Are you in a relationship with someone who seems irritated or angry with you a great deal of the time? Where mistrust and ill will seems to prevail? Where you feel controlled or manipulated to such a degree that you do not feel in control of your own direction? If so, you may be in a verbally abusive relationship.

Verbal abuse can take many forms. It can be an intolerance for you having a different view from your mate (which prevents the possibility of discussion and different viewpoints); discounting (“You think you know it all. How about when you do…”); accusing and blaming; judging and criticizing; trivializing (dismissing what’s important to you as trivial); undermining; threatening; name calling; frequently forgetting; ordering or belligerent angry personal attacks.

Verbal abuse occurs your mate diminishes you. It can take the form of cool indifference, one-upmanship, witty sarcasm, silent withholding, manipulative coercion, guilting you, making unreasonable demands on you, or treating you as an extension of him/her self and under his/her control. If you have been verbally abused, you have been told in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that your perception of reality is wrong—and that your feelings are wrong. Consequently you may doubt your own experience, your own perceptions and your own feelings.

Verbal abuse is a means of control, of holding power over another. The effects of verbal abuse cannot be seen like the effects of physical abuse. There are no physical signs of injury; no bruises, black eyes or broken bones. The intensity of anguish which the victim suffers determines the extent of his/her injury, says Patricia Evans in the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship (Bob Adams, Inc.).

She says that typically, verbal abusers grow up in households which control the behavior of the child by the misuse of power over the child. This misuse of power causes the child extreme guilt, inadequacy and low self-esteem. If the child becomes an adult without having worked through the pain and hurt of the experience, he/she will perpetuate the misuse of power in adulthood. This abuse of power is what we find in abusive relationships.

This kind of power is not personal power. It is power over others, and it is based on the premise that if I don’t have someone to have power over, I don’t have any power at all.

Verbal abuse may be overt, such as an angry outburst directed at the partner, or an attack along the lines of “You’re too sensitive.” Or it may be covert, hidden, as in the case of “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Covert verbal abuse is subversive because of its indirect quality. It is a hidden attack, or a masked coercion.

All verbal abuse is dominating and controlling, and it closes the door to true communication and intimacy, says Evans. It is painful to recognize verbal abuse for what it is. It has to do with loss—the loss of illusion, and it is hurtful to the spirit. When this kind of abuse occurs, as painful as it is, you must come to terms with the knowledge that the abuser is not loving, valuing and respecting you.

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