Verbal Abuse – by Steven Stosny at Psychology Today

from his blog:  Anger in the Age of Entitlement



Some words have fangs. Among the sharpest are those classified as negative labeling. Negative labels come in the form of adjectives: “You’re lazy, selfish, unreasonable, insensitive, etc.,” and also in nouns: “You’re a loser, slut, bitch, bad boy, etc.”

Sometimes tone of voice grows fangs on otherwise benign words. “I love you,” can imply with nefarious inflection that no one else could, because you are pretty much unlovable.

In addition to the fact that negative labeling implies unchangeable characteristics of personality rather than negotiable behavior, negative labels virtually guarantee that you’ll get more of the behavior you’re condemning. After all, what do “lazy” people do? Well, they don’t help around the house. What do “bad” kids do?

Once negatively labeled, it is never clear how many good things you have to do not to be bad anymore or how much work you have to finish to no longer be considered lazy. Early in my career I worked with a 12 year-old who had blown several foster care placements with stunts like putting out light bulbs in the middle of the night with paper clip missiles launched by a rubber band. He complained in his first session that all his life people told him he was a bad kid. “So why don’t they just back the (bleep) off and let me do my job?”

Criticism is often thinly-veiled negative labeling. “You play the TV too loud,” can easily beg the question, “What kind of person would do such a thing? An inconsiderate one, that’s who!”

Even when it avoids direct negative labeling and seems to focus on behavior, criticism is destructive when filled with blame, when it doesn’t focus on improvement, when it implies that there is only one “right way” to do things, or when it’s belittling.

Critical people tend to be highly self-critical. As hard as they might be on others, they are usually harder on themselves. They were often criticized as children, at least implicitly – the message was clear that, in important ways, they weren’t quite good enough. Self-critical patterns tend to form in early childhood and by late adolescence mutate into chronic criticism of others.

Negative labels in the form of nouns, adjectives, or criticism, like all forms of abuse, are more autobiographical than descriptive – they tell you more about the people who use them than those they are meant to describe. They tell you whom to avoid if you want a cooperative workplace or if you long for love without hurt.

Take the emotional abuse test.

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