Frequently Asked Questions About Verbal Abuse

Reprinted with permission from iVillage.com

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about verbal abuse with answers from Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond and Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out.

Is name-calling verbal abuse?

Yes! Name-calling is abusive because it says that you are BLANK, but actually you are a person. Batterers define their mates as objects. It isn't healthy to be in the same room with a person who defines you, and it is harmful to children who witness it. They either see their survival threatened or they think it's normal, or both.

Why does it seem that after he abuses me verbally he is happy, like he feels relieved? Also, he will act like it never happened. It's like he has no memory of it. I try hard to not fight with him because it's not worth it -- it only makes him say more things. I end up asking myself if I am blowing things out of proportion or overreacting.

This is what verbal abusers do. Verbal abusers almost universally act like nothing happened, like they feel fine and the relationship is fine. This is because they feel they have more control. Maybe they got you to back down, believe them or doubt yourself. If you doubt yourself then you might go with what they tell you, be more compliant and more slave-like. This makes them happy.

My husband's counselor doesn't think my husband's abusive nature is all that bad, and doesn't consider it domestic violence. Since when is breaking picture glass, slamming doors and breaking doorjambs not violent? I have the feeling they think it's just a "communication problem," and they are encouraging couples therapy. I said no way. What do you think?

The problem of finding a counselor who understands that verbal and physical abuse come from the same underlying control issues, and neither is justified, is difficult. Often counselors are trained to look for a 'cause (you) and effect (abuse)' relationship. But you and your mate are not mechanical -- therefore what you do doesn't make him be abusive. If your relationship were mechanical, then when you push up like on a seesaw, he would be affected: he'd go down. But that's not how it is. I refer therapists and counselors whom my readers have discovered and whom they refer on to me as "someone who understands abuse." The easiest way to find one is to call my office -- the number is 925-934-5972. This way I can tell you which towns I have a counselor in, and you can determine if this counselor is near you. Ultimately you have to meet first and see if this person seems right for you. Men who want to change do best in men's programs referred by women's shelters. This listing is in the back of my book, Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out. Other information is at my Website, www.PatriciaEvans.com.

I have been married only five months and have already realized I am married to a verbally abusive man. I want to leave, but can I walk away from a marriage of five months when I just took vows that said "… through good times and bad, sickness and health?" Isn't this a sickness? But what about me?

He's acting like some men commonly act once they "get" their partner. It's so common, in fact, that it isn't always seen as an "illness," but that doesn't mean it isn't a "dis-ease." One thing I've seen over the years is that starting a family usually increases the abuse a whole lot. So I don't recommend it.

My husband's abuse is the very quiet, insidious kind. He always finds a way to make me the problem. When he gets angry, he is enraged. There does not seem to be any degree between not being angry and rage. He has agreed to go a licensed therapist, but I have already reached a point of depression myself. The question is, what to do now? He has his first appointment this week with the counselor. Do I wait to see what she says? How long will it take before things are right? Will they ever be right?

The abuse you describe usually happens behind closed doors, so some people may not see the problem. I do. Most abusers present a "perfect" image to their therapist, admitting to a mistake or two, which they swear wouldn't happen if only their wives would "whatever." Also, most women don't take to an abuser, sexually, once he shows his controlling side. Most who are abused are too traumatized to regain the level of trust necessary for physical intimacy. Please trust your intuition and take care.

I thought that if I broke up with my abusive fiancé, everything would be fine, but I have been battling depression for four months. The whole thing has left really deep scars on me, although maybe I am being oversensitive. Maybe the fact that it is taking me so long is a sign that the abusive behavior in the relationship had a much greater impact on me than the actual breakup. Then again, maybe I'm just whining -- compared to some others, this is probably not as big a deal as I am making it.

No wonder you are depressed. You suffered from verbal abuse. Verbal abuse falls into many categories, including:

* Abusive anger: He would blow up at you.
* Criticizing: He made derogatory comments about your weight and figure.
* Name-calling: He called you a liar and a hypocrite.
* Threatening: He taunted you about his leaving and liking other women.
* Blaming: He told you his behavior was your fault.


