By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
A home should be a happy place and a safe place. A home should be the place where we feel loved and accepted for being ourselves. In truth, a home is also the place where our personal conflicts are worked out, sometimes in destructive ways. Our internal conflicts may involve issues of anger, power, and control; all of which can lead to verbal abuse.
Verbal abuse leaves no physical scars, but the emotional wounds can be deep. It is important to recognize verbal abuse when it occurs and then do something about it. A verbally abusive household is usually not a happy place. On the surface, others may see both the verbal abuser and the victim of the abuse as a happy couple, the nicest of people. But behind the scenes there exists a pattern of manipulation and intimidation, unreasonable demands, sarcasm, and angry outbursts.
At the onset of these relationships, everything may seem wonderful. The person who later becomes verbally abusive may shower the eventual victim with gifts and compliments and make that person feel like the most important person in the world. Gradually, however, the relationship deteriorates. The abuser’s anger and need for control are projected onto the victim. The victim is blamed for not being “good enough,” and the relationship gradually turns into an emotional roller coaster.
The person on the receiving end of the abuse may adjust to the situation over time, so that he or she is unaware of the extent of the abuse. The abuser usually fails to take responsibility for creating the problem and it is the partner who takes the blame.These relationships are characterized by denial, poor interpersonal boundaries, control and power issues, trust issues, and unresolved anger.
Verbal abuse can almost always be seen as a control issue. Ironically, it is the abuser who sees him or herself as the victim. Therefore, the abuser feels the need to control the partner in order to allay his or her own insecurities. The person receiving the verbal abuse, hoping for closeness and approval, goes along with the control and may accept blame for causing the problems. Roles become confused. The abuser is the victim and the victim is the abuser. The situation becomes murky and perpetuates the conditions that breed verbal abuse.
Because the partners in a verbally abusive relationship have usually adapted to their situations, as painful as this may be, it might require the intervention of a trained therapist to interpret the communication patterns objectively and empathically. New and healthier ways of communicating can be learned, along with the issues of control, the need for equality in a relationship, and how to trust and respect one’s partner.