Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blogging Against Abuse: Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse doesn't leave evidence comparable to the bruises of physical battering. You may suffer in silence and isolation.

"A victim is often the target of angry outbursts, sarcasm, or cool indifference. The abuser's reaction to these actions is frequently cloaked in a "What's wrong with you?" attitude. She is accused of "making a mountain out of a molehill." Over time she loses her balance and equilibrium and begins to wonder if she is the one who is crazy."

Margie: Edna, do you remember that couple who moved in down the street and we thought they were so nice? Dave and Hannah. You remember how he joked about her being dumb and said she couldn't balance a checkbook? Wasn't that really verbal abuse?

Edna: I do remember them, Margie, and I think you’re right. She never thought it was funny when he made his little “jokes”, did she? In fact, she always looked kind of sad and embarrassed.

Verbal abuse usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency, and variety. The verbal abuse may begin with put-downs disguised as jokes. Later other forms might surface.

Margie: I was reading a book and it made me think about them. He wasn't a nice man at all. I remember how he blamed her for everything. One day he told her that she was a " stupid child." Remember?

Edna: I do, and I was so surprised. No adult should talk to another adult that way, especially to someone they’re supposed to love and respect.

1. Verbal abuse may be overt (through angry outbursts and name- calling) or covert (involving very subtle comments, even something that approaches brainwashing). Overt verbal abuse is usually blaming and accusatory, and consequently confusing to the partner. Covert verbal abuse, which is hidden aggression, is even more confusing to the partner. Its aim is to control her without her knowing.

Margie: I also remember that day when you took them some of your Rhubarb pie. Remember he said Hannah "cooks like a chef?" I just thought about his tone of voice. He meant the opposite didn't he?

Edna: Yes, I think he was being sarcastic, but at Hannah’s expense. I remember too thinking about how he would feel if someone said something like that about him.

2.Verbal abuse is manipulative and controlling. Even disparaging comments may be voiced in an extremely sincere and concerned way. But the goal is to control and manipulate.

Margie: Do you think he was worse when we weren't around?

Edna: I’m afraid that he probably was worse to her in private. That way, he didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought of his comments.

You know, sometimes when you love someone and you’re used to how they talk to you, you don’t always notice when they’re being intentionally mean to you. Margie, you and I are sometimes crabby with each other, but I would never try to manipulate you. And certainly not by putting you down, I love and respect you too much to do that to you. I would never want anyone to try that with me, either.

3. Verbal abuse usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency, and variety. The verbal abuse may begin with put-downs disguised as jokes though other forms may surface later.

Where to turn for help if you find yourself the victim of verbal abuse or other form of domestic violence:

For emergency help: Call 911 immediately if you think you are in imminent danger of domestic violence, or have already been hurt.

For advice and support: Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE). Additional contacts for the hotline:
Help through email: ndvh@ndvh.org
Help for the hearing-impaired: 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or deafhelp@ndvh.org

National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence

For a safe place to stay: If you need a safe shelter from domestic violence, call your state’s branch of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. To find your state’s hotline number, go here.







terocious said...

I really enjoyed seeing a more serious side to Edna and Margie.
Way to go!

kestral said...

The scary thing about verbal abuse is that are no bruises to let others know you are being abused. A person can suffer years of verbal abuse and their closest friends could never know. Being abused verbally affects the victim deep inside and changes them over time. The scars from verbal and emotional abuse are still there after the physical abuse scars have faded and gone. If you observe someone who is being verbally or emotionally abused, talk to them. Let them know that it is NOT okay and they do NOT have to accept it. There are other options. Too often the victim feels like there is no other way, and there is no way out. Help them see the way. Thank you to "Margie & Edna" for providing contact information for places to get more information on what a person can do if they suspect verbal or emotional abuse.

Kmac said...

Thank you for speaking out about this. Verbal and emotional abuse is just as painful as physical abuse.

Unknown said...

Thanks to both of you for providing such an informative article. This is a subject that does not get nearly enough attention in our society.

Anonymous said...

People notice the sunglasses in the store or the extra trips to the hospital. They wonder when social invitations get cancelled at the last minute because someone is sick and it happens all the time. Physical abuse is a tangable and identifiable thing that can be fougnt.

But the way your neighbor gets more and more quiet and withdrawn, how she is never out without the husband, how she never relaxes, these things pass under the radar. And because so often they go unnoticed until the power balance has dipped and the codependency is there it can be very hard to break the bond.

Even then, the damage will never go away. Daughters and sons should be taught and reminded that the one you love is not the one you own and no one has the right to try.

Nightbird (for whom Google is broken)

maybei said...

Very important article! Words can hurt just as much as physical abuse and sometimes the long lasting damage is even worse. Well done!

Briarpatch said...

This was truly a huge service to many people to get this out in a public forum. Thank you so much for making the effort.

When I was a young bride of 18 (100 years ago), my husband and I met a couple who seemed perfectly normal. When we were invited to interact socially with them, it quickly became evident that she was an actual prisoner in her own home. He wasn't hitting her, but he threatened it. He wouldn't allow her access to the car, checked up on her by phone often while he was at work, and got explosively angry if she wasn't at home. He even accompanied her into the exam room with her obstetrician. No doubt this woman was eventually the victim of physical abuse, and I tried very hard to make her see that she needed to get some help. I offered to help her leave him, by transporting her to her family in Louisiana. But she was already too afraid of him to even try to break this bondage. I still think of her.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent, accurate article. As a 99% recovered victim of a long, verbally and emotionally abusive relationship, I know the importance of getting out information to help others recognize the situation they are in, and helping them get help. Thank you for addressing this topic in such a sensitive way!

