Verbal Abuse in a Relationship – Signs, Impact, and Ways to Handle It
- What Is Verbal Abuse?
- What Drives Verbal Abuse in Relationships?
- Signs of Verbal Abuse in a Relationship
- Types of Verbal Abuse
- Difference Between Normal Arguments and Verbal Abuse in a Relationship
- Negative Effects of Verbal Abuse in a Relationship
- How Can You Handle a Verbally Abusive Relationship?
- How to Move On From a Verbally Abusive Relationship?
Arguments, yelling, and the exchange of sharp, hurtful words are common between couples in relationships. However, verbal abuse can become difficult to identify within a relationship as time progresses. As it is hard to spot, verbal abuse is also the most common type of abuse in relationships that can cause extensive damage to the self-esteem of one partner as the other continues to abuse while appearing to be caring deeply. If you are stuck in a situation where you suspect you are verbally abused, continue reading to know about it and how to spot it.
What Is Verbal Abuse?
In simple terms, verbal abuse can be described as any form of communication intended to cause emotional damage to at least one person. As verbal abuse is not as easy to locate as physical abuse, bullying, or sexual abuse, it can be tricky to identify at first. The emotional harm caused by verbal abuse usually prompts the victim to question who they are or even their sanity. People who use verbal abuse use it to maintain their control and dominance over others while still caring for them deeply. A verbal abuse victim often feels worthless, inadequate, or less about themselves as the abuser constantly defines them in derogatory terms.
What Drives Verbal Abuse in Relationships?
Verbal abuse could be driven by several factors, from the need to remain dominant and controlling to personality or psychiatric disorders. It is often observed that verbally abusive people were victims of verbal abuse themselves as children, and their ability to feel the emotional pain and damage of the other person would have diminished over time. Some verbal abusers are affected by mental disorders that drive their behavior, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, PSTD, or schizophrenia. Those who engage in domestic violence also tend to be verbal abusers; they use verbal abuse to control and manipulate others.
Signs of Verbal Abuse in a Relationship
Here are some of the tell-tale signs of verbal abuse in a relationship:
1. You always think twice before you speak
You are afraid of expressing yourself freely, fearing that your partner will lash out at everything you say. This is also referred to as “walking on eggshells,” as you will have to be extra careful about everything you say or express.
2. Demeaning comments
You will find that your partner often crosses the line with sarcasm and goes to comments that demean you in terms of your gender, religion, background, or ethnicity. Gradually, this becomes a frequent occurrence to gain the same level of control and superiority.
3. You are always blamed for their bad moods
Abusive partners are excellent manipulators who will play the blame game at every step. If they are in a bad mood, they will find a way to connect it to a series of events that leads to you and make the case that you are responsible for everything that went wrong.
4. You always end up feeling guilty
Any verbal interaction with your abusive partner will end up making you feel exhausted and guilty. They are pretty skilled in twisting arguments to make it seem like everything is your fault and blame you for things that go wrong. They convince you that you are at fault and guilt trip you endlessly.
5. They belittle you frequently
Jokes and sarcastic comments where you are the butt of the joke are funny at the beginning. However, when it becomes your only mode of interaction where you are constantly made fun of, it crosses the line to belittling. They continuously take cheap shots at embarrassing mistakes you have made in the past or at your intelligence or opinions.
6. It feels like they are manipulating you
Gaslighting is a trick frequently used by abusers to keep their victims trapped in their abuse cycles. It is a sneaky and toxic way of keeping you trapped in your self-doubt. If you often find that you are confused about your sanity or question yourself after every heated interaction with them, it is a clear sign of gaslighting.
Types of Verbal Abuse
Here are some verbal abuse examples to show all the forms that it can take:
While criticism is common in all relationships, in a verbally abusive relationship, criticism takes center stage. The abuser is constantly destructively criticizing everything about the victim. It is also meant to be deliberately hurtful and put the victim down.
The abuser often blames the victim for everything that goes wrong or even accuses them of trivial issues out of their control. The victim might be why the abuser missed a promotion or a big break or any other opportunity that they might have missed in their life.
Gaslighting is the most insidious way verbal abusers control their victims. Gaslighting is emotional and verbal manipulation to the extent that the victim begins to question their reality, judgments, or sanity. Gaslighting can give the victim a false sense of the reality of their own lives and cause stress and anxiety driven by the belief that there is something wrong with them.
When the abuser is not criticizing, they judge every action, thought, or decision the victim takes. It is always a negative evaluation that deflates their sense of self-worth. It can occur in the form of statements such as “No one likes you because of your appearance or attitude” or “You are never satisfied with anything.”
The abuser uses insults and derogatory terms to address the victim at every opportunity. They are labeled as being negative or loser, and every action taken by them is scrutinized under the label given by the abuser. Name-calling is often used to upset the victim emotionally or to keep them in their place.
The abuser trivializes everything said or done by the victim to make them feel insignificant and worthless. Their ideas, thoughts, or attempts at improving their situation are trivialized or shot down by the abuser to undermine their efforts.
Threatening is a common form of abuse where the abuser uses threats of force or abandonment to get the victim to conform to their wishes. Threats can also take more subtle forms with statements such as: “if you don’t follow my advice, others will get to know how stupid you are.”
Countering is when the abuser is argumentative for no reason. It happens in the context of philosophical or scientific discussions and in ordinary contexts where it is unnecessary. An example would be the abuser dismissing the victim’s feelings in response to something as trivial as a movie.
Difference Between Normal Arguments and Verbal Abuse in a Relationship
To determine what is considered verbal abuse and what is not, here are some examples:
1. Normal Argument
- Constructive arguments with no disrespect towards one or either of the partners is a normal argument. There is also the absence of nasty comments or personal attacks.
- Insensitive words are rarely used, and even when spoken in rage, the partner apologizes to the other and makes sure never to repeat.
- Partners admit to mistakes and make an exception to consider the feelings of the other.
- The partners question each other’s decisions and goals in the interest of the relationship or the negative consequences it might have. When convinced, they tend to support one another.
- Differences in opinions that inevitably arise are handled through fair discussion and constructive arguments.
- The arguments are always kept within the confines of the relationship without getting others involved. The partners never embarrass or insult one another in front of others.
- The fallout of the arguments is minimal and short-lived. They make a truce and necessary amendments to fix things.
2. Verbal Abuse
- The abusive individual uses harsh and nasty words to attack their partner. Name-calling is extensively used to dominate the other.
- Insensitive language and demeaning words are constantly used, along with name-calling.
- An abusive partner never admits to making a mistake or even being at fault. Instead, they force the other to have any opinion of their own.
- Criticism and discouragement are rampant in a verbally abusive relationship, as one partner tries to keep the other from growing in any way.
- The abuser would comment on looks, intelligence, value, and their worth as a person.
- The abuser deliberately drags others into the argument in an attempt to shame or belittle the other.
- The tension keeps escalating, and any attempt at fixing it exacerbates the situation.
Negative Effects of Verbal Abuse in a Relationship
The effects of verbal abuse are not as easily visible as physical abuse.
- Extended periods of verbal abuse leave the victim with a broken sense of self-esteem. They live in constant fear of judgment of the abuser and eventually become dependent on their opinions. They feel trapped, always trying to live up to their expectations, and eventually become defeated and depressed.
- Victims of verbal abuse are often called names and constantly belittled by their partners. It scars them deep emotionally and instills beliefs of worthlessness. They think they are incapable of doing even the basic tasks. They also tend to have low self-confidence and flinch from taking up ownership of tasks.
- The constant guilt-tripping done by the abuser might make the victim feel like everything is their fault both at home and outside. They are convinced that they are everything wrong with the relationship, and they carry this attitude everywhere, feeling less and inadequate about themselves.
- Since they are trapped in the relationship believing it is their fault, they often feel lonely. Verbal abusers also isolate the victims from their friends and family, where they might get a better perspective, making them feel lonelier. They also get into the habit of suppressing their feelings and staying alone not to cause any further trouble to anybody else.
- The long-term effect of the constant emotional pain is the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The emotional scars can trigger their victim response even when they are better with a partner who treats them well.
How Can You Handle a Verbally Abusive Relationship?
