Updated: Feb 14, 2021
This month is Teen Dating Violence awareness month. Dating violence is more prevalent, than most people realize. One in three teens in the US will experience either emotional, physical or sexual abuse from someone they are in a dating relationship before they become an adult! Such a sad statistic, but we can overcome this with awareness and education. Here’s a quick example that IS verbal abuse, followed by suggestions to stop verbal abuse in its tracks. Let’s help our children build their confidence so they have that voice when it is needed most!
Natalie is watching TV with her boyfriend Lee. A commercial for a fast-food company comes on and she picks up the remote and mutes it.
“Hey!” Lee yells. “Why the hell did you do that! I was watching it!”
“Oh, sorry,” Natalie says, turning the sound back on.
“Well, it’s too late now!” Lee rages. “I missed it. You know that I’ve been wanting a hamburger all day.”
Natalie stares at him, shocked. She hadn’t known that, and how would viewing the commercial satisfy his desire? She’s trying to figure all this out, why he got so mad, what she can do to fix it, when he leaps from the couch and heads toward the door.
“Wait,” Natalie says. “I’m sorry. I thought you hated the commercials.”
Lee turns to Natalie, calls her an idiot and an obscene name, then leaves, slamming the door on the way out.
Now, Natalie is even more confused, remembering all the times Lee complained about commercials. Didn’t Lee just say last week that he didn’t like watching commercials? But Natalie’s afraid to say that, to set him off again, so she just stares blankly at the screen.
Like many in verbally abusive relationships, Natalie thinks that if only she changed, she communicated more clearly, sheexplained things better, her boyfriend would not get so mad at her.
But as Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship, explains, abuse victims don’t realize that the problem isn’t theirs: it’s in the abuser’s need to dominate and control. When Natalie’s boyfriend yells at her for no reason, she thinks he’s misunderstood her. She doesn’t realize that he’s not looking for understanding, he’s establishing his power over her.
Natalie’s story exhibits several signs of verbal abuse:
• It’s hostile.
• It’s unpredictable and even bizarre; the attack comes out of the blue.
• It’s manipulative and controlling.
• It happens when no one else is around.
• The victim feels confused and surprised.
Other common aspects of verbal abuse, according to Evans, are:
• The words are hurtful; they attack the person or his/her abilities.
• Verbal abuse may be overt, such as angry outbursts, or subtler, such as jokes that convey a general disdain for the other person or her/his interests.
• If confronted, abusers deny the abuse and try to convince the victims that they are too sensitive or are imagining things.
• It’s insidious. Over time, the victim’s self-confidence erodes. Victims stop trusting themselves or their perceptions. They become conditioned to the abuse and adapt. They may even think it’s normal, that all people treat their spouses that way.
What Can You Do If You Are Being Verbally Abused?
First and foremost, Evans recommends, recognize that the abuse is not your fault, and that you can’t debate or reason or understand it away. What you can do is refuse to play along. Specifically, Evans recommends:
• Respond to abuse with “Stop it!” or “Don’t talk to me like that”—twice if necessary.
• Resist the urge to explain or defend. Remember, the abuser not interested in understanding you; the abuser wants to control you.
• Listen to your feelings and believe them. Don’t believe it when an abuser tells you you’re crazy or wrong or that you can’t take a joke.
• If the abuser keeps trying to provoke you, assess the danger and, if necessary, remove yourself. Verbal abuse can be a doorway to physical abuse.
• Get support through a therapist and/or a support group. An abuser’s behavior is designed to keep you off track; you’ll need support to see it for what it is and develop the self-esteem to stand up for yourself consistently.
• Seek information. Read books and articles written on the subject. You’re not alone Other people have paved the path for your freedom. Take advantage of what they offer.
When you stand up for yourself and refuse to be provoked into defending or explaining, the abuser will give up. That’s because, as Suzette Haden Elgin, author of You Can’t Say That to Me! explains, abusers need a victim; if you won’t play that role, he or she can’t abuse. Elgin also recommends ignoring the bait, but then responding to the underlying assumption that often hides in abuse.
For example, Natalie could also have responded to Lee with, “How long have you thought I didn’t care about you?”
Lee would have been flustered, thrown back on himself, this time staring at her in shock. Sure, he’d recover; he would use some of the common abuse strategies that the authors outline in their books. But it will not matter, because no matter what Lee says, Natalie will not be provoked.
Verbal abuse cannot function without a victim. With a lot of support, information, self-care and self-love, Natalie has learned to refuse that role.