Can a Retaliatory Response to Verbal Abuse Make You Abusive?
Your response to verbal abuse can, technically, make you abusive -- at least in that moment. And I'm willing to bet that most anyone who has been on the receiving end of long-term verbal abuse tries to fight fire with fire at some point. It's almost impossible to not retaliate against verbal abuse with more abuse initially, in the time before you understand that you're in an abusive relationship and before you learn better ways to respond to verbal abuse. In my case, my abusive response to verbal abuse turned me into someone I didn't like at all.
In reality, responding to verbal abuse with more verbal abuse creates only escalation of the situation in the short-term, a shorter cycle of abuse in the long-term, and the horrific feeling that you may be an abuser too. Or worse, realizing that you are abusive in other relationships, too. The brief feeling of victory that comes from seeing your words wound your abuser isn't worth becoming a monster that you aren't.
Why an Abusive Response to Verbal Abuse Does Not Stop It
I've discussed the abusive person's desire to win at all costs before, so I'll simply remind you of it today (here and here are two examples). "The Win" your abuser seeks takes precedence over your feelings, any kind of logic, how stupid the abuser's argument actually is, or what means the abuser may need to take to get that win. You won't talk them out of it no matter how ridiculous or hypocritical their actions and words are.
The abuser sees your retaliation against the abuse as an attack against him- or herself. Retaliating escalates the event for the abuser. The abuser isn't about to let you win.
Once the abuser invests themselves in winning, you may as well walk away. Or better yet, walk to town and do something enjoyable because you're not going to find joy at your place.
Overt Retaliation Against Domestic Abuse
Retaliation from a domestic abuse victim can take the form of physical violence, manipulation, lying, or any other type of abuse - verbal, mental, or emotional.
Woah! Isn't that flat out abuse? Are you saying that abuse victims are abusers?
No, not exactly. Self-defense is never the same as initiating abuse. The motives behind self-defense of this type originates from a feeling that we must somehow protect ourselves. And since nastiness seems to be the only form of communication an abuser understands, we sometimes resort to the same type of nastiness in hope of getting the abuser to retreat.
But retaliating against abuse in these ways winds up hurting the victim more. Retaliating with abuse, fighting fire with fire, is why victims
- continue their responsibility in the abusive cycle and
- contribute to their own abuse and
- end up feeling so much guilt over abusing their abuser that they end up denying that they are abused and
- make up excuses for their abuser's behavior to friends and family and
- cannot find the strength to leave because strength is squashed under all the shame over their own behavior and
- why there are a hundred other complicated reasons that help to explain "Why do they stay?!"
It's important to note that these reasons do not erase the others (abject fear, morals, religious beliefs, finances, etc.)! But these reasons may contribute to the unwillingness to leave the relationship.
Covert Retaliatory Response Verbal Abuse
Secretly retaliating against verbal abuse may have helped me feel better in the moment, but resulted in either (you guessed it) more abuse or feelings of inadequacy that contributed to my belief I couldn't make it alone if I were to leave.
Covert retaliation is different for every victim, and how we do it depends on what beliefs our abuser wants to impose upon us. For example, my covert retaliation included
- not cleaning the house,
- spending money without telling him,
- talking to myself about what an ass he was and how dumb I was for not being able to make him see the light,
- drooling into his Jack and Coke,
- not being at home to greet him after work,
- not fixing his lunch,
- bleaching his toothbrush without rinsing it after,
- talking badly about him when our kids could have heard while on the phone with my sister,
- taking advantage of the fact that he constantly eavesdropped on my conversations by saying things that I knew would irritate him, and
- this is only a partial list.
When I look over that list, I see how I hurt myself too. I lived in a messy house, didn't have financial peace, filled my head with self-minimizing thoughts, hurt my children, added to my guilt over having such a horrid relationship because I knew I was acting ugly too, lost my peace of mind and . . .. It wasn't worth it.
Well, if I had another chance to drool in his liquor, I'd probably do that.
The point is retaliation doesn't work as a response to verbal abuse. Retaliation hurts the victim more than it ever hurts the abuser because in the end the abuser will make sure they WIN.
Holly, K. (2012, July 15). Can a Retaliatory Response to Verbal Abuse Make You Abusive?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2012/07/retaliation-against-abuse
Author: Kellie Jo Holly
In the end I decided the best option was to keep her away from me forever and I said some pretty bad things on purpose to fulfill that objective. It worked thankfully. It has been years now. It hurts to this day and it even effects me still to the point I can't trust others, especially women (Although I did meet someone new who is far better a person but these prior experiences effect my ability to trust anyone fully again)... but I know to this day that the person I loved then is not actually the person she was. It was the person I thought she was. Sometimes we get caught up in an "idea" of a relationship or friendship and build expectations of the person we are with to be just as loyal or morally strong as ourselves and it just isn't a possible outcome. I'm very picky with who my friends are and I certainly have high expectations at times. I realize not everyone can meet those but after 9 years it was simply not acceptable. A friend of mine once told me that you should marry the person that loves and cares about you more than you think you love them yourself. It sounded a little crazy to me at the time and messed up, but I think I have now met that person and it actually makes sense. If someone loves you and cares about you they will treat you with respect. They will make the efforts to keep you in their life. This doesn't mean trying to control them or alter their well being... but it does mean making the compromises needed to be considerate of the other persons needs. Even though this doesn't change the damage that was already done from the past or how it effects my trust in others.... I want to claim some regrets.... she was important to me.... but at the end of the day I ultimately don't regret ending things harshly and completely isolating myself from her. They say burning bridges is a bad idea but sometimes I feel like it is something you have to do in order to protect yourself from those that are detrimental to your mental health and well being. I like to think I know what to look for now and that I might walk away from a bad situation like this again. In the end; I was mentally abused, I returned the favor and in my case I wouldn't have done it any differently even if I could.
