5 Ways of Dealing with Verbally Abusive Relationships
People victimized by verbal abuse in marriage, or other verbally abusive relationships, don't want to give up easily. There is love or money (or both) at stake, and they could feel that the sacrifice of walking away is too great. Victims of verbally abusive relationships most want to know how to respond to verbal abuse and how to stop verbal abuse.
Stopping Verbal Abuse in Marriage, Relationships
Those on the victim side of verbally abusive relationships simply want the abuse to stop. They cannot understand why another person would want to be cruel. Most people waste too much time wondering "why" and not enough time reframing their own mental and emotional perspectives. But this, too, is an effect of abuse. Verbally abusive people "teach" their victims' to focus outward toward them instead of inward to the victims' own perceptions and feelings. (see Verbally Abusive Men and Women: Why Do They Abuse?)
Getting Control in Verbally Abusive Relationships
The only way to stop verbal abuse in marriage or other relationships is if victims change the way they respond to it. Here are five ways a victim of verbal abuse can change their reactions to a verbally abusive spouse, co-worker, or anyone else and possibly end the abuse:
- Every emotionally charged situation includes three things: The activating event, the victim's beliefs about the activating event, and the victim's resulting feelings or behaviors. Too often, people jump from the event straight to the feelings/behaviors without considering their beliefs about the event. If victims change their beliefs about the abusive event (here we go again, look at her trying to control me!), then their emotions and behaviors change, too.1
- Recognize the difference between healthy negative emotions and unhealthy ones. Referring back to number one, victims who create beliefs that produce unhealthy negative emotions will feel things like rage, self-hatred, and anxiety. But victims whose beliefs create healthy negative emotions experience feelings like frustration, disappointment and sadness. The healthy negative feelings are appropriate (no one would be happy about being abused), but the unhealthy feelings spiral the victim into counter-productive behaviors and a feeling of being stuck in a horrible situation.2
- Set personal boundaries on behaviors you will not accept from other people and enforce them. Personal boundaries erode over the course of a verbally abusive relationship as the abuser gains access to the victim's safe zones. Setting personal boundaries mostly reminds the victim to be on the lookout for abusive behaviors, recognize them, and protect themselves from further emotional or mental harm.
- Victims of verbally abusive relationships who tell other people about the abuse find support and strength and are better able to stay clear-minded when the abuse occurs. Victims must be careful in their selection of support people. If someone in your circle consistently tells you, "You're making more of this than it is," or they insist the one who abuses you is a "good person," then they're not appropriate support.
- Victims who address the verbal abuse as it occurs have the opportunity to point out behavior the abuser might not realize s/he's doing. If nothing else, addressing the abuse in real-time empowers the victim and sets the stage for remembering to do numbers 1-3. The easiest response to verbal abuse is "Stop it!"3
Last Updated: 26 May 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD