Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Power of Language: Verbal Abuse

What's your plan for Superbowl Sunday? A huge party with all the gang over with festive foods, large bowls of chips, creamy dips? Will there be hot salsa and those little teeny weenies? Were you creative with the cheese on the pizza, shaping it into a football complete with pepperoni lacing? And the beer! Did you order a keg, which is at this moment in the bathtub chilling on mounds of chipped ice?

Or maybe you sent a scout out ahead to track down a wide screen TV so you can circle the wagons and enjoy the big game with pitchers of beer and pizza. Will you be wearing your lucky hat and team shirt? Do you have your order of hot wings already into the kitchen?

Superbowl Sunday is a man's day. Yes, women love and watch the game and enjoy the day, but the prime design for any party is to establish an environment safe for aud-ible belches and a breeding ground for testosterone. Everything about the Superbowl is centered on men or things appealing to men.

It is possibly also the day of the highest reported count of domestic abuse. Some reports have found that approximately forty per cent more women will be battered on that day, calling it Abusebowl Sunday. While other research refutes the findings of increased abuse, it would seem to be the perfect time to discuss the issue of domestic violence.
Domestic abuse is not just about physical violence. It’s never just about physical violence. Many women (and I say 'women' because over 95% of all abuse is from men to women) are never physically harmed but are abused nonetheless. Mental and verbal abuse is just as powerful. This is an article I wrote for an online magazine discussing verbal abuse. I thought it fitting to reprint it here on this day.

The Power of Language: Verbal Abuse

He doesn't beat you. He doesn't even threaten to hit you. You have neither visible bruises nor scars. No one stares at you, worries about your welfare, nor considers calling the domestic abuse hotline for you.

But something is desperately wrong. Every time he talks to you, he puts you down. When you try to help solve problems, he belittles your ideas. He calls you hurtful names like "stupid" or "idiot." He tells you that you are too fat or too skinny, that you can't cook, can't think, can't manage-money. Sometimes he hurdles these hurtful things at you at the top of his lungs; sometimes he says them in that sneering, joking voice as if you are not even worth his energy. He constantly corrects you--both in private and in public--corrects your pronunciation and your behavior and your ideas until you begin asking him what to say and do and think before you speak out.

And then you stop speaking out.

If you tell him you do not want him to say these things to and about you, he tells you that you are being "too sensitive" and he is "only trying to help you." He says he doesn't want you to embarrass yourself. Or him. He tells you it's all in your head, that you can't take a joke, that you have no sense of humor, that it is no wonder you don't have many friends. And then be belittles the friends you do have, trying to prevent you from seeing them. Over time, you become isolated; your partner becomes your only social contact. He says he doesn't mean anything he says in a negative way and that he loves you. But then he does it again. And again. And again.

Verbal abuse is as deadly to our self-esteem as domestic violence is to our bodies. Over time, some women become so despondent they simply cease to exist--either through fading away as a separate being or through suicide. Verbal abuse is about control and power. Verbal abuse can create what Virginia Satir calls, "crazy-making." It is a passive-aggressive behavior that is difficult to address because the abuser denies his part in trying to control you.

Communication creates a system between two people--each person in this system allows certain behaviors and power aspects to be within a relationship. Verbal abuse doesn't happen overnight but over time. We begin to question ourselves: our ability to do certain things, our worth, our validity. And the more we allow this type of language, this controlling behavior to continue, the more difficult it is to see this is not normal, not a loving and sharing relationship. Until it becomes the norm.
The only way to stop this behavior is to get out. Leave. Until if and when your partner learns that controlling you is not healthy. Until if and when your partner sees you, not as a possession, but as a partner. Until if and when he stops abusing you.

Our mothers told us that "sticks and stones can break our bones but words can never hurt us." Our mother's lied. Words have the power to hurt us deeply and carry a longer healing time than mere broken bones. We have no bruises or scars visible to the outside world, but we carry them deep within our hearts and psyches.

Learn to respect yourself and to grow in confidence once again. Learn to accept your imperfections as well as your gifts. Do not allow others to belittle you but insist they show you respect as a person.
You do not have to go through life feeling you are inferior. You are important. You have talents and gifts that the world wants and needs. You are worthy of respect.

For more information on how to identify verbal abuse:
For more information on how to leave the cycle of abuse:

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