1. Never give him control over your life. You have the right to live and be happy, do the activities that you enjoy, and socialise with other people.
2. Never let him isolate you from your loved ones - your family and friends
3. Do not loose your confidence and self-esteem
4. Most importantly, do not try to justify his/her behaviour by blaming yourself. My husband keeps insisting that the abusive is my fault because for example - once upon a time 4 years ago I asked him to do the dishes!!
5. Do not try to change him/her by being nice - it just does not work. He/she will only take it as a signal of weakness or that the abuse is acceptable.
Recently, I have started retaliating, I guess because the love and respect for each other is completely gone. He has always had an 'I don't give a damn' attitude and now I feel the same way too. I can't say that this has improved anything, but it certainly has given him the message that his behaviour has a negative impact (even on him!).
retaliation, as i have read in some articles. tends to end up being used against the abusee, as the abuser uses that as evidence that the roles are reversed. and depending on the genders and the structure, may make it harder to prove abuse because of stigmas and sterotypes.
i read somewhere taht its possible that many abusive relations have abuse running in both directions. and that much is required to heal and restructe the actions of both, though usually only one side is willing to make the effort to improve relations and or patterened behavior.
its an interesting thing the study of relationship then add the abuse complex to it and it become "intriguing" the interplay and how roles are formed and behaviour occurs. the psycholigy and strucutre that happens.
both parties and sort of entered in to an aggrement to play the roles. and either could change or "leave" the roles but continue for whatever reason to stay and play their part for what ever reason; fear, lack of knowledge, refusal to chagne, et. al>
the best as always is willingness to change , and outside party to give professional advice and refelextion.
The best thing you can do is go seek help and not blame yourself I am getting out of a relationship that was physically verbally and emotional abusive I tried the treat others as you wanted to be treated and it didn't work the person made me feel like I was the crazy one gaslighting at its finest
im 18 now but I also have been abused, after being hit and put at gunpoint I didn't and still don't trust anyone. ive never told my parents nor my sister. only a few friends. it all happened my freshman year of high school. once I got out of the relationship things got better but im still just scared when people even pretend to play around with me.. you know? it just brings back old memories. anyways im doing a college paper on is it should be okay for woman or men to retaliate from being abused. im on the fence about it though. in one way I wanted to hit him back or say the things that he said to me but in another way I knew if I did it might hurt me even more. maybe im just looking for someone elses opinion.. well you have given one but maybe your opinion on my story?
You made the decision you needed to make when the assault occurred. You are here, you are alive, so your decision was the best one possible in the circumstances.
It made me think that this woman had never been in an abusive relationship before because not onlt does it make you feel worse (as you pointed out) but it's downright dangerous when you're dealing with someone who wants that control...and won't stop until he gets it...even if you end up physically injured or...dead.
My counsellor advised me to never arc up against him because even though I have the right to be heard, it's just not safe. It also in some cases makes the abuser be more easily able to 'justify' hurting you.
In the media with the Chris Brown and Rhianna thing, I have heard so many people say 'but she hit him also...there were nail marks on his skin'...
I live in India and had married another Indian guy in US. I stayed with him for 6 months and have come back to India on the pretext of a family wedding six months ago. His attitude has worsened after I got back. I am not able to take the decision of divorce as yet. My family insisted he come down to India for a discussion, before I go back. He hasn't been ready for any of that. I am someone who just cant decide to divorce. (Its a taboo in the conservative Indian society I stay). I am willing to patch up, but there are no steps from his end. I thought of showing up at his place, but there are risks here. Not only about the abuse from him but I also fear retaliation from my end. Please guide as to how can I try to make this work.
Thanks so much
There are <a href="http://verbalabusejournals.com/protection-against-abusive-relationship/" rel="nofollow">some things you can do to protect your spirit while with him</a>, but it is almost impossible to be completely well and free when you live with an abusive person.
If role playing isn't your thing, then you can imagine a scene in your mind between you and your wife. When you imagine the scene with your wife, you don't have to get the words or situation perfect - call up those emotions, feel them, then see yourself responding to her with a boundary, and you'll do fine when you actually put your skills to the test.
I haven't really had the chance to try some of this stuff out yet :). I must admit I am a little nervous about it, but we'll see what happens.
Thanks for the support Kellie.
No more threats to do it, just do it. Actually, since she's still abusing you but pretending its a joke, you COULD (dare I suggest "should") begin counseling now.
That step hurts no one and helps you.
After you're in counseling, you will learn how to cope with the abuse better AND you'll have a neutral source to talk to should you decide to reconsider leaving.
Good for you, Fred. Keep up the great work! You feel good, don't you?
She got very upset and cried etc. Since then the name calling and insults have almost gone away completely. She gets a jab in with a joke or something occasionally.
So far it seems to be working. But I'm not letting my guard down. And hopefully if it does start back up I can handle it. Option 3 is still on the table.