Ending Verbal Abuse: For Both 'Sides'

Reviewed May 27, 2016

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Summary

  • Identify the problem.
  • Own your right to not be verbally abused.
  • Start building your self-esteem.

The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” doesn’t make sense, because the truth is that hateful words can a lot. Sometimes that hurt lingers for years; sometimes it lasts a lifetime.

From the obvious to the subtle

Verbal abuse includes the obvious—screaming, name calling, swearing—but it also includes the subtle: sarcasm, teasing, and selectively ignoring. It’s almost impossible to get through life without experiencing verbal abuse or witnessing it on some level. Maybe we’ve even been verbally abusive to someone else.

Though verbal abuse is often discussed as a problem in “romantic” relationships, the abuse can also occur at work or school, in the home with a family member (such as a parent or sibling), or among friends.

Verbal abuse wears down a person’s sense of self-worth

Verbal abuse often tends to be downplayed. Those who complain about it may be told they’re being overly “sensitive.” Yet an endless pattern of verbal abuse can slowly wear away a person’s confidence and sense of self-worth. It can lead to stress and depression and their assorted ills, from general feelings of unhappiness to major physical problems—chronic headaches, intestinal distress, sleep disruption, and more.

At the root: low self-esteem, power imbalances

According to many psychologists, the core issue for both the one who is abusing and the victim is often low self-esteem. However, the one who is abusing has found a way to vent and pass the hot potato of misery off to someone else, and the victim has learned to take it. And because the one who is abusing has finally found someone he can mistreat (for example, he can’t yell at his boss, so he yells at you), he gets feelings of control and mastery that become hard for him to resist.

In that sense, verbal abuse is almost always rooted in power imbalances. The person with the power—real or perceived—belittles the person with less power because it gives her a temporary jolt of self-importance and feelings of control. It takes a lot of courage, work, and gumption to stand up to bullies and break the cycle, but it can be done.

Steps to end verbal abuse

  • Identify the problem. Are you regularly being humiliated, ridiculed, blamed, criticized, manipulated, threatened, or denied your right to a different opinion? Are you at the receiving end of rages? Do you feel like you don’t have a voice in the relationship? Are you being called names, endlessly teased, ignored, interrupted, mimicked, shouted at, ordered around, or mocked?
  • Own your right to NOT be verbally abused. You’re not being overly sensitive for taking a stand; you’re defending yourself and sense of self-worth.
  • Get help from trusted sources. Talk to a counselor or member of the clergy who can provide advice and direction, or ask a friend to listen as you voice your concerns.
  • Discuss the verbal abuse with the one who abuses and tell her it is unacceptable. Stay calm and be cautious. Verbal abuse can escalate to physical abuse. If you feel that you’re in any danger, talk with a professional counselor for advice on how to proceed.
  • Start building your self-esteem. Form solid friendships, join support groups, learn a new skill, and take steps to become more independent.
  • Learn what a positive relationship should look like. For instance, one of the main characteristics of a healthy relationship is the ability of both people to communicate their needs and problems in a calm, reasonable manner. This doesn’t mean that people in a good relationship never argue—it just means that one person doesn’t control the other through fear, intimidation, threats, or neglect. Look for role models; or ask a counselor for more examples.
  • Believe that it’s possible to live a life without constant verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse, like physical abuse, is especially damaging to children and can set life patterns that are difficult to break. If you lived through childhood verbal abuse, read about its effects and get professional help. If you witness children being constantly verbally abused, speak with the appropriate authorities for advice on how to proceed.

For those who abuse: Stop the auto-response to anger, feel compassion

It’s hard to have sympathy for those who abuse, but in many ways, they are the bigger loser in the long run. Victims can ultimately get away from a person. It’s much harder for people to escape themselves.

People who are verbally abusive will gradually see others disappear from their lives until they find themselves alone. Even if others have to pretend to put up with them, the emotional gulf will still exist.

The one who abuses usually picked up her bad habits in childhood, either by being raised with a sense of entitlement or being on the receiving end of abuse. Though verbally abusing others gives her a temporary sense of importance and control, it’s a fleeting relief, similar to what a person who overuses drugs experiences. The “feel-good” factor disappears quickly, each “dose” sets the stage for further abuse as tolerance builds, and each indulgence creates a greater risk of long-term damage for everyone.

Sometimes those who abuse are in a state of denial as to the harm they cause, or they are too lost in automatic habits to stop without intervention. According to family abuse expert Steven Stosny, PhD, founder of the CompassionPower program, those who abuse need to learn how to replace their auto-response to anger and control with feelings of compassion for themselves and others.

Sounds hard—and it is. But nothing is impossible. If you think you’re one who abuses, get professional help. Check your employer’s benefit program or your local government’s website for a list of counseling services, including parent-education groups and women’s shelters. These often offer programs for those who abuse, both physical and verbal.

Resources

Victory Over Verbal Abuse: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life by Patricia Evans. Adams Media, 2011.

CompassionPower
www.compassionpower.com

National Domestic Violence Hotline
www.ndvh.org/
(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
(800) 787-3224 (TTY)

By Amy Fries
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Identify the problem.
  • Own your right to not be verbally abused.
  • Start building your self-esteem.

