The Verbally Abusive Relationship

Patricia Evans

Book club note by Dana Morningstar

Notes from the Book Club book For December 2015:

The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

 

When most people think of verbal abuse, they think of name calling and screaming or yelling.  …And they’d only be partially correct.

Verbal abuse is SO much more than name calling and screaming at someone.

What is an abusive relationship?

An abusive relationship is one where mixed messages are sent. Words and actions frequently don’t line up. For example, I love you is said, but then actions are hurtful (verbally, emotionally, physically, etc.).

It’s important to note that abusive relationships can be within any dynamic—and isn’t just isolated to a relationship with a significant other.  Abusive behavior can come from a parent, a sibling, a child, a boss, a co-worker, a friend, a neighbor, a member/leader of a church, and so on. Abusive people can be male or female, young or old, any nationality, and religion, and any sexual orientation.

What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse is when one person disrespects, devalues, or disempowers another through their words or attitude. Verbal abuse is a subtle form of diminishment done with angry outbursts, cool indifference, one-upmanship, scathing sarcasm, silent treatment, manipulations, irrational demands which are generally cloaked in a “what’s wrong with you, you’re making a big deal out of nothing”--or “it's all your fault" kind of attitude. This type of cruel and calloused behavior is often done in private, the result being that the target of this abuse often has no witness to what’s going on (and often times even if others are present, verbal abuse is often minimized and justified). Because of this the target can have a hard time realizing that there is a legitimate problem (they are being abused)—and that they aren’t at fault. 

Verbally abusive behavior comes in two forms: overt and covert. An example of overt abuse would be: “Shut up.” An example of covert abuse would be: “You think you are so much smarter than everyone else.”

The Core of Verbally Abusive Behavior:

  1. Tells the other person: Ex: “You are fat/crazy/stupid.”

  2. What the other person . “You think you are smarter/better than everyone else.”

  3. Tells the other person , “You are trying to start a fight/Make me look bad.”

 

15 Forms of Verbal and Emotional Abuse

 

1.Withholding.  (This would include a lack of what I call, “open, honest, sincere, and solutions oriented communication.”) Withholding includes withholding communication, ignoring or pretending not to hear what the other person said, or withholding important information, sex or affection. The person doing the withholding may make statements such as, “There’s nothing for me to say.” “You never let me talk.” Or, “We do talk.” 


2. Countering. This is where one person attempts to make themselves right—and their partner wrong. When done to an extreme, the person doing the countering may continue to shift/divert to other topics so that even if the other person agrees with them, they pick something else out in the conversation to argue about! “Countering” can feel like “hammering” or as though the other person is looking to fight or punish you.


3. Discounting. This is a denying someone’s experience (usually to their behavior—or to the behavior of someone else being rude or abusive) as valid. The abusive person minimizes what was said or done, often saying things such as, “You are too sensitive.”“You don’t have a sense of humor.”“You take things too seriously.”“You blow everything out of proportion.”“You’re not happy unless you are complaining.”“You’re too emotional.”“You think you know it all.”“You don’t know what you are talking about.”


4. Verbal abuse disguised as jokes. These are insults disguised as “jokes” that are only funny to the abusive person, and are often focused on the target’s feminine/masculine nature, intellect or competency. (Comments such as, “What can you expect from a woman/man? Women drivers are terrible. You are such a blonde. You are easily entertained.”) Or the abusive person may frighten their partner and the laugh like it’s a joke (even after the partner tells them not to do this).

 

5. Blocking and diverting. Used to prevent discussion, withhold information, and end communication. Examples: “Get off my back. You know what I meant.”“Oh, so we’re going to fight about this again.” Diverts to another issue. “We’ve gone thru this before, I don’t want to go thru it again.”” You think you are so perfect. How about that one time when you did xyz.” *A good response to this behavior is to not let them drag the conversation off track and stick with the main question or concern until it’s resolved. If they have other issues, then those can be brought up next.

 

6. Accusing and blaming. This is where one person is being accused and blamed for things that they didn’t do, or the person with the abusive behavior says that they are feeling attacked when really you are setting a boundary by letting them know that certain behaviors are not okay with you. For example, if you question your partner as to why they are hiding their phone or messaging other women/men, they might say something along the lines of, “You’re attacking me. You have issues; you’re paranoid/crazy. I’m entitled to have female/male friends; you are too controlling.”Or, the conversation is spun around to accuse and blame you of cheating, or doing things you aren’t doing.

 

Potential response: “Stop accusing and blaming me right now. I’m done with this conversation.”

 

To explain the basics of adult behavior to another adult (when they know better—which they all do) is an exercise in futility.


7. Judging, criticizing, embarrassing/shaming. This type of behavior comes across with “you” statements, subtle or harsh criticism, or telling embarrassing or critical stories about the target in front of others—followed with claims they are only trying to help, or didn’t mean to embarrass or criticize the target. (This is a form of “playing stupid” which all abusive people do. If they wouldn’t want the same thing done to them, then they DO realize that this behavior isn’t okay.  …Of course,  because of their need to always “win” they will most likely say that they wouldn’t mind being judged or criticized in this way—but the target knows that if they were to give them the same type of treatment that they wouldn’t take it well at all.)

The person being abusive may say, “You can’t take a joke. You’re too sensitive. You are too critical.” The criticism disguised as help—and is often focused on aspects of the target that they can’t quickly or easily change, (or that they have no desire to change) such as their appearance, their profession, how much money they make, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their parenting.


8. Trivializing. The person with abusive behavior often focuses on just on the smallest part of a big accomplishment. The person on the receiving end feels confused and hurt as to why the other person is minimizing all the work that went into it. The partner may feel frustrated as to why this other person can’t see how important the accomplishment is.


9. Undermining. Undermining behavior could be comments that withhold emotional support and erode self-confidence or comments that are a disruption or an interruption. For example, barging into a room, keeping someone up late when they have to get up early the next day, or playing the piano when someone is on the phone.


10. Threatening. Threatening behavior manipulates another by going after their biggest fears. It’s the implication of do what I want or I’ll cheat/divorce/leave/hit/not pay child support, ruin your career, etc.


11. Name Calling. All insulting name calling is abusive. This can be done with more obvious hurtful words, (calling someone fat, a slut, a bitch, etc.) but can also be the tone in which “nice” words are said.


12. Forgetting. This is where they claim that they don’t remember what was said, or saying what did occur, didn’t occur.


13. Ordering. As in, ordering a person around. “Get in here.” “You’re not wearing that.” “You’re not going out with them.” It’s a form of diminishment and minimization.


14. Denial. (Aka “Gaslighting.”) Denial of what reality is one of the worst kinds of abuse, as it denies the reality of the partner. “I never said that.” “That never happened.” “You’re crazy.”


15. Abusive Anger. Partner is not responsible for the actions of the abuser, but is made to feel like they are. Abusive anger can be verbal or physical, and may or may not come on out of the blue.  The partner often looks for rational reasons and explanations for angry outbursts.

Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”

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