Verbal Abuse Is Never About You

by Annie Kaszina on November 11, 2006

Verbal abuse, as I constantly remind the women I work with, says far
more about the abuser than it ever says about you. That’s because
although verbal abuse is always levelled at you, it is never actually
about you. What it is about is the abuser’s need to shake off his
feelings of inadequacy, for a while at least.

The trouble is even
when you know this with your head, it is hard to feel it in your heart,
hard not to be swayed by the power of these negative feelings.

It
seems to be because feelings are invisible and intangible that they
have so much power over us. We cannot defend ourselves physically from
them, and so their destructive charge gets in under our radar.

On
the other hand, you could argue that as negative feelings are invisible
and intangible their power cannot be proved. In fact, the sole proof of
their existence lies in our response to them; which is, of course, the
only thing that we have the power to change. Because we have the power
to choose our reaction.

I said as much on a teleclass recently.
In reply to one woman, M, saying how much she struggled with the
constant flak from her husband, I observed that the words he chose had
everything to do with him and almost nothing to do with her; from The
Abusive Man’s Handbook 101, an abuser will choose whichever playground
level insult he thinks will hurt most. He chooses his words not with
laser accuracy – although it may feel that way – but with the intention
of scoring maximum damage.

M. struggled and failed to get her heart around this.

The
point was too important to pass over. Since the problem lay with the
intangibility of feelings, I tried creating a physical image for all
that M.’s husband was dumping at her door. It was, I said, as if her
husband had dumped a huge, heavy rucksack at her feet and said: “You
pick it up” and she had, rather than saying: “It’s your rucksack, you
deal with it.”

That worked slightly better. M. began to see the
transaction in a different light, although the rucksack image did not
really resonate with her. “Ok M.”, I said, “supposing your husband is
dumping something at your feet, what would it be?” She didn’t even
hesitate. “A mountain of dirty washing”, she replied, with disgust.

Now
M. loathes dirty washing with a vengeance. She could see it clearly in
front of her. She could smell it. She wanted no contact with it. The
image repulsed her. Then and there she vowed that she would not allow
her husband, or various other people in her life, to dump their dirty
washing on her ever again.

The image had given her the tools she
needed to protect herself from something she saw as both disgusting and
nothing to do with her.

Maybe a mountain of dirty washing doesn’t
evoke quite such a strong reaction in you, or maybe it does. If it
doesn’t, what image physically outrages you enough so that you will
refuse to have anything to do with it? What thoroughly offends your
eyes, your nose and your sensibilities? What do you find so physically
disgusting that you have no problem believing: “That’s his, he can deal
with it”?

Because however disgusting that image is, it’s less disgusting than the verbal dump you’ve been attempting to shift.

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