Verbal Abuse – do you even recognise it?

07 Jul 2015

Verbal abuse does untold harm – and yet it largely passes unnoticed: you only have to think of that old saying: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That was something my father – who was no slouch when it came to using words that, allegedly, never hurt – said repeatedly throughout my childhood.

Domestic violenceNow there’s an interesting question that comes from your emotional bias. Words that are used to vent anger, cause hurt, and create humiliation, even if they are intended – allegedly – to motivate someone are always abusive.

It’s time that you recognised it. Not recognising verbal abuse for what it is means exposing yourself to a great deal of pain.

Maltreating a child is never acceptable, not even if the perpetrator argues as righteously as they can that it is ‘for the child’s own good. That applies to verbal abuse, also.

You only have to look into your own heart to know that it harbours a vulnerable child who is easily hurt.

It goes without saying that using hurtful words habitually hurts the user less than the object of those words, but words undoubtedly do do considerable harm. Words can harm people’s view of themselves; words can blight a whole life; if you let them. The words that cause this kind of damage constitute verbal abuse.

Why don’t we recognise those words for what they are – that is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse and “should’ing” go hand in glove

This is where it gets really interesting. Verbal abuse is, most commonly enmeshed in a toxic relationship with ‘should-ing’. Here’s how it works: verbal abuse habitually occurs in the context of a relationship.

Sure, you can be minding your own business walking down the street and receive verbal abuse from a stranger – and you will, likely, experience it as a violation. But still, you don’t actually know this person. They may have violated society’s unspoken contract not to behave aggressively to another person, for no reason whatsoever. However, since you don’t know them personally, there is no earthly point in telling yourself that they are rejecting all that you have brought to them, and invested in them – because you haven’t. There is no relationship between you.

Whoever they are, they are just some random person with all the social skills of a piranha, who feels a warped sense of entitlement to behave as hurtfully as they please.

How is that different from the verbal abuse of an intimate partner?

Well, as regards the warped sense of entitlement, it isn’t different, at all.

What is different is the ‘should-ing’ that goes on inside your own head. You tell yourself that because he is your husband – and because you love him and try to do everything to make him happy – he should show you some care and respect.

SBOs and MBOs

That is what a friend of mine rightly calls a SBO ( a Statement of the Bleeding Obvious).

He should show you respect, and consideration, and he should return your love and care.

Instead of that, what does he do?

He goes in for a lot of MBOs – that’s Manifestations of the Bleeding Obvious. Not all the time, perhaps. If he’s a class act, he’ll mix things up a bit from time to time and show you his caring, sensitive side for just long enough to disorient you. But still, he’ll show you a lot of MBOs – or, to put it another way, proofs that he doesn’t have a problem with causing you hurt, heartache, and humiliation.

Just because he can.

That’s the way verbal abuse works.

Now, we could get lost down the rabbit-hole of: “Why does he do that?” But let’s not. Rather, let’s go for a more useful approach and ask: “What’s the point of trying to define his motives?” You don’t spend too much time on that when someone hurts a vulnerable child, or animal. Admittedly, you are older and, to a degree, less vulnerable but the principle still works.

Your “should-ing” is all about bringing his treatment of you back within the guidelines that you find acceptable. It’s about getting him to conform to your view of who he “should” be.

Verbal Abuse Makes A Clear Statement

Verbal abuse makes a very clear statement. It says:

“I’m in charge, and I run the show for my benefit. Hurting you works for me. You can carry on “should-ing” me for as long as you like. It’s all grist to my mill, baby! Your words have no power over me – but my words have massive power over you, and I love, love, LOVE that.”

So, here’s the thing: most women don’t recognise verbal abuse in their intimate relationships (and beyond) for what it is because they’re too caught up in their own “should-ing”.

A simple way to recognise verbal abuse is how it makes you feel. If things are said that you experience as hurting like a physical blow, you can bet they were calculated to hurt. Much as I know that women in verbally abusive relationships would love to believe that their partner suffers from some kind of emotional Tourette’s Syndrome, and sometimes cannot control what comes out of their mouth, it’s NOT TRUE.

Nobody gets to be that good at repeatedly scoring bulls-eyes with the hurtful things they say, without doing a fair bit of target practice.

In short, it’s deliberate.

That’s why you either don’t get an apology, or the apology you do get is feeble and doesn’t change anything. That’s why they keep on doing it.

Verbal abuse is, ultimately, a lifestyle choice. It works for the verbal abuser. It will never work for you. It’s a clear message from the verbal abuser that he has no intention of changing things. So, the bottom line is this: if you don’t like verbal abuse – and why would you? – you have to take yourself away from the verbal abuser.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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