As the saying goes, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words, however, can be some of the most painful and damaging weapons in relationships, and they can leave psychological scars that don’t heal for years. Those scars leave people feeling unsure of themselves as they doubt and even forget their own self worth.
Verbal abuse takes many forms beyond the stereotypical outright yelling at someone in a derogative way. It can be name-calling, criticizing, belittling, continual correcting, denouncing, or even ignoring and withholding words from a loved one. Unfortunately, many people that are currently in verbally abusive relationships don’t even realize it. Studies show that often the women who stay in these relationships are stronger in nature and therefore more determined to make their partner understand them. They think if they can just try a little harder, or listen a little better, or share a little more, that their partner won’t be so upset with them all the time.
Another unfortunate nature of these relationships is that out in public, the verbal abuser often portrays himself (or herself) as the nice guy that everyone likes. It’s only behind closed doors that he asserts his control over his partner. As Patricia Evans, a verbal abuse author and expert says, “Nice and friendly is the persona of many an abuser.” Many friends and family members are often surprised when a verbal abuse victim comes out and begins sharing what her life behind the closed doors has been like.
That creates an even more confusing environment for the partner because she knows her boyfriend or husband to be a very likable guy, so she must be the one with the problem. This confusion is referred to as “crazy-making.” The verbal abuser tells his partner she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, or that she doesn’t listen or pay attention to him, or that she’s stubborn and always has to have things her way, when in fact none of what he has said is true. The verbal abuser isn’t communicating to speak truths or to lift up his partner, he is using his words to establish control and power. His words serve him for no other reason than to establish a one-upmanship power play. The abused partner takes his words as equal communication and thus believes them…and she begins to wonder what is true and what isn’t. After a while she can’t tell the difference between his false assertions and reality. Crazy-making.
What to do? There are many books out there on the subject, Patricia Evans is my favorite author on the subject. But most of all, there is counseling and your support network. Victims have often lost the most precious of things, their self worth. It is going to take time and a loving environment where you can relearn to love yourself and understand you are God’s gift and loved one. You have to love yourself before you can love others, and that is much more difficult to do that it might seem right now.