Are you in a relationship where you constantly feel a little bit off balance? Have you been told that your perception of reality is wrong and that your feelings are wrong? You are a victim of emotional (verbal) abuse.

Many of us are aware that being called a name such as bitch or stupid is verbally abusive. Being called names is the most evident form of verbal abuse. Other forms of verbal abuse are not as evident. And recognising the signs of verbal abuse might be very confusing for various reasons.

Most often no one else is witness to the verbal abuse. The abused partner is alone with the abuser and is the only one that hears and experiences it. The abuser is often very charming in public and creates the illusion of the perfect partner that other people buy into. The victim lives in a realm that gets increasingly more confusing as the abuser plays a game of undermining the credibility of the victim in the most charming and subtle way in public. By doing that it creates the illusion that there is something wrong with the victim to their friends or family.

When the victim questions this or anything else in the relationship, that might seem not quite right, then angry outbursts, subtle diminishing, cool indifference, witty sarcasm, silent withholding or unreasonable demands are usual occurrences.

Part of the vocabulary of the abuser would use is “you are too sensitive” or “what is wrong with you?” or “why are you making a fuss?” And “I am just joking”. This becomes more confusing as there is no one else to witness what is being said behind closed doors. If the victim speaks to other people about this they believe that the abuser is such a nice person and find it hard to believe. And as the mental stability or other character flaws of the victim had been joked about to these people then then start to doubt the version of reality the victim is describing.

Does this sound familiar in any way?

If you have been in a relationship with a verbal abuser you might have been told in subtle and not too subtle ways that your version of reality is flawed. You might doubt your feelings and your own experiences and start to question what is happening in your life. I suggest that if this feels familiar to you that you read and learn as much as you can on the subject to enable yourself. And to find out which type of abuse you are experiencing.

All abuse is about control and holding and having power over another. Verbal abuse may be overt, covert, constant, controlling and what Bach and Deutch (1980) call “crazymaking”.

Significant facts about abuse:

  1. Verbal abuse often takes place behind closed doors.
  2. In a verbally abusive relationship the abuser usually denies the abuse.
  3. Physical abuse is always preceded by verbal abuse.

Leaving an abusive relationship is extremely difficult. Empowering yourself with knowledge, learning to set boundaries and starting to connect with your needs is all part of the process of reclaiming your life. You are worth it.

“Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts …” ~ Robert Fulghum