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THE INVISIBLE WOUNDS OF VERBAL ABUSE


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By | October 1, 2016

By Jennifer Cowick We have all seen or heard the stories or results of physical and sexual abuse. The evidence of these things are clear and tangible. But what if there were a type of abuse that left no visible scar, no wound, no bruise, no broken bone, and no provable evidence whatsoever? Well, there are such abuses; they are verbal and emotional abuse. {{more}} Not only does this type of abuse leave its victims wounded and scarred in an emotional and mental sense but it also leaves its victims feeling confused and unsure that what they are experiencing is actually abuse at all. This is due in large part to the often secret or subversive way in which it is performed as well as the fact that, by its very nature, it leaves no trace of evidence which can be seen by oneself or others. So the victim is left seemingly without any way to validate what has taken place. This is made worse by the voices of the perpetrator of the abuse, maybe friend or family members and perhaps even one’s own inner voice chorusing phrases such as “what’s the big deal?” or “everybody yells sometimes” or “he just gets mad and has to blow off some steam” or worse of all “you deserved it”. The fact is that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women and children, are attacked with words every day. And the old adage “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” just doesn’t accurately represent the reality of the situation. Although most forms of physical abuse are almost always accompanied by verbal and emotional abuse. There are many many cases and instances where this type of abuse is used exclusively without its physical counterpart. Verbal abuse can and does cause much harm and on levels much deeper than just a physical wound. In 1992 Patricia Evans wrote the groundbreaking book The Verbally Abusive Relationship which began a movement towards studying and understanding this quieter more hidden form of abuse. In her book she gives us a list of primary consequences of verbal abuse that one may experience; a distrust of her own spontaneity, a loss of enthusiasm, a perpetual on-guard state, an increased uncertainty about how she is coming across, a concern that something is wrong with her, a loss of self-confidence, a growing self-doubt, an internalized “critical voice”, a concern that she isn’t happier and ought to be, an anxiety or fear of being crazy, feeling that she is “too sensitive”, a hesitancy to accept her perceptions, a reluctance to come to conclusions, a desire to run away or escape, a distrust of future relationships, and the list goes on. And after prolonged exposure to this type of treatment, victims can become depressed, hopeless, and even suicidal.“Verbal abuse is damaging to the spirit. It takes the joy and vitality out of life. It distorts reality because the abusers response does not correlate with the partner’s communication. The partner usually believes the abuser is being honest and straightforward with her and has some reason for saying what they are saying- if only she could figure out what it is.” Verbal abuse can take the form of an overt angry outburst directed at the victim and may include insults and accusations and then followed up with attacks along the lines of “your too sensitive” or comments more hidden or covert such as “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. These kinds of tactics are known as “crazymaking” for the reason that it causes the victim to question their own perceptions and even their own sanity. Most of us are aware that name calling is verbal abuse; this is the most obvious form. Other forms are less evident, and recognizing them can be difficult. Here are some reasons why:1. Mostly verbal abuse is secretive, usually only the victim hears it.2. Verbal abuse becomes more intense over time. The victim becomes used to and adapted to it.3. Verbal abuse takes many forms and disguises.4. Verbal abuse consistently discounts the victim’s perception of the abuse. “Verbal abuse is, in a sense, built into our culture.” Sadly, this quote from Patricia Evens is probably truer today than when she first said it almost twenty years ago. Name calling, putting down, hurling insults, making “fun”, harsh criticism, one-upmanship and so on can seem to be the “norm”. But in the context of a relationship and combined with manipulation and denial it becomes very dangerous and damaging to adults and children alike. Words are things. They carry meaning, weight, and effect. They can do harm or benefit. They can build up and they can tear down. I would encourage every one of us to take personal inventory of themselves and the situations around us. Are we allowing ourselves to be harmed or disrespected inn this way? Are we allowing our children to be harmed or even taught by example that this is acceptable way for people to treat one another? Or are we ourselves responsible of causing others harm through this method of abuse? Understanding and awareness is the first step to the solution. There is a way out, a way to healing, and a way to move forward. There is an abundance of literature, websites, and support groups available that address these issues specifically. Here in Abilene the Noah Project has excellent programs in place to assist all people in any type of abusive situation. Sometimes we just need a little space, a little time, a little perspective, and a little help to remember, what deep down we have always known about ourselves and others. None of us, no matter who we are or what we have or haven’t done, deserve to be treated with any degree of disrespect or abuse in any of its forms.So today we come closer to standing up for ourselves, for others, and for our children and saying- NO MORE.

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