And these categories are just to name a few. Battered women have always told me that the verbal abuse was the worst. So having experienced "worse than battering," it will take time to recover. You can support your psyche in healing, but you can't "make" your psyche heal any faster than it is supposed to. Just like you can't make a cut heal faster than it takes a cut to heal. I see your posting your question as a courageous thing to do, and reaching out for support as a smart thing to do.

I have been married 21 years and have been seeing a counselor for a while. It took her a year before I could see that I was in an abusive relationship, and that my husband's verbal abuse wasn't "all my fault." We separated last year, but we have three children. Was separation a good idea?

It sounds like separation is a positive step. You might feel lonely at first, but there won't be anyone to call you names and give you orders, and that's a real positive. Some men who've been abusive want to change to get their partners back. But it is a rare one who actually changes, and it can take him a long time.

After years of verbal abuse, the abuse turned physical when my partner tried to rape me. He has been in counseling, but now that he knows more about abuse, he accuses me of abusing him. His counselor told me he can change with time, therapy and will, but I don't believe he wants to change. If he's acting this way while he's still on probation, I shudder to think how he'll be when he no longer is. Am I just being paranoid? Can an abuser really change?

It sounds like he can't really hear you. Sounds like he doesn't get that his behavior (that got him into the courts) was extremely hurtful. Sounds like he is blaming his current aloneness on you rather than taking responsibility for the results of his action. Most abusers take years to change and most women aren't turned on to anyone they've been afraid of, and that's just the way it is. It's a natural protective instinct. Women aren't likely to want to have a child with a controller. It's a commitment to a life either of pain and suffering, or divorce and possible difficulty with custody. I think that the instinct to stay away from an abuser is built into the survival of the human race and well worth attending to. Women ignore this instinct at their own risk -- and sometimes put themselves at risk just to placate the person who has abused them.

My husband and I had a huge confrontation last month at my parents' house. Ever since he has been meek, mild and overly sweet. Yet I find myself waiting for him to explode as normal -- at least I know how to deal with that! One side of me says, "Just leave," then the other part of me says, "You have a commitment to him and you do care about him." I know that I am no angel to live with -- I don't clean well, and I've screwed up financially in the past. I know that I should just forgive and forget like I ask him to do, but I don't want any physical contact with him. Is this normal?

Most women, and I've looked at around 20,000 cases of verbal abuse, don't feel turned on to men who have abused them. Pure and simple. And they can't make their body/psyche feel differently. Fear, even subliminal -- like when your shoulders clench when he drives up -- blocks passion. And waiting for the next explosion is what it's about. Forgive and forget means nothing to the healing process of the psyche. In other words, a person's spirit heals and feels safe and trusting in its own time. The honeymoon period is part of the cycle of abuse. Sounds like the quiet but irritated guy is going to get louder. So what if you're not a house cleaner? If he's a better one, then he might do it while you take the car in for a lube or write the checks and pay the bills! There's no justification for abuse whatsoever. If someone pushed or shoved me, or called me names, I'd hope to find a way to never see them again. This may take years to accomplish, but abuse increases in intensity and frequency over time. And many women end up with stress-related illnesses. Can you think of many illnesses that are not stress related? Some guys hear their partners and make changes, and some don't. Wish you only the best. Whatever way it goes, it goes to your health.

I know I'm being verbally abused, but I just can't bring myself to leave. What's wrong with me?

There are many reasons why it's hard to go. People who suffer from frequent verbal abuse need plenty of support. If you have family or friends to go to, just get away and see what it's like. Know that while you stay, you're with the same mentality as a batterer. And physical abuse is always a possibility, but the emotional abuse is worse in the long run. You can lose your spirit. I recommend that you read all you can on getting away from batterers -- and what they're like -- and see if you can find a support group at a local shelter. Abusers get worse over time and always blame the victim.

Have I brought this abuse on myself?

I've heard from so many thousands of women who have experienced verbal abuse that I sometimes forget how isolated each woman feels. "Can anyone else be dealing with this?" she wonders. She most often hears that she's "too sensitive" or is "blowing everything out of proportion" or even "trying to start a fight." I hope the online discussion, as well as my books on verbal abuse, help women see that these kinds of statements are, themselves, verbally abusive.