My mother berated me throughout my entire childhood. But there is hope.
Being in a verbally abusive relationship is far more common than anyone would like to think. The line between someone being strict and someone being verbally abusive can be a fine one for some. For others, there is no question of what’s what, and they can recognize the signs of verbal abuse without hesitation.
Our experience as a victim of verbal abuse becomes a part of us, seems somehow normal, and we go on, even tolerating it from our partners, parents, or co-workers. When you’ve been verbally abused, one of three things usually happen:
1. You repeat the verbal abuse to others.
2. You live in fear and become a people-pleaser, taking whatever others hand out.
3. You get help, become your own person, learn to live according to your own values and vision, and you take back control of your life. And, that life does not include being verbally abusive to yourself or anyone else … particularly not to your children.
Being verbally abusive is a way for the abuser to feel they have a sense of power over someone else.
This form of violence — which it is — has been well-defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, applies to this type of behavior in any type of relationship:
“Abuse is a repetitive pattern of behaviors to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. These are behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. Abuse includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation. Many of these different forms of abuse can be going on at any one time.”
Scary, right? And, it’s far more common than you or I think.
My own mother was both verbally and emotionally abusive. Did I know that as a kid? Yes. But I didn’t have a name for it. It just felt really bad, and I hated the way she constantly put me down, and found daily things — hourly things — to criticize. One of her “best” was how often she told me she had never wanted kids. No wonder I’m an only child.
So, even though it felt all wrong, as a child I was powerless to define another way of thinking about myself other than through the lens of opinions my mother served up daily. Where was my father in all this? He was away from the home as often as possible. He couldn’t stand her, either.
Looking back, it’s not surprising he decided to become a commercial fisherman when I was young. He had an ironclad reason for being away six months of the year. Not surprisingly, he also had serious health issues. That put him in the hospital most years for at least three months of his time at home. And the rest of that time? He spent it in the pool room, which was off limits to women.
Another example of abuse in my young life stemmed from that very room. My father often wouldn’t come home for dinner on time, and my mother would drive to the pool room and force me to go in and get him. Do you see that’s abuse? I hope so. It just wasn’t appropriate on any level.
None of us who experience verbal and emotional abuse are alone, although most of us feel extremely alone.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s December 17th, 2010 edition of their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report disclosed that:
“About a quarter of the more than 26,000 adults surveyed reported experiencing verbal abuse as children, nearly 15 percent had been physical abused, and more than 12 percent — more than one in 10 — had been sexually abused as a child… Almost one in five respondents (19.4 percent) had lived as a child with someone who was depressed, mentally ill, or suicidal.”
Because the verbally abusive relationship becomes horribly “normal” to those who experienced it, they often don’t see it as it is happening.
You may well see it in others, but not in yourself. You may not actually get in touch with what has happened to you (if you ever do) until you find yourself trying to figure out why it is you can’t find love, or until you find yourself stuck in (yet another) relationship that just isn’t working.
When the pain and loneliness — yes, you can feel terribly lonely even when you are in a relationship — become too much, you finally get some professional help. That’s when you discover that what you absorbed so early in your life, unintentionally and definitely without your permission, has been silently sabotaging every relationship you have ever entered.
You can heal.
You can stop feeling there is something wrong with you.
You can stop blaming yourself.
You can stop blaming your partner.
You can find your own personal power.
You can release yourself from the shackles of your past — and finally feel free.
This discovery can give you a new lease on life with your partner and your children.
Verbal abuse, whether hidden behind closed doors or screamed loudly in the supermarket, has a definitive negative effect on everyone involved. It’s far too common, and it can be keep you from experiencing love, respect, and safety in relationships.
That’s too high a price to pay … and, yet you will keep on paying until you see it, name it, and eradicate it from your daily life. And you deserve to be free.
Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, is a relationship consultant and educator. Author of sixteen books, she specializes in helping the partners, exes, and adult children of chronically difficult people. If you have been or are being verbally abused, start freeing yourself from it with a free half-hour consultation with her.