verbal abuse
Relationships & Love

Recognizing Verbal Abuse So You Can Take Steps to End It

During the first twelve years of my second marriage, my husband and I were involved in a verbally abusive relationship. Because I had experienced ongoing verbal abuse since childhood, I was unaware of what was occurring in my marriage as it was unfolding. It wasn’t until we’d been together 10 years and the abuse began spiraling out of control, that I sought the help of a counselor who made me conscious of the nature of this verbally abusive relationship. Even with my newfound knowledge and awareness, I continued to stay, in the hopes that the situation would improve. But over the following two years, it only became worse, so I finally moved out and began a yearlong separation. At the end of the separation, my husband acknowledged his behaviors and agreed to change.

While we were separated, I had continued to go to counseling–reading about verbal abuse–reflecting on what I learned about myself, and journaling. I learned to recognize the behaviors and also see how my victim mentality supported them. When we reunited, I was able to teach him how to communicate in constructive ways, and we eventually created a balanced relationship.

To define it, verbal abuse is used by one person to have control over another. There are a variety of verbally abusive behaviors, some of which are built into our culture. For example behaviors such as one-upmanship, bullying, disparaging, manipulating, criticizing, hard-selling and intimidating can be considered to be fair practices in the business world. But in a relationship, these behaviors can be very destructive. Nothing is more damaging to one’s confidence and self-esteem than being in a verbally abusive relationship.

Verbal abuse is experienced by people in all walks of life. Not limited by income, career or job, education, geography, age, or gender, it can occur in any type of relationship – including spousal/partner, parent-child, dating, at work or school. A victim of verbal abuse may not see or recognize the abuser’s behavior as abusive. Instead he or she often develops coping mechanisms–which include denial and minimizing–in order to deal with the abuse. However, long-term verbal abuse can cause severe emotional trauma in the victim, which may result in depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also important to realize that while, verbal abuse doesn’t always lead to physical abuse, physical abuse almost always begins with verbal abuse.

Understanding the various destructive behaviors can help identify whether verbal abuse is occurring in your relationship and enable you to realize that it is time to take action. Here is a list of what to watch for:

  • When the abuser doesn’t share his or her feelings, thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams, or only shares limited, necessary information. This is known as withholding. It’s also a clear indicator that the abuser is not hearing and understanding the victim’s feelings.