A scientist once conducted an experiment where she placed one frog into a pan of very hot water. The frog immediately jumped out. The scientist then took a second frog and placed it in a pan of cool water. The frog didn’t jump out. Slowly the scientist turned the heat up under the pan of water and the frog remained until it cooked to death. ~ Unknown
In my last article, I shared 15 Ways to Tell What Is Verbal Abuse and What Is Not. We touched on how verbal abuse negatively affects our psyche. According to Evans (1996), there are 25 obstacles and indicators of verbal abuse.
Here are 10 to refresh your memory:
- The abuse begins subtly and increases gradually over time so the partner gradually adapts to it.
- Upsetting incidents/events are denied by the abuser, and the partner begins to believe she’s wrong.
- The partner believes there is something wrong with her.
- The abuser blames the partner for upsetting him, the partner believes him, and therefore thinks she is at fault.
- The abuser and the partner may function well together so the abusive nature of the relationship is overlooked.
- The partner has learned to overlook unkindness, disrespect, disregard, and indifference and so she does not stand up to him.
- Others don’t see the abuse because it is done privately, so it doesn’t seem real to her.
- The partner believes that the way her mate is, is the way all men are.
- The partner believes that if her mate provides or buys her things, he really loves her.
- The partner believes that when her mate is angry, she has somehow hurt him (pp.69-71).
You Have Basic RightsOften when we are in verbally abusive relationships, we lose sight of ourselves and our rights. It’s important to remember that we deserve respect, acknowledgement, dignity, esteem, appreciation, warmth, empathy, shared sentiments, kind words, accurate information, open communication, attentiveness, caring, and equality.
Evans (1996) lists the following rights in relationships:
- The right to goodwill from the other.
- The right to emotional support.
- The right to be heard by the other and to be responded to with courtesy.
- The right to have your own view, even if your partner has a different view.
- The right to have your feelings and experiences acknowledged as real.
- The right to receive a sincere apology for any jokes you may find offensive.
- The right to clear and informative answers to questions that concern what is legitimately your business.
- The right to live free from accusation and blame.
- The right to live free from criticism, judgement, put-downs, or ridicule.
- The right to have your work and interests spoken of with respect.
- The right to encouragement.
- The right to live free from emotional and physical threat.
- The right to live free from angry outbursts and rage.
- The right to be called by no name that devalues you.
- The right to be respectfully asked rather than ordered (p. 122).
You may be thinking, “But how can I even think about my rights or anything else when I am so tired, overwhelmed, and anxious all the time?” The following section provides hope.
8 Steps to Heal From Verbal Abuse
Engel (2002) provides 8 steps to heal from verbal abuse:
1. Admit to yourself that you are being verbally abused and acknowledge the damage it has caused.
Begin writing down all incidents of verbal abuse. Review what you have written, notice how you felt, reacted, and how it damaged you. Share your writing with a therapist, a trusted family member, and/or trusted friend.
2. Understand why you chose an abusive partner. Oftentimes, people who have been abused in childhood choose partners similar to their childhood abusers. Engel states, “Because survivors of childhood abuse generally have a great deal of shame and guilt and suffer from low self-esteem, they feel no one will want them. When someone does pay attention to them, they are grateful, and their gratitude and vulnerability may blind them to any obvious signs of abusiveness, a need to control and dominate, or a tendency to be possessive” (pp.88-89).
3. Understand why you have put up with the abuse.
Perhaps because of an abusive childhood where you learned to take on the blame, you believe you deserve to be treated poorly, you believe you are at fault, that no one else is going to understand or want you, you feel unlovable, or you are afraid to be alone.
4. Understand your pattern and work on completing your unfinished business.
Realize that many of your partners were similar in temperament and/or personality or physical characteristics. Recognize how you reacted to childhood abuse. Assess how in touch you are with your emotions. Did you suppress, ignore, or minimize them then? How about now?
5. Confront your partner about his or her abusive behavior.
With a therapist, practice confronting your abuser and determine if this is the right course of action. Sometimes it is not safe to confront an abuser because it could escalate the situation.
If this is the course that you and your counselor would like to take, be sure to be clear and firm, remember to breathe (we often forget when under stress), speak up, don’t argue (as they have mastered comebacks), and be prepared for silence.
6. Pay attention to your emotions and beliefs.
It is important to pay close attention to how you feel when in your partner’s presence. Notice how your body reacts and how your mood changes when you are with them. Irons (1995) furthermore adds that emotions are fueled by beliefs and thoughts. Some emotions appear real but are not.
Being able to step back and assess whether something is accurate or not helps a person deal with situations more effectively. Irons (1995) provides an example of a small, dark object coming toward a person. The person goes into fight, flight, or freeze response when it determines that the dark object is a spider. When the person realizes it is not a spider, but instead, a wad of lint, they relax and calm down.
