What is Verbal Abuse?
Google “verbal abuse”. When the search results come up, you’ll notice that verbal abuse is often combined with emotional abuse. Other types of abuse that will pop up include physical, financial and sexual. While the psychological effects of verbal abuse and other forms of domestic violence (DV) are emotional, they can be identified by some key markers. Verbal violence is identified as something someone says to another person that intentionally changes their thoughts, feelings or behavior (ie. Verbal abuse is a mode of control). It’s associated with specific verbalizations, such as:
- Yelling or raising the volume of the voice
- Criticism, especially for independent achievements
- Withholding praise, especially for independent achievements
- Making mean jokes about appearance (“you’re ugly) or abilities (“you’re stupid”)
- Threatening physical violence
- Threatening to take something away that is important
Verbal abuse leaves no acute or visible marks of violence. No bruises or physical evidence to heal from. It leaves invisible traces of trauma that take much more time and support to heal. The insidious and manipulative nature of verbal abuse often makes dangerous and unhealthy relationships more difficult to leave. Undermining self-confidence and emotional independence, the abuser’s control tactics often convince the survivor that the abuse is either their fault or deserved for whatever negative traits their abuser is labeling them with. The alienation associated with verbal abuse leads to depression, fear and often a sense of helplessness or worthlessness. Survivors of abuse within relationships often have a more complicated recovery from the emotional abuse they have experienced because of these feelings.
Why don’t we hear about Verbal Abuse more often?
Since the effects of violent and abusive language are not easily seen, there is often no public or social context for the kind of internal battle that occurs in an abusive relationship, much less surrounding the emotional well-being of an individual. Depression and withdrawal are seen as personal problems. These effects are an outward expression of internalized abuse, which does not necessarily implicate the abuser outright. Verbal abusers, as manipulators, often have a charismatic social persona that reinforces the survivor’s and their support system’s inability to make the connection between the things that happen in the private space of their relationship. Especially since many individuals experiencing verbal abuse internalize the trauma, their closest relatives and friends may have no knowledge of what is happening in their relationship.
Identifying verbally abusive relationships can be incredibly difficult for both the person experiencing the abuse and the loved ones who make-up their support system. The silence surrounding changes in behavior or the experience of depression and withdrawal, being unhappy and less enthusiastic about the things that used to be fun can be caused by a lot of different life circumstances.
What can we do about Verbal Abuse?
We can make a difference every day by using better communication and language in our own relationships. Acknowledging other people’s, especially our loved ones, ideas and feelings through kind, supportive language can positively affect the social aspect of verbal abuse. As supporters of survivors, we want to:
- Encourage feelings of safety by using a non-threatening tone
- Affirm the right to make independent decisions
- Validate experiences and the emotions about those experiences.
- Empower by sharing information on the dynamics of violent relationships, power and control, and the cycle of violence.
If you think someone you know is experiencing verbal abuse or domestic violence of any kind, you can use your excellent verbal skills to let them know about some resources where they can find advice, help with safety planning and support.
Resources for domestic violence:
If you are in the Bay Area, feel free to call W.O.M.A.N., Inc.- Crisis Line – 415.864.4722
U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1(800)799.SAFE or 1(800)787.3224