Recognizing Verbal Abuse in Relationships

October 13th, 2008 at 11:48pm

Many people claim that one of the reasons human beings are considered to be supreme in the animal kingdom is because of their ability to communicate and express their thoughts in intelligible words – either verbally or in writing.  However, this advantage is sometimes misused or even abused to the point of becoming inhumane.  This type of abuse is more commonly known as verbal abuse.

Verbal Abuse 101

“You’re so stupid!”  “You’re a worthless person!”  We all know it when we hear it, but how do we actually define verbal abuse?  Verbal abuse is any vile, degrading, venomous or stinging words exchanged with the intent to harm.  Verbally abusive statements are directed to another person, typically causing him or her emotional distress and leading to negative self esteem.

Verbal abuse  is stereotypically portrayed as being perpetuated by a man against a woman, but it’s wrong to say that all verbal abuse comes from men, or that all victims of verbal abuse are women.  Everyone, regardless of gender, can be a potential abuser or the unfortunate prey of another.

What Causes Verbal Abuse?

The factors that cause verbal abuse vary in each relationship.  However, in most instances, verbal abuse is used as a means to impose authority or physical superiority over a weaker party.  Verbal abuse often stems from inadequacies in one’s self, not from perceived negative characteristics in another.  This type of behavior is often observed among pre-teen girls who use verbally abusive comments to establish dominance and social hierarchy over one another.

Verbal abuse does not typically draw the ire we associate with physical violence.  We make a big deal over videos of teen girls physically beating each other on the news, but we often turn a blind eye when the abuse is verbal in nature.  Similarly, in relationships, we often dismiss abuse by words if it doesn’t carry the visual cues we’ve come to associate with violence, like black eyes and bruises.

The Impact of Verbal Abuse

Even if we can’t see it on the outside, victims of verbal abuse often suffer extensive emotional trauma related to the abuse, including depression, low self esteem and even thoughts of suicide.  Aside from the psychological repercussions, verbal abuse can manifest itself in physical ailments resulting from stress and a depressed immune system.  Most frighteningly, verbal abuse can often be a springboard to actual violence which is equally as destructive to a person.

Stopping Verbal Abuse

The first step in ending verbal abuse is recognizing if you are in a verbally abusive relationship.  If your partner often makes malicious, deprecative comments that hurt you emotionally, seek outside help in putting a stop to it.  More and more psychologists and abuse victim resource centers are recognizing verbal abuse as a legitimate concern, and they can help you to either improve the situation or get out of the relationship safely.

The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is patently false – words can cause damage that will stick with you throughout your life.  Just remember, verbal abuse is abuse and it’s not something you have to take.

 

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