April 30, 2011

Emotional side effects of verbal domestic abuse

by Dr. Deborah Bauers
Created on: April 05, 2011

There are individuals on both sides of the debate that argue about whether the emotional effects of verbal domestic abuse are more damaging than those of domestic violence.  In reality, it is probably impossible to separate one from the other because when physical abuse takes place, a spouse or significant other is also a victim of emotional abuse that is characterized by powerlessness, degradation, and fear.  But when verbal domestic abuse occurs alone, its victim often lacks the support of family, friends, and society who fail to understand how, just words, can lead to deep emotional scars. Verbal abuse is emotional battering and the perpetrator beats down his/her victim with weapons of the tongue that leave deep and invisible wounds inside the soul.

A verbally abusive individual is someone who manipulates, intimidates and blames his partner for the sense of powerlessness that characterizes his own life.  Over time, by relentlessly belittling, regularly brow beating and intentionally humiliating his victim, a verbally abusive spouse is able to manipulate and brainwash a partner’s feelings and thoughts. For many companions, constant verbal abuse results in “learned helpless.”   This means that the abused individual eventually comes to believe that everything the abuser says is true and that she/he is incapable of changing self or the dynamics of powerlessness that are felt.

To say that the results of verbal domestic abuse are “side effects” minimizes them.  In reality, they are the central focus of abuse and the marks of living with an individual who is capable of inflicting great psychological pain; emotional injuries that can only heal if the abuse ends  and the victim is able to regain  self-sufficiency and self-worth. The effects of verbal domestic abuse impact the victim in manyways. These may include:

1  Becoming a people pleaser and “walking on eggshells” to avoid being abused
2. Developing severe depression that can potentially lead to suicide
3. Having a distorted view of self
4. Feeling responsible for the partner’s violence
4. Becoming confused and frightened of losing a grip on reality
5. Becoming isolated from family and friends by the abuser
6. Developing a deep sense of personal shame
7. Becoming a victim of not just verbal abuse, but physical abuse as well

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one in every four women has been physically abused. Totals for reported cases range from 960,000 to 3 million per year and include data regarding abuse of not just women, but men and children as well.  An overwhelming number of these cases have all been victims of verbal domestic abuse either simultaneously or prior to the onset of the physical abuse.

If you, or someone you care about, are living with someone who consistently belittles, threatens, or tries to gain unhealthy control, you need to know that this relationship can destroy your self-worth and leave you helpless and frightened. To get additional information about the signs of verbal and physical domestic abuse or to get help for yourself or a friend who is suffering at the hands of an abuser, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


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