You can’t see the signs of verbal abuse simply by looking at its victims. Unlike physical abuse, verbal abuse leaves no bruises, visible scars or broken bones. But the victims suffer and bear emotional scars. The partner of an abuser becomes confused. Why is her partner different in private than in public? Why is there a gap between his words and her feelings? What is wrong with her? Why can’t other people see what is happening?
Verbal abuse may be obvious or subtle, occasional or constant, but it is always an issue of control– of holding power over another. In most cases, the abuser denies he is doing anything wrong. Usually, the abuse takes place in private without witnesses. It often escalates over time. In many, many cases, verbal abuse is a predecessor and a warning signal of physical abuse.
Are You a Victim Of Verbal Abuse?
You might think that verbal abuse is obvious, as it is with name-calling. However, many forms of verbal abuse are nebulous and hard to pin down. The abused partner must recognize the ill-treatment because the abuser is probably unwilling or unable to change. If you believe you might be on the receiving end of verbal abuse, consider whether your relationship is experiencing these symptoms–
- He’s often angry for no apparent reason, making you feel bewildered.
- Discussing your feelings or resolving issues is difficult.
- You are often confused because his response does not match your intent.
- He will seldom open up or talk about his feelings.
- He seems to take a contrary position simply to be right while you are wrong.
- You hear double messages and cannot get clarification.
- You feel blindsided by an unexpected reaction or a broken promise.
Two Kinds Of Power
Power manifests in two forms– power over and personal power. Power over is about control and dominance of another person. Personal power involves mutuality and co-creation. While power over requires winners and losers, personal power relies on partnership and shared responsibility. If one person in a relationship is oriented toward power over, but the other is not, it is as if they live in two different realities. The person living in a world based on cooperation, personal power, perceives the relationship as mutually supportive and interdependent. However, her partner lives in the reality of competitive power over and only wants to triumph over her. When partners are grounded in personal power, they resolve issues together, instead of following the destructive patterns created by a power over a partner. When a power over partner uses words and intent to govern, trivialize or devalue his mate, that is verbal abuse.
About The Abuser
The abuser exercises his power to dominate. He does not admit what he is doing because he is unable to face his true nature and feelings. He wants to win, but to do so he needs his partner to lose. A verbal abuser might be irritable, unpredictable, angry, unaccepting, unexpressive, controlling, uncommunicative, competitive, jealous, sullen, critical, and explosive. He uses these emotions to manipulate his partner and retain power.
The underlying emotion that causes verbal abuse is anger. The abuser feels angry because of his personal powerlessness. He takes his anger and hostility out on his partner, and then he feels better, while his partner feels terrible. This venting releases his tension. Yet, soon the tension and anger build up again, culminating in another outburst. This is the cycle of anger. The partner who carries out this destructive cycle of behavior is an anger addict.
About The Abused Partner
The abused partner wants to be heard and understood. She believes her spouse loves her, and that they can work out their problems if she tries harder and communicates better. After a time, she begins to lose faith in her judgment. She suffers a loss of confidence and self-esteem. She questions her perceptions and wonders why she isn’t happy. Yet, she won’t leave the relationship because she clings to some deeply held beliefs, including–
- If she explained herself better, her partner wouldn’t get angry.
- She is susceptible to taking things the wrong way.
- She overreacts.
- Her partner is trying as hard as she is trying.
- The belief that she is suffering due to some inherent flaw in her makeup.
- Believing that if her partner understood that he was hurting her, he would stop.
The victim of verbal abuse begins to doubt her own feelings because her abuser constantly tells her that they are inaccurate. When she comes to understand that her partner is causing her inner turmoil, she will also be able to recognize that she is being abused. Verbal abuse isn’t easy for the victim to recognize for several reasons– she has learned to ignore unkindness or disrespect; the abuser denies it or she doubts her feelings. Abuse seldom involves witnesses, it might occur when everything seems to be fine and it recurs in different, yet familiar, ways. The abuser shows contempt for things his partner cares about, he is not concerned after the incident and he does not attempt to repair the problem. He tells his partner that she said things she never meant.
The Steps To Breaking The Cycle Of Abuse
When the abused partner begins to realize that she and her mate do not share the same reality, she is on the road to recognizing verbal abuse. She starts to understand that her partner only wants to dominate and control her. This realization is painful, but it is also freeing. She now realizes that nothing is wrong with her. She acknowledges that in healthy relationships, one person does not insult, control manipulates or yell at the other. Instead of questioning her own thoughts and feelings, she begins to doubt her partner.
If you are the victim of verbal abuse, first seek professional help and support. You can ask your mate to accompany you, but see a counselor or therapist with or without him. A good therapist will help you become fully aware of the abusive dynamic in your relationship and will assist you in developing the inner strength and resources to change your situation. Over the course of your therapy, you’ll eventually learn how to forgive your partner and find out that one trick that makes forgiveness easy.