Lisa Wines said...

Congratulations on your blog-against-abuse award. But more importantly, thank you so much for covering a very real abuse issue which is often blown off or discounted. Words can hurt!

Your post made me remember a woman who had a huge impact on me more than 20 years ago. Her name is Dr. Pat Allen and she wrote a book called Conversational Rape. It's now available as a free download here: http://www.wantinstitute.org/FreeBook.htm

Doctor Allen's main website is here: http://www.drpatallen.com/index02.shtml

Your post is full of resources for those who may be reaching out for help and information. Thanks so much for writing it and helping me remember Dr. Allen!

Sweet Tea said...

Thank you so much for commenting and congratulations to you as well.
Thank you for the information on Dr. Allen. I'll blog that tomorrow.
Best wishes to you,

Anonymous said...

After months of my mom hinting and then telling me that my husband was verbally abusive, I just discovered two weeks ago that he is. I make no excuses for my denial, but I do understand why this form of abuse escalates to physical violence: each new level is a clean slate. It is like watching violence on TV; eventually, there's nothing wrong with it at all, even in reality. When I heard my husband call my two-year-old daughter retarded, that was the last straw. I have started researching the internet, I have sought out counseling, and I have been discussing the consequences of his behavior with him. However, I have not yet left him, because I am rooted in the fear of making a mistake. I am unsure if we could eventually work this problem out and I am giving up on him too soon. I don't even know for sure if I still love him. I do now know, by talking things over with the counselor, that he has always been this way, even before we got married. I just wrote it off as temper tantrums. And now it makes me angry to think that some people who have observed the way he treats me chose to ignore it, such as my midwife that has birthed both of my babies (although I am not sure that I would have listened then, either). I am just grateful that I have now been 'enlightened' so that I can try to get us help and find resources so that I can make some tough issues. The crazy thing about verbal and emotional abuse is the deep level of denial, to the point that you don't even realize that it is happening to you. More people should be made aware of this topic and I commend you for doing your part to reach out to women who are suffering!

Anonymous said...

Abuse will continue until society accepts the notion that all life should be free from abuses as well as clearer picture as to what abuse is that applies to all life.

In particular children need to have inclusion into the model. It is disturbing that it is illegal for adults to assault one another but it is still legal in this supposed democracy for adults to strike a defenseless child.
Many abuses point to the bible as their dictator.slavery was legitimized because of supposed biblical teachings.Why is it then that slavery is not accepted by religious fundamentalists but childhood"spanking" (the fancy term for physical assault) still persists.
Children who are hit are much more likely to hit others who it is is illegal to hit such a another adult.
The US is behind many other countries in which childhood assault is illegal. If the US wants to considered one of the leaders in democracy it needs to have laws enacted that protect all from abuse.

B. James Stinson said...

I don't want to blame the victim, but some ways of responding to verbal abuse are better - or at least more effective - than others. These are learnable, not innate. I would recommend any of the following books for verbally abused marriage partners: You Don't Have to Take It Anymore, by Steven Stosny; Love Busters, by Willard E. Harley; or Take Back Your Marriage, by William J. Doherty.

If you decide to invest in some professional help, avoid "neutral" therapists, who may be indifferent to your marriage's survival, and seek out a pro-commitment therapist. The National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Counselors is the gold standard. You can Google it or follow the link from my Therapeutic Family Law blogroll at http://therapeuticfamilylaw.blogspot.com.

Sweet Tea said...

Mr. Stinson,

Thank you for the information. I'll update this blog with it tonight.


Darlendo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sweet Tea said...

Darlendo, I'm sorry you removed your post but you can email me at

Thank you.

Sweet Tea said...



Deepak said...

occurs when one person uses words and body language to inappropriately criticize another person. Verbal abuse often involves 'putdowns' and name-calling intended to make the victim feel they are not worthy of love or respect, and that they do not have ability or talent. If the victim speaks up against these statements, they are often told that the criticisms were "just a joke", and that it is their own problem that they do not find the joke funny. They may also be told that no abuse is happening; that it is "all in their head". Verbal abuse is dangerous because it is often not easily recognized as abuse, and therefore it can go on for extended periods, causing severe damage to victim's self-esteem and self-worth. Damaged victims may fail to take advantage of opportunities that would enrich their lives because they come to believe they are not worthy of those opportunities.


Caitlin M. said...

Verbal abuse is so scary! I'm a survivor of a extremely verbally abusive marriage! What you don't realise while you are in the abuse is there is hope! No abuse is ever acceptable! I hope to see more and more information to make people aware of the silent suffering so many are living with!


abusemom81 said...

I was a victim of emotional/verbal abuse and for the longest time didn't even know it. The part that breaks my heart is that so many women out there don't even know what this abuse is and live with it thinking they are crazy. I thought I was crazy!! I was made to believe that I was constantly over-reacting and no man (besides him) would put up with me. I was constantly called names, screamed at, verbally attacked and intimidated by his temper and strength and lost any self confidence that I once had. I hated him and I hated me! Now, I have left him, educated myself and realized what verbal abuse is and am trying to raise awareness as I strongly feel society is so uneducated and have no idea what this abuse is or the longterm and damaging effect it has on it's victims. Like kestral said "there are no bruises to let others know you are being abused". And the courts, laws, etc have the attitude "no bruises no abuse!!!" this needs to change to protect women and children from this harmful abuse.