Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, On relationship and recovery by Patricia Evans
Author Patricia Evans meticulously researched, described and documented verbal abuse in her previous book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship. This time, she gives domestic abuse a human face by including the experiences of verbal abuse survivors, recounted in their own words. You witness their struggles, confusion, pain and courage as they endure abuse, rediscover themselves and, ultimately, hopefully, move on. Particularly heart-wrenching are the stories of women whose abuse was denied, not only by their abusers, but also by their family, friends and even their counselors, exacerbating their feelings of isolation, guilt and bewilderment. One survivor says, “When I talked to a therapist about it, she said to go shopping.” Evans covers the same ground as in her previous books, but the addition of excerpts from victims’ letters makes it worth the read. If you feel you might be suffering from verbal abuse, or care about someone who is, getAbstract recommends Evans’ book. For counselors and therapists who work with couples, it’s required reading.
- The perpetrator of verbal abuse wants to control and manipulate his mate.
- The (almost always male) abuser employs many tactics to exercise power over his spouse, including accusing, blaming, criticizing, denying her and withholding love from her.
- The victim’s efforts to love harder or behave better prove futile in stopping the abuse.
- When a woman becomes aware that she is a victim of verbal abuse, she realizes she is not at fault.
- Friends, relatives, the abuser and even the therapist often blame the victim.
- Verbal abuse degrades the victim, sapping her life energy and destroying her spirit.
- Abuse victims feel trapped in the abusive relationship because they lose the confidence and self-esteem they need to change their situation.
- Many women make plans to escape abuse once they recognize it for what it is.
- Strategies for coping with verbal abuse include keeping a journal, joining a support group and taking care of your own needs.
- To heal from verbal abuse, relearn how to act in your own best interests and give yourself time to go through the process of recovery.
Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out Book Summary
Survivors of verbal abuse come from all walks of life. Some are rich, some poor; some grew up privileged, others destitute; some have been loved, others have been mistreated; they are educated, intelligent, self-made mothers, daughters and wives, and now they are also survivors. As one survivor says: “I just now am becoming able to discuss my abuse, but if there is anything I could do or say to anyone to prevent or to help, I am willing to come forward and speak.”
It’s All about Control
One former victim asks, “How could he be so cold and cruel to me, and so happy-go-lucky around others?” The motivation behind verbal abuse is control. By diminishing his partner, the abuser feels in charge and in power. He – for verbal abusers are usually male – uses many tactics to make his partner feel secondary. He tries to control her time, space and access to money. He withholds love and affection, sulks and acts like the victim, yells and hits things, walks away or refuses to communicate. He tries to tell his mate what she thinks and feels. Then, he blames her for the way he acts, telling her the consequences of his actions are all her fault. The abuser needs to exercise power over his partner so that he doesn’t feel vulnerable or powerless. This power-over makes every interaction in the relationship a contest that he needs to win more than anything else.
“Women have taken the time to write at length about how verbal abuse had circumscribed their lives within the narrow boundaries of self-doubt and paralyzing pain.”
Verbal abuse falls into 15 categories: “withholding; countering; discounting; verbal abuse disguised as a joke; blocking and diverting; accusing and blaming; judging and criticizing; trivializing; undermining; threatening; name calling; forgetting; ordering and demanding; denial and abusive anger.”
A verbal abuser needs to exercise power over his mate. In doing so, he is denying her “creative force,” an energy that is life itself, and which renews, flows, and gives birth to artistic expression and a feeling of integration. You experience integration when you live your life in harmony with the world around you. Verbal abuse causes disintegration. When an abuser continually contradicts a woman’s perceptions, feelings, thoughts and instincts, it creates disruption and doubt. In the words of survivors:
- “He kept saying that I have to have everything my way, and after a while he convinced me, but now, in the perspective of time, I think it was not so.”
- “I feel frustrated, helpless, defenseless, angry, frightened, crazy, indecisive, frozen.”
