It is heartbreaking to hear your stories of abuse on my radio show. I'm continually faced with how cruel so many people can be to each other. Perhaps you have suffered tragic abuse at the hands of someone you thought you could trust. This is not how it's supposed to be. But even though we live in a world where abuse runs rampant, there is still reason to find hope and keep pressing forward with your life. I want to help you do that. I've blogged about physical and sexual abuse, now I want to explore perhaps the most common abuse of all verbal/emotional abuse.
What is Verbal/Emotional Abuse?
Justin described it like this: My father has always been very verbally abusive to my brother and me for as far back as I can remember. He'd tell us that we would never amount to anything, and would never be a real man like himself -- some 'real man' huh?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. This old saying could not be farther from the truth. Verbal/emotional abuse happens when yelling and anger go too far or when someone constantly criticizes, threatens, or dismisses you until your self-esteem and feelings of self-worth are damaged. It also includes being around constant family conflict.
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Here are some examples of verbal/emotional abuse:
- Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating
- Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
- Constantly telling someone he or she is "no good," "worthless," "bad," or "a mistake"
- Yelling, threatening, or bullying
- Ignoring or rejecting someone, giving him or her the silent treatment
- Witnessing acts that cause a feeling of helplessness and horror, such as domestic violence or watching another sibling or pet be abused
Damaging Effects of Verbal Abuse
This kind of abuse may seem invisible. But the effects can be extremely damaging and may even leave deeper lifelong psychological scars than physical or sexual abuse.
Kent shared: My mom tells me that she doesn't want me, and that she doesn't love me. And that's not right. I thought a mother can love her child forever, maybe she does and just gets sick of dealing with my daily problems/concerns. Kent is feeling deep pain he never should have to feel. No child, teenager, or young adult should be responsible for the emotional well-being of his/her parent.
Jenn described her abusive home life: My mom has this strange way of doing things and she abuses in the way of controlling me to the point that I feel if I don't, please her I feel like my heart breaks because I'm breaking hers. She controls me in the way she guilts me into everything -- going to the store, being with my boyfriend, hanging out with friends -- she feels if I'm not spending time with her or doing what she wants me to, she feels empty. And then I feel horrible, which is why I got into cutting. She controlled me in the way that I could not say ANYTHING to anyone about problems within our family -- nothing could go outside of our house. I feel so trapped in my own home.
Can Verbal Abuse Turn Physical?
Verbal abuse doesn’t always turn into physical abuse, but there is a chance that it could happen. The likelihood of verbal abuse escalating to physical abuse is greater if:
- The abuser has a history of physical abuse
- They excessively drink alcohol or have substance abuse issues
- If the abuser is unable to maintain a positive emotional tie to someone while they are angry, frustrated, or disappointed.
- How much their moods and behavior have changed overtime?
It's Not Your Fault!
You've heard me say this before, but you must realize it is not your fault you are being treated the way you are. You don't have to carry around guilt and shame for something you haven't done. You've only been in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person and absorbed the wounds of someone else's dysfunction and illness.
Cera shared her thoughts on being emotionally abused: I often think this is the type of abuse that is the hardest to identify. I always thought my feelings of never being good enough were because I was a horrible daughter, and I didn't deserve to be treated well. I often hid my feelings and did things perfect or didn't do them at all. When I am put in a situation, I think I may not be perfect at, I began to fear what everyone is going to say and think. I am beginning to realize I am not perfect, but that's okay because nobody is.
The part you can play when abused is to choose how you're going to respond to it. You can let it turn you into a miserable, depressed person. Or you can allow the pain and hardship you've experienced turn you into a compassionate, caring person who can help other people going through their own difficulties.
Jodi wrote with some words of encouragement: I have pretty much been through a mentally abusive time with my family the past four months -- my parents are in the process of a divorce. I live with my mom and my dad doesn't talk to me. All I can say is take it day by day and always know that there are people that care about you and that can help you any way that you need it. Count on your friends to be there for you. Jodi gave some good advice. There is HOPE to get through and move forward in a healthy way.
How to Recover From Emotional Abuse
Stay Safe - Get Help
If you determine you are living in a verbally/emotionally abusive situation, it's important that you tell someone. You deserve to be safe. Find someone you can trust to talk about what's going on at home. It will help you get perspective on your situation, and help you decide what actions you need to take to protect yourself. You can always chat with us here at TheHopeLine. If you are in immediate danger, contact the police (911) as soon as possible. You can also call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
Please continue sending me your stories in the comments below, it's extremely helpful to others to know they are not alone and to hear your perspective.
If you have been verbally and emotionally abused, your self-esteem may have suffered. To start building it back, check out TheHopeLine’s eBook on self-worth for practical advice about things you can do to increase your self-esteem.