Can a Retaliatory Response to Verbal Abuse Make You Abusive?
Sunday, July 15 2012 Kellie Jo Holly
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.