Here is how to deal with verbal abuse and take back your power:
1. Understand the situation
Every abusive situation has the trigger event, the victim’s beliefs about the event, and the resulting feelings of inadequacy. When you understand that the problem is not about your shortcomings but the abuser’s attempt at controlling you, you can see through the situation instead of getting swept away with the resulting emotions.
2. Learn to discern abuse
Understand the type of emotion that is being generated by the argument. A healthy negative sentiment caused by a genuine mistake can become helpful in working out the problem. On the other hand, unhealthy negative emotions generate rage, frustration, or self-doubt that send you into an unproductive spiral of feeling inadequate or hopeless about yourself.
3. Set clear boundaries
Once you understand abuse, set clear boundaries about what you will and won’t tolerate from your partner. The abuser’s strength lies in eroding personal boundaries and getting under your skin to try to manipulate you. Setting boundaries empowers you to stay in control of your thoughts and emotions and sends out a clear message to the abuser that you are aware.
4. Limit exposure
If you spend too much time with your abusive partner, spend some time away to reevaluate your relationship and get a better perspective on things. Limiting exposure to the abuser also enables you to see things clearly by keeping you away from the turbulence of the abuse.
5. Seek help
Whether it is a friend, a family member, or a counselor, you will need a different perspective on your situation if your abuser has gaslighted you extensively. Having support outside will make you feel less lonely and have a better hold on the situation.
6. Call out the abusive behavior
Call out your partner when they try to use verbal abuse to bring you down. Calling out diminishes their power over you by letting them know that you are on to their manipulative behaviors. Verbal abusers are often not used to being stopped in their tracks. Therefore when you call them out, it trips them off balance.
7. Remove yourself from the situation
If you find that calling them out or trying to reason with them doesn’t work, leave the room or the place and walk away. Tell them that you are unwilling to talk to them or even listen to them unless they change their abusive ways.
How to Move On From a Verbally Abusive Relationship?
When it is no longer possible to fix the abusive relationship, it is time to move on. Here are a few ways to let go of the relationship:
1. Cutting ties with the partner
The first step to moving on is to cut all ties with the partner. The longer you are in touch with the abusive ex, the more chances they can talk you back into the relationship and continue the abuse cycle. People who are abused also tend to contact their partners as they are accustomed to the turmoil of the abusive relationship, and a new normal feels unfamiliar. Even when you need to show the ex that you are better off and were not wrong, it is better not to get back in touch. Severing contact also means changing phone numbers, email IDs, social media blocking, and informing all mutual friends about the decision so they will ensure your ex won’t get your contact again.
2. Process your emotions
The turbulent time you have had with your abusive ex left you with little time to understand your own emotions. With your own space away from the ex, you can reevaluate how you were made to feel and why it was wrong. You would also feel a sense of depression, anxiety, low self-worth, anger, and even frustration at everything that happened. It is also possible that you would miss your ex and the normal condition of the relationship, although it was turbulent and painful. Remember that it is alright to feel the emotions that come to you thinking about the past and where you are now. Go through them and label them one by one so you can understand them better without being carried away.
3. Find support
Sometimes it becomes impossible to understand your emotions or process them without having a friend or a family member validate what you are experiencing. You will find that your abusive ex isolated you from all your support systems so that you wouldn’t recognize his abuse and manipulation. Talk to a trusted friend or family member to share your emotional burdens and give them closure. A friend or family is also a good deterrent when you feel like contacting your ex or getting back with them again. Reconnect with your old friends to find yourself again and start the process of healing from the trauma. You could also find groups where people with experiences similar to yours come and share to give everyone a better perspective about their situation.
4. Seek counseling
If you have had an extensively abusive relationship that leaves you hopelessly depressed with thoughts about self-harm, it is essential to seek a counselor and start our recovery process. Trained counselors specializing in domestic abuse can help you regain your strength and offer valuable insights and tips that friends or family members cannot.
Whether it is verbal abuse in marriage or a relationship, the effects of abuse can be severely damaging to the victim. Verbal abuse can be subtle and hard to detect, mainly when the abuser uses gaslighting to keep the victim trapped. It is essential to seek help from friends, family, or a counselor if you feel you are a victim of verbal abuse. Only after you identify your situation can you take the necessary steps to deal with it and get out of that toxic relationship to empower yourself.