- “My motto was ‘Peace at any Price’.”
- “I had lost much of my identity, but was not aware of it.”
- “He never admitted being wrong; never, ever, apologized.”
“Abusive men stop at nothing to squelch, put down, correct, criticize, belittle, trivialize, ignore, snub, sneer at, and, when all else fails, put on displays of rage in order to dominate and control their mates.”
Many victims of verbal abuse try to change their abusers by giving love. They feel that if only they could get it right, express themselves correctly, or make their partners feel loved and secure, then the abuse would stop. However, the verbal abuser does not want his victim to change. He is not seeking to resolve conflict. He only wants to exert his power through control and manipulation.
Out of Darkness
Survivors explain the road to recovery:
- “It was like being in a dark room and the lights came on – already there are changes being made. He knows I’m different.”
- “My marriage has always been confusing to me. Until recently, I did not realize that I was being verbally abused.”
- “For the first time I believe that it’s not me, that I’m not stupid, dumb and weak.”
“There is clearly an imbalance of power in our culture, and it appears to be reflected in personal relationships.”
These survivors tell you what it is like to become aware that you are suffering verbal abuse. The victim realizes that she is not at fault. Her mate is not seeking mutuality. He is trying to control her by keeping her down. As difficult as this realization is, with it comes relief and understanding. Her newfound awareness releases her feelings of ineptitude, confusion and guilt.
“It’s Your Fault!”
One exceptionally insidious aspect of verbal abuse is that the abuser often blames his victim. This causes her to question herself and search for answers within: What am I doing wrong? How can I change to improve my situation? But the reality is, as one survivor put it, “He abuses because he is an abuser,” not because she is doing something wrong – so all the soul-searching in the world on her behalf won’t put things right.
“The survivors of verbal abuse consistently reported that they came to believe what they were hearing.”
Placing the blame on the victim erodes her self-esteem and makes her doubt her own perceptions. Society in many cultures treats women as inferior, setting them up to take blame. Survivors speak of looking for validation and having their efforts thwarted by the very people they turn to – therapists, clergy, family members and friends. Often others will tell them to “try harder,” or that they “love too much,” are “too sensitive,” “crave high drama and excitement,” “must forgive,” are “a martyr” or that “both partners are responsible” for the abuse. Even therapists sometimes overlook evidence of verbal abuse in couples who seek counseling, missing the fact that a couple cannot attain mutuality in a verbally abusive relationship. Says one survivor, “No one seems to understand or believe that I am suffering abuse. Even professional therapists don’t seem to see verbal abuse as serious, at least not the ones I’ve seen.”
One woman explained how abuse unfolds: “When your words are not heard, when conversation has become a series of bored one-syllable responses to your questions, when plans are made without regard for your schedule, when your partner talks more, and more lovingly, to your dog, when your accomplishments are received by patronization, when your laughter is met by silence, when you begin to feel like a different person than you were growing up…it is a terribly wrong picture.”
“The abuser is often so used to relating to his mate in an abusive way that it does not even occur to him that he is being abusive.”
These words describe how the abuser “kills the spirit” of his victim. Through repeated behaviors that diminish his partner, he slowly saps her of her life energy. Verbal abuse victims often experience symptoms similar to those of depression, including “feelings of hopelessness, low energy, poor concentration, difficulty sleeping, marked lack of interest in daily activity, low self-esteem, weight loss and even thoughts of suicide.”
Why do victims of verbal abuse stay in abusive relationships even after they realize what is happening? The reasons are numerous. Some women stay because they lack the financial resources to make it on their own. Others are afraid of what an abuser might do to them if they try to break away. Many victims have lost their confidence or are still hoping their partner will change. The ongoing abuse has isolated them from friends and family. They feel trapped with no way out of the relationship.
“ Remember, there is nothing you can do and no way you can get him to change.”
