Up until about 2008, I did not have the vocabulary to describe the abuse I was experiencing. I knew something was wrong in my marriage, but the word “abuse” didn’t seem to apply to me; I thought “we” were “done” with physical abuse. It didn’t seem to matter to me that often when he yelled at me,I cringed.
It mattered to him, though. He’d yell, “What are you so scared about?!” and become angrier that 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 that were compounded by his constant verbal abuse. Because I didn’t know that verbal manipulations and outrageous anger were aspects of 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 “ignorant” 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.
Educate Yourself About Verbal Abuse: 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 recognized it immediately in my relationship. I was able to say, “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 math 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 the 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 likes less than to be called out during his game.
For more help naming the abusive technique, visit Verbal Abuse Journals where I put Patricia Evans’ vocabulary with examples from my own marriage. Also, visit her website, Verbal Abuse, and sign up for her message board (if you are being verbally or otherwise abused).
Educate Yourself About Verbal Abuse: Websites
Besides Patricia Evans’ website, there are several more that will help you educate yourself on 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.
The Crazy-Making Husband Radio Show – Martha Trowbridge presents radio shows about abusive partners and what (wo)men can do to help themselves.
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 typically buys into the myth that it doesn’t/shouldn’t happen “to people like us.” She isolates and keeps secret the abuses trying to maintain her image within her community as well as personal and professional spheres.
Educate Yourself About Verbal Abuse: Co-dependency
Chances are, if you are a victim of abuse, you are also somewhat co-dependent. Being co-dependent 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 educate yourself 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.
The Emotional Numbing Effect
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 was living in a constant state of fear. My body was trying to tell me so, but I wouldn’t listen. Like he said, “What are you so scared about?!” I had effectively told myself I had nothing to fear; in so doing, I also numbed down happiness, sadness, and a multitude of other emotions that make life worth living (aka 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.” Ahem. Read this book.
How Do I Stop the Verbal Abuse? (Part 1)
Reach Out – How to Stop Verbal Abuse (Part 2)
Educate Yourself – How to Stop Verbal Abuse (Part 3)
Self Reliance – How to Stop Verbal Abuse (Part 4)
Develop an Exit Strategy – How to Stop Verbal Abuse (Part 5)
How To Stop Verbal Abuse – Wrap-Up (Part 6)