Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
For the record, this is a lie. Words are one of the most destructive weapons we use against each other. When you look closely enough, you can see the psychological bruises they leave the same way you see a black eye or a broken arm.
We tell our children this when we want them to brush off the insulting and hateful things other children say. We want them to have the strength of character to look within themselves and the opinions of those who love them to see they are worthy and good enough. Often, they cannot. Most adults cannot do it either.
In fact, name-calling and insulting hurt and leave long lasting marks which can shape or change our identities. Have you ever heard anyone tell you…
When you hear it enough times, you begin to believe it.”
Sadly, this quote is truer than the first quote. Rather than saying the first or hearing the second, recognize verbal abuse for what it is.
The First Time
The first time someone utters any of the words in the picture, recognize: This behavior is abusive. All of these words are said in condescension to make the Victim feel insecure in their own abilities and create self-doubt and fear. Abusers know what their victims sensitivities are.
Victim is trying to lose weight. Abuser will call Victim fat or ugly, knowing Victim needs reassurances about weight and appearance.
Victim, like everyone else, has made mistakes. Abuser will exploit even minor mistakes, like forgetting to turn off a light, reinforce the perception Victim is incapable of making good decisions. You are never going to learn.
Abuser stereotypes and belittles people. When opportunity arises, Abuser categorizes Victim in the stereotype. Only idiots do that.
Even if Abuser never becomes physical,
this is abuse.
Even if it only happens once, once is too many times. Do not tolerate abuse.
Abusers are sly when it comes to their verbal abuse, especially in the beginning. Amongst supportive statements, abusers will slide barbed ones into the conversation. When the first comments go unchallenged, subsequent ones become more frequent and more pointed.
Abusers engage their victims in their abuse. Rather than just making a statement, they will ask questions to get victims to reinforce the perception:
- Are you always going to be a failure?
- Don’t you think that makes you look fat?
- Can’t you do anything right?
- Are you always this weird?
- Have you ever not been a moron?
Rather than give Victim time to weigh the question and answer with facts refuting the abusive claims, Abuser will push for an immediate answer. When Victim is already feeling self-doubt, often the answers agree with the abusive assessments.
Victims act differently around their abusers than they do with friends and family, even when the abuser is a member of the family or an alleged friend. Victims become quieter, more demure and self-effacing in the presence of their abusers. The victims are treading lightly trying not to make a mistake. They do not want to hear any of the following:
- I cannot believe you said that.
- Do you know how stupid you looked?
- Everyone was laughing at you.
- I never want to be seen with you again.
- Why do you always embarrass me by being (insert name or abusive description)?
Not all abusers wait until they are in the car leaving a social setting before beginning the abuse. Some will engage their peers in their fun by pointing out their victims’ perceived shortcomings as jokes. Getting others to laugh strengthens the effect of the abuse.
Laughter is a sign of happiness and agreement. When we are pleased and amused, we laugh. When we laugh at others’ expense, it is hurtful and abusive, even more so when we see how uncomfortable it makes them.
Verbal abusers need to feel like they are better than their victims. They will compare their victims to themselves and to others who know more, perform better or have a better appearance. Abusers are only tall because they are standing on someone else’s head.
Verbal abuse is a power trip. Whether it is a show of power in private or a comedy routine at a party, Abuser needs to feel superior to Victim. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes:
- Alleged Friends
- Co-workers or superiors
In order to continue the abuse unchecked, threats accompany the abuse:
- If you tell anyone, they will not believe you.
- No one cares what you think.
- Your family will think you are stupid.
- No one else would ever love you or put up with you.
- Without me, you are nothing.
The simplest resolution is ICES.
I = Intolerance
C = Confidence
E = Evasion
S = Speak out
1. Practice INTOLERANCE. Do not tolerate verbal abuse from anyone. If anyone speaks unkindly to you, identify their behavior as abusive to you. Tolerating abuse is showing respect to the abuser.
2. Convey CONFIDENCE. Know you are better than the abuser says you are. State how the abuser is wrong.
3. Affect EVASION. Get away from people who are verbally abusive. Then, stay away.
4. SPEAK OUT. Tell someone else about the abusive behavior. This puts the abuser under the spotlight, not you. Abusers choose solitary victims because they are not capable of crowd manipulation. There is safety in numbers. In workplace situations, discuss the hostile work environment with superiors, not just co-workers.
Who is not?
Friends do not abuse one another. Spouses and Mates do not abuse one another. Family does not abuse one another. If any of these people are abusive, they are not showing the appropriate love and respect for Victim. If a friend is abusive, it is time for new friends. If Spouse or Mate is abusive, it is time to move on, out or away.
If family is abusive, divorce them. Ask yourself this question:
If I was married to this person,
how long before I would divorce them?
Remember, ICES. Evasion is getting away from the abuse regardless of who Abuser is.
Do you know a victim of verbal abuse? Have you been a victim? Have you verbally abused anyone? Do you think psychological counseling helps verbal abusers stop the abuse?
M3 will never endorse staying in an abusive relationship. If you are the victim of abuse or know a victim of abuse, contact your local law enforcement. Help is available. If you need assistance finding help, fill out the form.
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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