries from verbal and emotional abuse can run deep and leave lasting scars. Many emotionally and verbally abused people reason that, because there are no bruises or broken bones, their abuse must not be serious. But it is. Fortunately, support and resources are readily available to guide individuals into safe, loving relationships.
In their well-received book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend state that, “Our pain motivates us to act.” If pain motivates you to act against emotional and verbal abuse, then listen and act. You may be saving more than your life.
- Rejecting or denying a person’s value or presence and communicating devaluing thoughts and feelings to another person.
- Degrading, ridiculing, insulting or name-calling to lessen the self-worth and dignity of another person. Examples include humiliating someone in public or responding to a senior as if he or she is not capable of making decisions.
- Terrorizing by inducing intense fear in someone; intimidating and coercing; or threatening physical harm to a person or a person’s loved ones, pets or possessions. Stalking, threatening to leave and forcing someone to watch violence toward a family member are all types of terrorizing.
- Isolating, physically confining or limiting another’s freedoms. These restricting behaviors include denying a person contact with others and controlling someone else’s financial affairs.
- Exploiting someone’s personal rights and social needs or using another person for profit or advantage. Enticing someone into illegal activities for financial gain (drug selling, prostitution) is an example of exploitation.
- Detaching and denying emotional care or affection. Shunning a person’s efforts to interact or neglecting someone’s mental health needs are forms of this type of psychological abuse.
Although emotional abuse can occur on its own, all types of abuse involve some form of emotional abuse. Similar to other forms of relationship violence, emotional abuse happens most often to individuals with the least power and resources. Over time emotional abuse brainwashes the victim. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, it is clear that for many, emotional abuse is even more devastating than physical abuse.
Emotional abuse tears at a person’s self-esteem and can greatly impair psychological development and social interaction. In children, emotional abuse can hinder attention, intelligence, memory and the ability to feel and express emotions appropriately. For both children and adults, emotional abuse can manifest itself in social withdrawal, severe anxiety, fearfulness, depression, physical complaints, avoidance of eye contact, self-blame and substance abuse. Emotionally abused seniors may feel extreme guilt, inadequacy, depression or powerlessness. Unfortunately, many psychologically abused elderly people are labeled ‘senile’ or “inept’.
Because emotional abuse is not as regularly reported as other forms of violence, statistics are sparse. A Canadian study on abuse in university and college dating relationships revealed that 81 percent of male respondents admitted they had psychologically abused a female partner. According to a 2000 report by the National Institute of Justice, an estimated 503,485 women are stalked each year in the United States. Emotional abuse is a worldwide problem for people of any age and any sex.
Common Characteristics of Abusers
- He was verbally abused as a child, or witnessed it in his own family.
- He has an explosive temper, triggered by minor frustrations and arguments. (any minor thing would set Dan off – at the oddest times – in front of others or in private – he berated and humiliated me numerous times – then accused me of being an “angry” person)
- Abusers are extremely possessive and jealous. They experience an intense desire to control their mates.
- His sense of masculinity depends on the woman’s dependency upon him. He feels like a man only if his partner is totally submissive and dependent on him.
- Abusers often have superficial relationships with other people. Their primary, if not exclusive, relationship is with their wife/girlfriend. (Dan often ADMITTED to having only superficial relationships and expressed and exhibited a preference for them. His familial relationships were very odd, he was close to no one, even his own family members and siblings – and seemed to take pride in that)
- He has low self-esteem.
- He has rigid expectations of marriage (or partnership) and will not compromise. He expects her to behave according to his expectations of what a wife should be like; often the way his parents’ marriage was, or its opposite. He demands that she change to accommodate his expectations. (Dan was “polyamorous” – a lifestyle that he used to justify his abuse, lack of empathy, and his refusal to take responsibility for his own behavior and its consequences. In every situation, no matter what he’d done or how he’d conducted himself or what his behavior was – it was always my fault and it was always “me” who needed to change – never him. He was very demanding, uncompromising, inconsiderate, and strident. HIS needs, feelings, and desires always came first in every situation. Mine were never considered – asking that they be considered was asking too much. “Just DEAL with it” was his attitude.)
- He has a great capacity for self-deception. He projects the blame for his relationship difficulties onto his partner. He would not be drunk if she didn’t nag him so much. He wouldn’t get angry if only she would do what she’s supposed to do. He denies the need for counseling (for him) because there’s nothing wrong with him. Or he agrees to get counseling and then avoids it or makes excuses to not follow through. He might not want her to get counseling because, he reasons, she wouldn’t have any problems if she only turned to him. (Dan blamed me for EVERYthing. Dan wanted counseling – but he wanted it to fix ME because in his own estimation, nothing was wrong with HIM. That attitude on his part was evident during the very first session – where he outright stated so).
- He may be described as having a dual personality — he is either charming or exceptionally cruel. He is selfish or generous depending on his mood.
- A major characteristic of abusers is their capacity to deceive others. He can be cool, calm, charming and convincing: a con man. (Dan was nothing if not charming – to OTHER people – and to me – at first, before the abuse started. He had the classic “Jekyll/Hyde” personality that abusers often have)
- The mate is usually a symbol. The abuser doesn’t relate to his partner as a person in her own right, but as a symbol of a significant other. This is especially true when he’s angry. He assumes that she is thinking, feeling, or acting like that significant other — often his mother. (Dan had an odd relationship with his mother. He called her by her first name – never “Mom”, and was incredibly rude to her on the phone and in other situations. I got the impression he considered any interaction with her an obligation at best, and that he considered her simply a pest, at worst. She spoiled and doted on him but he never appreciated it – she was simply someone whose existence he had to tolerate.)