The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” doesn’t make sense, because the truth is that hateful words can a lot. Sometimes that hurt lingers for years; sometimes it lasts a lifetime.

From the obvious to the subtle

Verbal abuse includes the obvious—screaming, name calling, swearing—but it also includes the subtle: sarcasm, teasing, and selectively ignoring. It’s almost impossible to get through life without experiencing verbal abuse or witnessing it on some level. Maybe we’ve even been verbally abusive to someone else.

Though verbal abuse is often discussed as a problem in “romantic” relationships, the abuse can also occur at work or school, in the home with a family member (such as a parent or sibling), or among friends.

Verbal abuse wears down a person’s sense of self-worth

Verbal abuse often tends to be downplayed. Those who complain about it may be told they’re being overly “sensitive.” Yet an endless pattern of verbal abuse can slowly wear away a person’s confidence and sense of self-worth. It can lead to stress and depression and their assorted ills, from general feelings of unhappiness to major physical problems—chronic headaches, intestinal distress, sleep disruption, and more.

At the root: low self-esteem, power imbalances

According to many psychologists, the core issue for both the one who is abusing and the victim is often low self-esteem. However, the one who is abusing has found a way to vent and pass the hot potato of misery off to someone else, and the victim has learned to take it. And because the one who is abusing has finally found someone he can mistreat (for example, he can’t yell at his boss, so he yells at you), he gets feelings of control and mastery that become hard for him to resist.

In that sense, verbal abuse is almost always rooted in power imbalances. The person with the power—real or perceived—belittles the person with less power because it gives her a temporary jolt of self-importance and feelings of control. It takes a lot of courage, work, and gumption to stand up to bullies and break the cycle, but it can be done.

Steps to end verbal abuse

  • Identify the problem. Are you regularly being humiliated, ridiculed, blamed, criticized, manipulated, threatened, or denied your right to a different opinion? Are you at the receiving end of rages? Do you feel like you don’t have a voice in the relationship? Are you being called names, endlessly teased, ignored, interrupted, mimicked, shouted at, ordered around, or mocked?
  • Own your right to NOT be verbally abused. You’re not being overly sensitive for taking a stand; you’re defending yourself and sense of self-worth.
  • Get help from trusted sources. Talk to a counselor or member of the clergy who can provide advice and direction, or ask a friend to listen as you voice your concerns.
  • Discuss the verbal abuse with the one who abuses and tell her it is unacceptable. Stay calm and be cautious. Verbal abuse can escalate to physical abuse. If you feel that you’re in any danger, talk with a professional counselor for advice on how to proceed.
  • Start building your self-esteem. Form solid friendships, join support groups, learn a new skill, and take steps to become more independent.
  • Learn what a positive relationship should look like. For instance, one of the main characteristics of a healthy relationship is the ability of both people to communicate their needs and problems in a calm, reasonable manner. This doesn’t mean that people in a good relationship never argue—it just means that one person doesn’t control the other through fear, intimidation, threats, or neglect. Look for role models; or ask a counselor for more examples.
  • Believe that it’s possible to live a life without constant verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse, like physical abuse, is especially damaging to children and can set life patterns that are difficult to break. If you lived through childhood verbal abuse, read about its effects and get professional help. If you witness children being constantly verbally abused, speak with the appropriate authorities for advice on how to proceed.

For those who abuse: Stop the auto-response to anger, feel compassion

It’s hard to have sympathy for those who abuse, but in many ways, they are the bigger loser in the long run. Victims can ultimately get away from a person. It’s much harder for people to escape themselves.

People who are verbally abusive will gradually see others disappear from their lives until they find themselves alone. Even if others have to pretend to put up with them, the emotional gulf will still exist.

The one who abuses usually picked up her bad habits in childhood, either by being raised with a sense of entitlement or being on the receiving end of abuse. Though verbally abusing others gives her a temporary sense of importance and control, it’s a fleeting relief, similar to what a person who overuses drugs experiences. The “feel-good” factor disappears quickly, each “dose” sets the stage for further abuse as tolerance builds, and each indulgence creates a greater risk of long-term damage for everyone.

Sometimes those who abuse are in a state of denial as to the harm they cause, or they are too lost in automatic habits to stop without intervention. According to family abuse expert Steven Stosny, PhD, founder of the CompassionPower program, those who abuse need to learn how to replace their auto-response to anger and control with feelings of compassion for themselves and others.

Sounds hard—and it is. But nothing is impossible. If you think you’re one who abuses, get professional help. Check your employer’s benefit program or your local government’s website for a list of counseling services, including parent-education groups and women’s shelters. These often offer programs for those who abuse, both physical and verbal.

Resources

Victory Over Verbal Abuse: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life by Patricia Evans. Adams Media, 2011.

CompassionPower
www.compassionpower.com

National Domestic Violence Hotline
www.ndvh.org/
(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
(800) 787-3224 (TTY)

By Amy Fries
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Identify the problem.
  • Own your right to not be verbally abused.
  • Start building your self-esteem.

