Are you in a Verbally Abusive Relationship?
A scientist conducted an experiment. She put frog number one into a pan of very hot water. The frog jumped right out. Then she placed frog number two in a pan of cool water. This frog didn’t jump out. Very gradually, the scientist raised the temperature of the water. The frog gradually adapted until it boiled to death. – Anonymous
Being in a relationship where there is verbal abuse conditions the spouse that is being abused just like the second frog in the above example. Many times partners of verbal abuse only recognize the abuse once they are away for a while.
Verbal abuse may be overt – name calling, angry outbursts, or attacks of characters like, “You’re just too sensitive”. But it also can be covert or hidden. Statements like, “What do you mean? I didn’t mean that” when the abuser did mean that can drive a person crazy. The book by George Bach and Ronald Deutsch “Stop! You’re Driving Me Crazy”, state that often times the spouse of verbal abuse feels or experience some of the following;
• Feeling temporarily thrown off balance or caught off guard
• Receiving double messages but somehow unable or fearful to ask for clarification.
• Feeling generally “bugged” by the simple presence of a person.
• Where one assumed goodwill, ill will seems to prevail
• One feels pushed around, not in control of one’s own direction.
• An uneasy weird feeling of emptiness
• Feeling vaguely suspicious that something is wrong
If a partner is able to validate their own feelings they will sometimes recognize that they feel diminished, hurt, unrecognized, discounted, made fun of, ignored and others.
In the book, “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans, she describes the general characteristics of verbal abuse and categorizes verbal abuse. I highly recommend this book if you relate to what follows.
Characteristics of Verbal Abuse
1. It is hurtful- especially when it is denied
2. It attacks the nature and abilities of partner
3. It can be covert or overt
4. Verbally abusive disparagement may be voiced in an extremely sincere and concerned way
5. It is manipulative and controlling
6. It is insidious – disregards, disrespects and devalues the partner
7. It is unpredictable
8. It is the real issue in the relationship
9. It expresses a double message- incongruence between the way the abuser speaks and real feelings
10. It usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency, and variety.
I know in many relationships people think of abuse only in terms of physical abuse. “He isn’t hitting me so how could I be abused?” Love relationships are the arena where we want love, support, acceptance, nurturing, intimacy – both emotional and physical, validation and someone to “have our back”. This is a place in healthy relationships where “two are better than one”. In abusive relationships there is stress, tension, a feeling on being unsafe, a feeling of being out of balance, squashed, stymied, dragged down and can lead to low self-esteem and depression. See if you can identify any of these.
1. Withholding –a choice to keep one’s thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams to themselves and to remain silent and aloof toward one’s partner.
2. Countering – arguing against partners thoughts, perceptions, experience which denies the victims reality and prevents the abuser from knowing or accepting his partners views
3. Discounting – denying the experience of the partner of the abuse. “Oh you don’t know what you are talking about” or “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”
4. Verbal Abuse Disguised as a Joke –“ You couldn’t find your head if it wasn’t attached”
5. Blocking and Diverting – the topic is changed and none of the abuser’s diversion answers the partner’s questions in a thoughtful and considerate way.
6. Accusing and Blaming- A verbal abuse will accuse his partner of some wrongdoing and blame his partner of his anger. “ You’re just trying to pick a fight” or “You’re looking for trouble”
7. Judging and Criticizing – “You can’t take a joke” “You idiot” “ I wouldn’t have done it that way”
8. Trivializing – what you have done or said is insignificant.
9. Undermining – this not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence. “Why bother!” “Who asked you?”
10. Threatening- manipulates the partner by bringing up her greatest fears.
11. Name Calling
12. Forgetting – the declaration by the abuser that what happened didn’t is abusive
13. Ordering – “ Get rid of this” “You’re not going out now”
14. Denial – “I never said that” “You’re getting upset about nothing!”
If you recognize any of these going on I recommend that you pick up a book or go see a counselor because left on your own, it will likely get worse.
Nancy Ryan, LMFT specializes in working with individuals and couples who want deep, satisfying relationships with themselves and their partners. She works with couples who are ready to stop the destructive patterns and want to build the love, friendship and romance back into their partnership. We see clients in Roseville, CA and Fair Oaks, CA