One survivor explains, “I must leave because all I do is cry. I do not work because he wants me at home. My friends and family are far away. He accuses, blames, judges and criticizes me numerous times a day. He is always ordering me and when I stand up, say ‘Stop it,’ or just leave the room, he tends to be angrier. Why have I stayed in this awful relationship? Obviously my husband is just a mean man.”
“The voices of the survivors seem to echo and merge in one voice seeking truth, understanding, and validation.”
Many women do make plans to leave and escape the abuse, particularly once they recognize it for what it is. They have gone through the stages of abuse, “oppression and control, disintegration, awareness, blaming, killing her spirit, feeling trapped and finally, escape.” Two survivors described their feelings:
- “To leave takes faith in yourself and the ability not to listen and not allow yourself to be confused or deflected. I am filing for divorce, knowing it is the best thing for me, but I am still frightened.”
- “I will go and keep going. I cannot say I love my mate. I feel too injured. He has said too much and gone too far.”
A survey of 250 victims of verbal abuse revealed that 71% of respondents felt trapped in their relationships and 83% were afraid of the abuser. More than half of the women who responded also experienced physical abuse. The majority (more than 83%) did not believe their mates would ever change. The overwhelming majority, 93%, also said the verbal abuse increased over time. The survey found that the five most common methods of verbal abuse were, in descending order: “abusive anger; accusing and blaming; judging and criticizing; withholding; and denial.
What to Do If You Choose to Stay
If you decide to stay in a verbally abusive relationship while you develop your resources, get further job training or education, or to work on your marriage, you can employ many coping strategies. Continue to be aware that your partner is exercising power and not looking for mutuality in your relationship. Don’t turn to drugs or alcohol for solace. Exercise, eat well and stay healthy. Join a support group so you don’t feel isolated. Research your legal rights in the jurisdiction where you live. Try keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. As one woman says, “Writing is for me sanity-saving. Writing down your experiences and feelings helps to keep reality clearer for you. It is a confirmation of yourself and your experiences that is eroded by your mate, your family, friends and the general world you live in!”
“When we discover ourselves actively and consciously, when we discover our own value, we awaken what was lost in the trauma or the abuse.”
A healthy relationship is one of “equality, partnership, mutual benefit, good will, validation and intimacy.” You can’t change your partner by trying harder, loving him more or trying desperately to do everything right. The only way he will change is if he is committed to changing in order to help himself and salvage the relationship. The pattern of verbal abuse will not change overnight. Breaking it requires constant vigilance from both partners, and a willingness to communicate and listen. However, the benefits of a mutual relationship are worth the work.
“Recognition is the hardest step; after that, nearly anything is possible.”
Once he has committed to change, the abuser should join a men’s therapy group designed for abusive personalities. He should read material on the subject. He must ask his partner to remind him when he is acting abusively at the time of the offense. Lastly, and in some ways most difficult, the abuser must allow himself to feel the pain he suppresses instead of taking it out on his wife instead. Only when he works through his pain can he become a whole, compassionate and empathetic person.
Into the Light
Recovering from verbal abuse requires time. As one survivor put it, “Just acknowledging the terrific loss of self and spirit helps start the process of healing and rebuilding a self – I am enough, adequate, worthy.” Survivors of verbal abuse must relearn how to act in their own best interests. Begin by nurturing your “inner child.” That is the part of you that is emotional, full of wonder, confidence and interest in the world around you. Verbal abuse wounds your inner child. To nurture her back to health, act as your own loving parent providing security, warmth, acknowledgment and comfort.
“The abuser will usually not admit that there is anything wrong in the relationship at all.”
Identify where your talent and passion lie, and accept them as your gifts, which you contribute to the world. Understand what you need to feel happy and fulfilled. Make a plan to achieve your goals and work toward them every day. Lastly, add structure and substance to your day and let the comfort of your routine soothe your troubled spirit.
About the Author
Patricia Evans has authored four books on the topic of verbal abuse and has worked extensively with abuse victims. She is founder of an institute for interpersonal communication, and works as a consultant, speaker and facilitator.