In your relationship, do you:
- Often feel as if your words have been misunderstood, twisted, and thrown back at you very differently than you intended them?
- Get blamed for pretty much anything that goes wrong in the relationship, big or little?
- Often feel confused and surprised by your partner’s strong reaction to something that seems very innocent or innocuous to you?
- Worry excessively over having to bring up certain “hot” topics that seem to always lead to an ugly fight in which you get blamed?
- Feel that your feelings never count, especially as compared to your partner’s?
- Feel ridiculed, shamed, or demeaned by your partner?
If any of these are present in your primary relationship, chances are pretty strong that this is a relationship that is abusive on an emotional or verbal level. In fact, the verbal abuse can be so painful and dehumanizing that often people say “I wish they would just hit me and get it over with” so that they don’t have to endure the endless barrage of blame and vitriol.
These relationships seldom start with verbal or emotional abuse present, and in fact, victims often describe the early months with their partners as idyllic, intense, and romantic. Until they are in a committed relationship. Then the abuse begins slowly or quickly, but before victims realize it they are caught up in something they never thought would happen to them.
Often when verbally and emotionally abusive behaviors begin, victims feel they have made a mistake, said or done something wrong, and look for ways to “do better next time.” Because they are often blamed for the anger of the abuser, they feel that whatever happened to cause the anger is their fault and thus begins a pattern of trying to change in order to prevent the abuse in the future.
Unfortunately, with individuals who are verbally and emotionally abusive, there is no way to “keep them happy.” The abuse will continue to occur and will often escalate in intensity and frequency. Victims will progressively give up parts of themselves and their lives that were important to them to continue to try to appease the abuser. If spending time with family or friends threatens the abuser, they will try to find ways to isolate their partner from these people.
Soon victims of emotional abuse will find themselves completely isolated, without contact with friends or family, often without the ability to keep a job or go to school, and they will have abandoned their own dreams and desires in order to try to keep the peace.
It doesn’t work. Verbally and emotionally abusive people are unable to NOT be abusive. They will continue to be excessively angry and controlling and will blame the victim and say that they are only angry because the victim has “made them angry.” They only control the victim because they “have to.”
If you are reading this and recognize yourself as a victim of verbal or emotional abuse, you need help. Marriage counseling or couples counseling is not the way to deal with this, and will put you at risk for increased abuse after talking openly about how you feel in a couples session. If you are being verbally abused, you need to find someone you can trust to speak to about your experience.
A qualified therapist, especially one who is familiar with the dynamics of verbally abusive relationships, can help to provide you with support and guidance as you work to determine what is best for you. Do not expect to be able to talk about this with your partner and get understanding or cooperation. People who are verbally and emotionally abusive, even if they can acknowledge they have a problem, often do not change significantly.
If you are in a verbally abusive relationship and would like to read more, there are two excellent books that will be helpful to you:
- The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans
- Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft
Whatever you do, please get support for yourself. If you talk to a therapist, make sure they are familiar with verbal abuse, and do not seek marriage or couples counseling as a first try at therapy. Remember that you can love and care about your abusive partner, but make a choice to not live with their abuse any longer.
Chris Lewis, Ed.S., LPC is a counselor at Maria Droste Counseling Center. She works with individuals, couples, divorced and divorcing parents, and families in conflict and crisis.