Verbal Abuse and Counseling
By Patricia Evans
Change Takes Time
Since it takes “training” over time by family, community and culture to “teach” people to be controlling of persons instead of empathic toward them, it can be expected that reversing that training will take some time.
Every month I receive hundreds of requests from all over the world for counselors who understand verbally abusive relationships.
I frequently add to my data base the names of counselors who understand the dynamics of verbally abusive relationships. My readers refer counselors and therapists who recognize the signs and have read the literature on verbal abuse. Some have also been trained to work at shelters for the abused person or have run anger management programs. Some have attended one or more workshops on verbal abuse.
Because they know the impact of ongoing verbal abuse (overt or covert), they don’t stand by and watch one person accuse, define or discount another person. They ask questions. They don’t give tacit approval to abuse.
If a couple comes in for help, once they see that it is an abusive relationship, these counselors arrange to see the two people separately. The counselor does this with the certainty that the anger is abusive, inappropriate, and not a response to the torture of verbal abuse. It is one thing to be angry at being told what one thinks, feels, says, is, etc. It is another to be angry because one’s partner has a different opinion, or won’t take orders or accept criticism.
The counselor helps the person who indulges in abusive behaviors to see the impact of the abuse and to attend an anger management group.
However some counselors, through no fault of their own, know little or nothing about verbally abusive relationships. Some have not even read one book on the topic, attended one workshop, or completed one training on counseling abusers and the abused.
Since people who abuse are often unaware of, or denying of, their abuse as well as unable or unwilling to recognize the effects of the abuse on the person they abuse, counselors must necessarily rely on separate interviews with both parties to assess their behavior and to chart progress in stopping the abuse once it is determined. This is particularly so in cases where the abuse is primarily verbal, creating both emotional pain and mental anguish but not leaving verifiable physical marks.
Generally, just as a person would be nervous or even traumatized in the presence of their batterer, so too would they be affected adversely by the presence of their verbal abuser. The need to control and its outcome in violence is the same need that propels the verbal abuser. The following letter provides insight into this issue.
Checklist and Suggestions
Letter to the Unaware Therapist
A woman agreed to share with me, and with you, a letter she wrote to her counselor who apparently had no idea what verbal abuse was about. Here it is.
“I appreciated meeting you and I am sure you are a highly trained, very competent psychologist. It must be very difficult when you sit down with a couple, whose stories are entirely contradictory, to figure out where the truth lies. I am not certain how familiar you are with verbal abuse or the various forms and disguises it takes. Verbal abuse was happening right during the counseling session and you didn’t seem to notice it. That is understandable, since you have only seen us together for an hour and I have lived with Mr. ___ for over 30 years (20 or more of which were abusive).
“Even though it has happened to me multiple times before, it is very traumatic to sit across from my husband (who claims to love me) look into his face and hear him tell one lie after another. You did not know they were lies. How could you? My husband is a master of denial and disguise, which has been very hard for me to realize, admit and come to terms with. He does it so well. I do not know what to do in the face of such blatant, outrageous lies–especially when my husband comes across as credible. Getting abused all over again, right in your office is not my idea of a therapeutic counseling session.
“You will believe what you will believe and I cannot change that. May I suggest in the future, however, that when a woman comes to you seeking help and healing from a verbally and sometimes physically abusive relationship, that you start out by believing her and asking hard questions to confront the husband’s lies. Otherwise, the therapy itself can add to the already existing abuse, causing immeasurable trauma and other detrimental consequences. If I had a black eyes and broken arm, you would believe I was being abused. However since verbal abuse almost always takes place behind closed doors and leaves no visible scars—- although the heart and spirit have deep and hidden scars– it is nearly impossible to recognize the abuse. I did not just suddenly, for no reason grow fearful of my husband. On the contrary, I grew fearful after years and years of overt and covert abuse. Since you do not know what I have lived with or what I have lived without, it may be impossible for you to see it.
“I am writing this in the hope that it can help future clients when they come to you frightened and traumatized from verbal abuse. I am even sending you a copy of the Verbally Abusive Relationship in the hope that, if you have not already read it, you will and if you have already read it, you will read it again. When I read the book, it was like reading the story of my own life and I suddenly knew that what was happening to me had a name. It is called verbal abuse, a formidable, insidious and destructive kind of abuse. Did I deserve such abuse? No. Nearly all verbal abuse is unwarranted and unprovoked.
“I am not writing this, in any way, to criticize or devalue you as a professional therapist. I simply want to give you information that may help future clients. Because of my own experience, I have strong feelings about verbal abuse and the needless suffering and torment that many women endure year after year. They are looking for hope and for someone to believe what happened to them.
“Although you were not able to help my husband and me, I pray that others will benefit greatly from, not only your skill, but also your wisdom, compassion and discernment. When a woman comes to you traumatized and fearful of her husband, you might consider wondering how she got that way. Am i afraid of my husband? Yes. Do I sometimes have nightmares about the horrific ways he has treated me? Yes. Do I therefore have difficulty trusting him? Yes. Am I uncomfortable, even being in the same room with him? Yes. Yes, yes and yes again. But why? How did a normally joyful, outgoing and trusting woman suddenly become terrified of only one thing—her husband? I would say that deserves deeper investigation. Did I believe in marriage? With all my heart, yes. Do I want to be married? Yes. I just no longer am willing to live with a man who abuses me, denies it all and shows no remorse….Never, Never again.
“Thank you for listening to my heart. I pray God’s blessing on you and your practice, Dr. _____. And I am indeed sorry that you could not help my husband and me. I wish you well.