Verbal abuse often occurs within trusted relationships, that is, a partner, parent or carer, or someone within your family. Heard often enough, destructive messages begin to be believed as ‘truth’. Verbal abuse is no different from any other abuse, and as such, must be viewed and treated seriously.
7 signs of verbal abuse
Signs that you are living in a verbally abusive relationship include:
- Name calling and constant put-downs
- Being shamed and humiliated
- Living in constant fear
- Being threatened and intimidated
- Relentless nagging and criticising
- Publicly disclosing things about you without your consent
- Confused to the point you feel like you’re going crazy
Patricia Evans, an American therapist who has specialised in understanding this type of abuse explains that when you are being verbally abused you are
“being told something about your inner world without being asked.”
That is, you are being told one thing about yourself when in fact, you are thinking and feeling something completely different to it. There are never any apologies, you are wrong, and the abuser is right, always. This creates such confusion that it can feel as if you are going crazy.
The following is a clip which demonstrates what victims will often hear. It can be upsetting to watch so if you feel overwhelmed, stop watching and do something that is calming and soothing.
What effect can it have on you?
Regular exposure to verbal abuse can lead you to start to believe what is being said about you, prompting you to start saying it about yourself. It can then become the way you see and think about yourself. This can have a crushing effect on self-confidence and self-esteem, contributing to anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.
How verbal abuse affects children
Verbal abuse is highly destructive for children as it has the ability to stunt developmental growth. As found in adults, children’s self-esteem and self-confidence is dramatically impacted by continued exposure to put-downs, name calling, criticism and humiliation. It inhibits the child’s development of their sense of self and identity, having not had the chance to gain a true picture of who they are during the crucial years of development. This can make the child emotionally distant from others, making it difficult for them to make friends. It can affect how well they perform in school and other associated activities, all of which are major milestones in a child’s development.
Watching and waiting
When verbally abused by their parents or caregivers, children wish to escape from the attack but are still tied to them emotionally and are dependent on them for basic survival. This causes confusion in the child’s mind, making it difficult to trust their parent as they are forever waiting for the next attack. Even when the parent is being loving or kind, the child is unable to fully trust them as they await the next inevitable episode of verbal abuse. While the abuse itself is incredibly stressful for the child, so is the watching and waiting for the next episode. As a consequence children lose a sense of safety and are unable to ‘switch off’ which results in levels of high anxiety. This behaviour becomes embedded and is carried through into adulthood.
How children cope
Children develop coping strategies which can range from becoming either overly compliant with their parents, that is, they will do anything to try to please them in the hope of avoiding further abuse or being rebellious to authority figures. Besides the child being withdrawn, they may become depressed, aggressive, and store pent up anger. Abused children who have younger siblings may abuse them in the same way because it has become a learned behaviour.
Adults surviving childhood verbal abuse
In a study by Florida State University, it was found that people who have suffered verbal abuse had double the chance of experiencing depression and/or anxiety disorders. This can be due to either growing up in, or being in an atmosphere where emotional safety and security is threatened. Even though you may not be in the physical presence of verbal violence where the threat doesn’t exist anymore, you may have not been able to tune out the destructive message you grew up with, leaving you feeling anxious, fearful or depressed.
Here is another clip which shows what verbal abuse is like. If you start to feel overwhelmed, stop watching and do something that is calming and soothing.
If this is you
Whether you are living with the legacy of verbal abuse as a child, or if you are currently living with it, don’t suffer anymore and reach out for help. No one ever deserves to be abused and mistreated. When you are ready to talk about it phone me, Rita on 0433 043 102 to make an appointment.
You are not alone
If you want to speak to someone right now call:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Domestic Violence 24 hour helpline: 1800 656 463
Men’s line: 1300 789 978
Kids Help line: 1800 551 800
Interpreting & Translation: 1300 651 500
If you feel in immediate danger, call emergency services 000
Further information in Newcastle, New South Wales contact
Newcastle Domestic Violence Resource Centre 4927 8529
Ashfield, J. (2010). Taking care of yourself and your family (11th ed.). Norwood, SA: Peacock Publications.
Evans, P. (1999) The verbal abuse site. Retrieved from http://www.verbalabuse.com
Kleinschmidt, K. (n.d.) Verbal abuse in relationship between parents and children. Global Post. Retrieved from http://www.globalpost.com