Why Verbal Abuse Is So Dangerous
Most people think physical violence is more dangerous than verbal abuse in a relationship, but this is a misconception. It's why we often hear well-meaning advice such as, "If an abuser's behavior turns violent, it's time to leave." But should it have to get to this point before the abused person walks away? Emotional abuse and physical violence are not mutually exclusive -- in fact, one is usually a precursor to the other. So, let's explore the psychological side effects of verbal abuse, some of which have dangerous implications.
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for two years. For most of that time, I was anxious, lonely, and depressed. I felt sick when I heard my boyfriend's key in the door; I dreaded having to tell him something I knew he wouldn't like -- I even had dreams about him murdering me. I was genuinely afraid of him and, although I never admitted it, I believed it was only a matter of time before his threats of physical violence became my reality. And yet, I didn't consider myself at risk. I'd like to think I am a perceptive person, so why didn't I see the real dangers of his verbal abuse?
The Dangers of Verbal Abuse Are Often Minimized
Because emotional abuse is so subtle, the warning signs of impending abuse are hard to spot. Verbal abuse mostly takes place behind closed doors, and there are no black eyes, finger imprints, or broken bones. Yet, as victims, we feel battered, exhausted, and weak, without a single scar or bruise to show for it.
We minimize the effects of these verbal attacks, both inwardly and outwardly, because that's the only way we can cope. It's easy to keep our secret from the world because we doubt that the emotional abuse is actually happening. Instead, we believe what our abusers are telling us: that we're crazy, its all in our heads, and if only we could be a little less selfish and responsive to their expectations, then the abuse would stop.
Verbal Abuse: The Hidden Dangers
The effects of verbal abuse are often overlooked or they are confused with residing mental health issues or addictions. However, this lack of awareness is contributing to the stigma surrounding domestic abuse in all its forms, so it's important to recognize the dangers. Verbal abuse can lead to:
- Depression: Verbal abuse will diminish your self-confidence, sense of self, and trust in your own perceptions. The repeated negative comments (along with other abusive tactics such as withholding contact, gaslighting, and lack of affection) can easily cause you to become depressed.
- Dissociation: Loss of "self-concept" may result in dissociation, which your brain believes provides an escape from the psychological trauma caused by verbal abuse. Some victims even become more like their abusers, either because they think that will make their abusers happy, or because it helps them feel more in control.
- Self-medicating: Being manipulated, insulted, and ignored by someone you love is incredibly painful. Inevitably, you will find ways to lessen that pain -- whether it's alcohol, drugs, or overeating. However it manifests, it's not uncommon for victims of verbal abuse to experience problems with addiction.
- Physical abuse: Like physical abusers, perpetrators of verbal abuse need to control and subjugate those they are closest to. The subtle tactics of fear, humiliation, guilt, and manipulation come from the same place as physical violence: a place of anger, insecurity, and fear of losing control. Whichever way you look at it, it's likely that an emotional abuser could later turn violent.
- Self-harm: Eventually, recipients of verbal abuse will lose their sense of personal value, which can lead to thoughts of self-harm. In extreme cases, some victims contemplate suicide because they don't feel able to escape the abuse any other way.
My Verbally Abusive Relationship and Why It Was Dangerous
As for me, I became so convinced that I was worthless that I clung to my abusive partner, believing no one else could ever want me. I continued the relationship for far too long, thinking I had nowhere else to go and that he was doing me a favor by staying with me.
Being alone was my ultimate fear. My boyfriend made me despise myself so much that I couldn't bear the thought of separating from him. Because without him, there was nothing else. I may not feel this way now, but I know that so many people are still living with the genuine dangers of verbal abuse, which is why it's so important to continue this conversation.
Let me know your thoughts below, and thank you for reading.
Smith, E. (2017, November 28). Why Verbal Abuse Is So Dangerous, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/11/why-verbal-abuse-is-so-dangerous
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about what you want through. Dealing with mental health issues and abuse is incredibly complicated, but it does sound as if you are safer apart from her -- especially since she has shown no remorse for her actions.. I assume she is getting help, so try to focus on rebuilding your own life. Relationship abuse of any kind is incredibly traumatic so it's important that you get the support and ongoing help that you need. Over time, those residual feelings of love for her "good side" will probably subside, but talking to a therapist will help you work through your feelings.
Good luck, and take care.
Could you suggest going to see a couple's therapist together? It's so difficult because often the only way out of an abusive situation is to leave, but many people feel they can't do that. Also, it's possible that your wife isn't aware of how her behavior is making you feel. As I've said in previous articles, although there is never an excuse for relationship abuse, there is always an explanation. Your wife could be lashing out due to feelings of insecurity or a need for control. She could be suffering a mental illness. Whatever the reason, emotional abuse is never OK and it needs to stop.
Try telling her that the way she's making you feel is not OK. Advise her that she needs to change the way she treats you if she wants the relationship to continue. It depends on the circumstances of course, but sometimes changes in behavior (if that's what this is?) can be explored and worked through. However, it takes both people to make that happen.
Good luck, and please feel free to come back to the site for support any time.
Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry to hear about the experiences you've had; they must have taken phenomenal strength to work through, and are bound to have had a lasting effect on your self-esteem and your perception of criticism.
Handling criticism is something a lot of people struggle with, myself included. It can be complex because sometimes the criticism is just, and other times we feel like we're being berated unnecessarily -- like we're always the target for someone else to project their issues on to. At work, it can be difficult to escape people who we consider "toxic" or overly critical -- I've had this problem in the past. It can be even more difficult to know whether the problem is with them or us, but I'm not sure the answer is ever that black and white. While we can control our environments to some extent, we can't always avoid abusive people at work, therefore we need to develop coping mechanisms to help us deal with them.
In a recent article, I explored the idea that some people are easy targets for abuse ( <a href="https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/08/verbal-abuse-why-me/" rel="noopener" target="_blank">(Easy Targets for Verbal Abuse: Why Me?)</a>. You might find the article helpful to read. There is also a podcast episode that I listen to called <a href="http://highlysensitiveperson.net/episode38/" target="_blank" rel="noopener nofollow">Handling Criticism</a>, which is part of The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Podcast series -- you don't have to identify as an HSP to relate, and some of the advice is really helpful.
If you're in an abusive relationship, get out as soon as you can. Life is too short to be miserable loving someone who can't really love you back.
Thanks for your comment. Emotional abuse is about as unbearable as it gets -- I totally know what you mean about not wanting to go home. I'm glad you were able to make the decision to leave.