The Effects of Verbal and Emotional Abuse

by Annie Kaszina on October 9, 2013

What are the effects of verbal and emotional abuse? It’s hardly the first time I’ve been asked that. Still, it’s always hard to know how best to answer. Not because it is a difficult question to answer, but one of the key effects of emotional and verbal abuse is this: it feels so overwhelming that it blinds and deafens you to your own inner wisdom. 

emotionalandverbalabusesmallEmotional abuse blinds and deafens you to your own inner wisdom. 

What this means, in practice, is that you become estranged from yourself. 

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words used as weapons can shatter your self-belief. 

Emotional and verbal abuse are all about words used as weapons. 

Words are, largely, the vehicle through which we perceive the world. 

Think about it, you have two eyes, and you get a ton of information about the world through them, each day. Yet, the spoken word takes precedence. In case you don’t see what I mean, let me tell you about my dad. 

My father had a filthy temper. I largely escaped the brunt of his frequent rages. Mostly, he visited them on one of my brothers. The things he said were pretty awful; he constantly prophesied this brother’s future failure. He didn’t quite use the well-worn emotonally abusive partner’s line: “You’d be NOTHING without me.” He simply said: 

You’ll be a NOTHING!” 

In my father’s world, being a Nothing was the worst thing that could happen. It meant having a totally worthless life. It meant living, and being treated, as though you weren’t even there.  As my father barked out this vile message, a forelock of hair fell over his face, and a voice in my young head kept saying: “He looks just like Adolf Hitler”. (There were plenty of photos and newsreels of Hitler’s rants around at the time.) 

Now, strange as it may sound, as a little girl I idolized my dad. Still, my eyes saw what they saw. But my young mind couldn’t make sense of it. What I saw – and, at some level – knew I was seeing – was vile, bullying behavior. I saw a more powerful being visiting fury, loathing, and his own darkest fears, on a vulnerable child. Yet, there was no sense of a duty of care, of needing to protect my brother’s vulnerable feelings. 

With his words, my father was taking a pick-axe, and smashing my brother’s sense of self, and future possibilities. I saw all of that. I just couldn’t put it into words. And because it didn’t fit with how I wanted my world to be, I gave myself a hard time for, internally, comparing my dad to Hitler. 

But here’s the thing: I never made that comparison with Hitler consciously. It sprang unbidden into my mind because, at some level, I registered just how toxic my father’s fury was. 

When you review conflicts you’ve had with your emotionally abusive partner, you cannot help but notice the same kind of awareness. I’m not suggesting that your emotionally abusive partner necessarily looked like Hitler. What I am saying is that you’ve surely seen that face – the face that you’ve tried so hard to love – contorted with rage, hatred, and contempt. You’ve seen that look on his face, also, as he goes into ‘thinking mode’ – when he’s actually looking for the words, and tools best calculated to leave you with lasting damage. 

His intention – and it works just as well with words as it does with physical violence – was to knock you down, and make sure you never got up again. 

There would have been times, especially in the early days, when he would alternate between being vile, and being ‘loving’. So, you’d tell yourself – as I told myself – that it was just the stress, or the drink, or the difficult childhood, or whatever talking. 

It wasn’t. 

It was the belief that all emotional and verbal abusers have about their right to hurt and humiliate anther person, at will. It was the belief your abusive partner had that he had the right to reduce your world to a war zone. It was his desire to reduce you to a thing, rather than a person. 

What message do we take from this kind of treatment? 

We take the message that we are nothing more than a heap of emotional rubble. 

And we take the WRONG message. 

Yes, there sure as heck is a pile of emotional rubble around. That is the effect that your emotionally abusive partner has had on the relationship. On the relationship. However, that pile of rubble is not who you are. It is simply what has landed on you. 

wrecking machinesmallWhen you’ve been submerged by the rubble created by a rubble generating machine (aka your emotionally abusive partner) it’s hard to see that you lie, intact, beneath that rubble. 

To encapsulate the effects of emotional and verbal abuse in a nutshell: you believe you are that Nothing your partner said you were. Maybe, unlike my father, he didn’t wield the “N” word to great effect. But, now that I come to think about it, that is the ultimate effect of emotional abuse: 

You feel like a Nothing. 

Just because you feel that way doesn’t make it true, of course. 

The whole process of healing from emotional abuse is about going from believing you’re a Nothing, to believing that in your own unique value. And the joy of being ble to do that, as my clients, invariably, find is that it allows you to put the abuse in the past, where it belongs. So you can focus on enjoying love, connection, and esteem, and create a wonderful life for yourself.

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