7. Take your power back by setting and enforcing your boundaries.
You have already taken your power back by reading up on the subject and assessing that you are indeed in a verbally abusive relationship. You have also learned six steps on how to put a stop to that relationship. Understanding that your abuser is not perfect or superior to you, they have no right to belittle or judge you.
Write down what you are willing and not willing to tolerate and accept from others. Then, with the aid of a therapist, assertively communicate these boundaries with your partner. You don’t need to explain yourself. You have the right to set boundaries and for those boundaries to be respected and honored.
8. Continue to speak up.
Be assertive and nonblaming, don’t back down, don’t apologize for pointing out boundary violations, and remember that you have choices. You do not have to stay in the relationship (pp. 82-112).
You Deserve a Healthy RelationshipEvans (1996) educates her readers that in healthy relationships, the power and control are equally shared. In addition, a person:
- Brings their thoughts into the relationship and hears the other’s
- Expresses their enthusiasm and delights in the other
- Reveals themselves and reflects upon the other
- Values themselves and esteems the other
- Enjoys their creations and treasures the other’s
- Pursues their own growth and nurtures the other’s
- Follows their interests and encourages the other
- Acts at their own pace and accepts the other’s
- Indulges themselves and gives to the other
- Involves themselves and assists the other
- Protects themselves and comforts the other
- Sees themselves and beholds the other
- Is themselves and lets the other be
- Loves themselves and loves the other (Evans, 1996, p.37).
Verbal Abuse Needs To Be Talked About
Although there has been increased awareness around verbal abuse, it is still not researched, talked about, or understood as much as other forms of abuse. In order to make changes, it is important to address gender roles that the media and our society instill upon us from the moment we are born.
To label boys as strong and assertive and girls as submissive and delicate allows for men to dominate over docile women. It is also imperative that we send a clear message that any form of violence is unacceptable; teach our children non-violent strategies to solve their problems; teach girls to never allow anyone to become violent towards them; and finally, teach boys that all people should be treated equally and with respect.
Bottom line: we either begin to make the changes with our children, or we continue to pay the consequences and continue to deal with adults who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research shows that 45% to 85% of abused women suffer from PTSD (Grip, Almqvist, & Broberg, 2011).
Christian Counseling to Recover from Verbal Abuse
The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. ~ Deuteronomy 31:8
There is no shame in being or having been in a verbally abusive relationship. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I invite you to schedule an appointment with me so that you can once again feel you like a human being, that you are worthy of all that is good and so that you no longer feel alone.I will listen with love, provide you with various resources so that you feel empowered, help you identify your feelings, support your right to be angry, begin setting limits, and demand changes in your relationship.
If you have already left your relationship, I will sit with you through the hurt and pain, through the loneliness and emptiness. I will help you relearn to appreciate alone time, how to reach out to friends and family, and how to pamper yourself. Moore (2017) suggests you break all connections with your ex and avoid social media. You can decide what this looks like for you.
We can also explore how well you are balancing your life emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. Wilson (2006) suggests we ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do you usually get 6-8 hours of sleep?
- Do you allow yourself time to touch nature each week, no matter how briefly?
- Do you get some kind of enjoyable exercise each week?
- Do you do something fun at least once a week?
- Are you happy with your sex life?
- Do you give and receive hugs on a regular basis?
- Do you have people whom you can honestly talk to and who will listen to you?
- Do you take reasonable risks and seek new experiences?
- Do you ask for what you need?
- Do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake?
- Do you reward yourself for your accomplishments?
- Do you trust yourself?
- Do you do things that give you a sense of purpose, meaning, and joy?
- Do you try to live in the moment?
- Do you laugh at least once a day?
- Do you make time for your friends?
- Do you make time for solitude?
- Do you make time for daily or weekly spiritual nourishment (pp.294-295)?
If you have experienced verbal abuse and would like to get support as you seek to heal and recover, feel free to contact us online to schedule an appointment.
Engel, B. (2002). The Emotionally Abusive Relationship. Hoken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Evans, P. (1996). The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Holbrook, MA: Adams Media.
Grip, K. K., Almqvist, K. K., & Broberg, A. G. (2011). Effects of a group-based intervention on psychological health and perceived parenting capacity among mothers exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV): A preliminary study. Smith College Studies In Social Work, 81(1), 81-100. doi: 10.1080/00377317.2011.543047
Irons, L.L. (1995). Emotional Abuse and Verbal Attacks Through Lies, Vows, Curses, Judgements: Help from a Christian Perspective. [Kindle 7th Generation]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Moore, M. (2017). Why Do You Do This?: How To Recognize And Respond To Emotional Blackmail, Verbal Abuse, And Codependent Relationship Patterns [Kindle 7th Generation]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Wilson, K.J. (2006). When Violence begins at Home (2nd Edition). Alameda, CA: Hunter House Inc. Publishers.
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