The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” doesn’t make sense, because the truth is that hateful words can a lot. Sometimes that hurt lingers for years; sometimes it lasts a lifetime.

From the obvious to the subtle

Verbal abuse includes the obvious—screaming, name calling, swearing—but it also includes the subtle: sarcasm, teasing, and selectively ignoring. It’s almost impossible to get through life without experiencing verbal abuse or witnessing it on some level. Maybe we’ve even been verbally abusive to someone else.

Though verbal abuse is often discussed as a problem in “romantic” relationships, the abuse can also occur at work or school, in the home with a family member (such as a parent or sibling), or among friends.

Verbal abuse wears down a person’s sense of self-worth

Verbal abuse often tends to be downplayed. Those who complain about it may be told they’re being overly “sensitive.” Yet an endless pattern of verbal abuse can slowly wear away a person’s confidence and sense of self-worth. It can lead to stress and depression and their assorted ills, from general feelings of unhappiness to major physical problems—chronic headaches, intestinal distress, sleep disruption, and more.

At the root: low self-esteem, power imbalances

According to many psychologists, the core issue for both the one who is abusing and the victim is often low self-esteem. However, the one who is abusing has found a way to vent and pass the hot potato of misery off to someone else, and the victim has learned to take it. And because the one who is abusing has finally found someone he can mistreat (for example, he can’t yell at his boss, so he yells at you), he gets feelings of control and mastery that become hard for him to resist.

In that sense, verbal abuse is almost always rooted in power imbalances. The person with the power—real or perceived—belittles the person with less power because it gives her a temporary jolt of self-importance and feelings of control. It takes a lot of courage, work, and gumption to stand up to bullies and break the cycle, but it can be done.

Steps to end verbal abuse

  • Identify the problem. Are you regularly being humiliated, ridiculed, blamed, criticized, manipulated, threatened, or denied your right to a different opinion? Are you at the receiving end of rages? Do you feel like you don’t have a voice in the relationship? Are you being called names, endlessly teased, ignored, interrupted, mimicked, shouted at, ordered around, or mocked?
  • Own your right to NOT be verbally abused. You’re not being overly sensitive for taking a stand; you’re defending yourself and sense of self-worth.
  • Get help from trusted sources. Talk to a counselor or member of the clergy who can provide advice and direction, or ask a friend to listen as you voice your concerns.
  • Discuss the verbal abuse with the one who abuses and tell her it is unacceptable. Stay calm and be cautious. Verbal abuse can escalate to physical abuse. If you feel that you’re in any danger, talk with a professional counselor for advice on how to proceed.
  • Start building your self-esteem. Form solid friendships, join support groups, learn a new skill, and take steps to become more independent.
  • Learn what a positive relationship should look like. For instance, one of the main characteristics of a healthy relationship is the ability of both people to communicate their needs and problems in a calm, reasonable manner. This doesn’t mean that people in a good relationship never argue—it just means that one person doesn’t control the other through fear, intimidation, threats, or neglect. Look for role models; or ask a counselor for more examples.
  • Believe that it’s possible to live a life without constant verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse, like physical abuse, is especially damaging to children and can set life patterns that are difficult to break. If you lived through childhood verbal abuse, read about its effects and get professional help. If you witness children being constantly verbally abused, speak with the appropriate authorities for advice on how to proceed.

For those who abuse: Stop the auto-response to anger, feel compassion

It’s hard to have sympathy for those who abuse, but in many ways, they are the bigger loser in the long run. Victims can ultimately get away from a person. It’s much harder for people to escape themselves.

People who are verbally abusive will gradually see others disappear from their lives until they find themselves alone. Even if others have to pretend to put up with them, the emotional gulf will still exist.

The one who abuses usually picked up her bad habits in childhood, either by being raised with a sense of entitlement or being on the receiving end of abuse. Though verbally abusing others gives her a temporary sense of importance and control, it’s a fleeting relief, similar to what a person who overuses drugs experiences. The “feel-good” factor disappears quickly, each “dose” sets the stage for further abuse as tolerance builds, and each indulgence creates a greater risk of long-term damage for everyone.

Sometimes those who abuse are in a state of denial as to the harm they cause, or they are too lost in automatic habits to stop without intervention. According to family abuse expert Steven Stosny, PhD, founder of the CompassionPower program, those who abuse need to learn how to replace their auto-response to anger and control with feelings of compassion for themselves and others.

Sounds hard—and it is. But nothing is impossible. If you think you’re one who abuses, get professional help. Check your employer’s benefit program or your local government’s website for a list of counseling services, including parent-education groups and women’s shelters. These often offer programs for those who abuse, both physical and verbal.

Resources

Victory Over Verbal Abuse: A Healing Guide to Renewing Your Spirit and Reclaiming Your Life by Patricia Evans. Adams Media, 2011.

CompassionPower
www.compassionpower.com

National Domestic Violence Hotline
www.ndvh.org/
(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
(800) 787-3224 (TTY)

By Amy Fries
Reviewed by Maria F Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Beacon Health Options

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