"You'll never feel fully secure in a relationship if you dish out or accept verbal attacks."
She: I'm sorry I was late.
She: Of course you're sorry. You couldn't be on time if your life depended on it. You're an idiot.
He: I'm upset that you missed my birthday party.
She: Oh, be a man. Are you going to cry now? Get over it.
He: I'm sorry I forgot to put gas in the car.
He: I don't know why I stay with someone as stupid as you.
If the above exchanges seem like they were ripped from the pages of your relationship diary, you've experienced verbal abuse.
Words That Hurt
Verbal abuse may involve insults, name-calling, putdowns, and teasing, including nasty comments about your culture, family, gender, race, or religion. It can be overt or subtle. "Verbally abusive comments can be made in a hostile or angry manner, matter-of-factly, or with a kind smile," says clinical psychologist Lisa Slade Martin. "We must realize this last point, because when we are being abused 'kindly' we often feel hurt, but confused as to why."
Mean or hurtful comments are intended to make someone feel humiliated, wrong, or bad, while making the abuser feel better, right, and good, explains Slade Martin. "[Verbal abuse] is used as punishment for making the abuser feel angry; it's used to make the target feel sorry," she says.
You've probably heard that old rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." You may even believe it. But think about it. If a partner has ever verbally abused you, how did it make you feel? Stupid? Ugly? Worthless? Sad? Angry? Verbal abuse does hurt, and that hurt can continue even after the relationships ends, causing low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity.
"It is a fact that you will never feel fully secure in a mutually fulfilling relationship if you dish out or accept occasional — or frequent — verbal attacks," says Slade Martin.
Recognizing the Signs
When verbal abuse occurs in relationships, it's often dished out by both partners, not just one. If you or your partner can answer yes to any of the following questions, you may be in a verbally abusive relationship:
* Have I ever purposely said things to make my partner feel bad because I was angry?
* Have I used words intentionally to hurt my partner?
* Do I believe partners should be made sorry if they have made me angry or sad?
* Has more than one person accused me of using words to insult or put them down?
* Did my parents or siblings use insults or sarcasm to put others down?
* Have I lashed out at others with angry words when I'm upset?
Changing a Verbally Abusive Situation
If you feel safe doing so, the next time your partner says something hurtful, you could point out the abusive behavior and insist that it stop. You might say: "Chris, you just called me ugly. That makes me feel really bad. I know you insulted me because you're mad, but you still have to respect me."
If you're the one who draws blood with your words, stop talking when you notice you're about to say something mean. Take a few seconds, and then try to say something else instead. Try to express why you are angry, hurt, or disappointed, without attacking your partner.
"We teach people how to treat us by how we treat them and ourselves. We teach people how to treat us well by respecting ourselves and refusing to participate in relationships in which we are being mistreated," says Slade Martin.
If you are in a verbally abusive relationship, or if you find yourself in a pattern of getting into verbally abusive relationships, try talking to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, or counselor, about ways to end the relationship or change the pattern. Remember, relationships should make us feel good about ourselves, not bad.
by Kendra Lee