Learning about verbal abuse will help you to stop it. I’m not promising that your abuser will change, but stopping abuse begins with you. “Awareness is the greatest agent of change” and your awareness will in one fashion or another change your life. Learning about verbal abuse is key to stopping abuse.
Why Learning About Abuse Is So Important
What would you call an orange if you didn’t know the word existed? You would come up with something, but it probably would be “orange.” Up until about 2008, I did not have the vocabulary to describe my experience. I didn’t know that the words diminishing, denying, or any of the other forms of verbal abuse described my relationship. I knew something was wrong in my marriage, but the word abuse couldn’t apply to me, so I never considered it.
There was physical violence in our past, but I thought he was done with that. But still, when he yelled at me, I cringed. When I cringed, he’d yell, “What are you so scared about?!” and become angrier because I’d made such a dramatic move as to flinch at his voice.
I didn’t know that the physical violence from earlier in the marriage had lasting effects. I didn’t know that the constant verbal abuse triggered unconscious memories of physical violence. I had never learned about verbal abuse. Because I didn’t know that verbal manipulations and red-faced displays of anger were components of verbal abuse, I couldn’t explain to him or anyone else why I cringed. I couldn’t explain it because I was ignorant.
Well, aren’t we all lucky that ignorance can be fixed! If you want to continue living in denial of your abuse, stop reading now. There are some big spoilers on the way.
Learn About Verbal Abuse From Patricia Evans
Patricia Evans wrote The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond and there are over half a million copies in circulation. Let me tell you, that isn’t enough. This book should be required reading at every high school in the United States. Ms. Evans explained my abusive situation so thoroughly that I couldn’t help but believe her; the categories of verbal abuse she outlines taught me the vocabulary to describe my abuse.
Ms. Evans lists 15 categories of verbal abuse including: name calling, forgetting, blocking and diverting, undermining, and verbal abuse disguised as jokes. Once I was able to put a name to what was wrong, I immediately recognized the wrongness as abuse.
I was able to think, “Oh, now he’s discounting me” or “What do you know? Now he is countering me!”
In my mind, my husband became less of a terrorist and more like a flash card. You remember flash cards, right? “3×4=” on one side, “12” on the other. He’d spew venom on one side, I’d flip my mental switch and call abuse by name on the other.
By the way, if you don’t want to anger your abuser further, don’t play “He’s a Flash Card” out loud. There’s nothing an abuser hates more than to be called out during his game.
For more help naming the abusive technique, visit Verbal Abuse Journals where I put Patricia Evans’s vocabulary of abuse and how to deal with abuse. Also, visit her website, Verbal Abuse, and sign up for her message board.
Learn About Verbal Abuse Online
Besides Patricia Evans’s website, there are several more that will help you learn about the dynamics of abuse and the cycle of violence. (Remember, verbal abuse counts as violence!)
NDVH Educate Yourself – What is Domestic Violence? The National Domestic Violence Hotline is more than a crisis line; it’s there to educate us too.
Battered Men – Abuse is gender neutral, but the courts don’t always see it that way. This site advises battered men and provides stories suited to the battered husband’s plight. It’s a little difficult to navigate, but patience has its rewards.
Not To People Like Us – Great house? Really comfortable income? College degree? An upscale abused woman could buy into the myth that “abuse doesn’t happen to people like us.” She isolates and keeps secret the abuse and tries to maintain her image within her community and at work.
Learn About Verbal Abuse and Its Relationship to Co-dependency
Chances are, if you are a victim of abuse, you can identify with codependence. Being codependent means that you, in some ways, contribute to your own abuse (not the same as being responsible for the abuse!). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Abuse cannot occur if there isn’t someone there willing to take it (you).
As you learn about abuse and the abusive cycle, remember to take the focus off of the abuser. The abuser is not going to change (with a few exceptions). The only person who you can count on to change is you, and recognizing your pitfalls and hang-ups will help you to overcome them, helping you to end the cycle of violence in your own way.
Learn About Verbal Abuse And Its Connection to Anxiety, Depression and PTSD
Oftentimes, victims of abuse become numb to their own innate protective emotions such as fear. In 2003, I began taking medication for anxiety. I didn’t know where the anxiety came from specifically, but I blamed it on a crazy neighbor. The thing about it was that I’d been experiencing the anxiety prior to psycho-neighbor’s harassment; something about her being new in the mix helped me to recognize it.
I believe that I lived in a constant state of fear during my marriage (see PTSD Symptoms and Signs). My body was trying to tell me so, but I wouldn’t listen. Like he said, “What are you so scared about?!” I told myself there was nothing to fear; in so doing, I forgot that I should be afraid. I forgot that I should be hurting.
But forgetting didn’t keep me happy. Instead, forgetting made me numb. I numbed down happiness, sadness, and a multitude of other emotions that make life worth living (a.k.a. depression).
As the last offering for today, I recommend The Gift of Fear (and other survival signals that protect us from violence) by Gavin DeBecker. The author says,
At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.
How Do I Stop the Verbal Abuse? (Part 1)
Help for Verbal Abuse: You Have To Reach Out For It (Part 2)
Learn About Verbal Abuse So You Can Stop It
Set Personal Boundaries To Increase Self-Reliance (Part 4)
Develop an Exit Strategy And Safety Plan (Part 5)
The Signs of Verbal Abuse (Part 6)
*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.