When is it Verbal Abuse?

When one is on the receiving end of continuous verbal and emotional assaults, it becomes difficult to tell metaphorically “where one side ends and the other begins.” That’s because when we’re in the midst of an abusive relationship, it’s easy to lose track of what is abuse and what isn’t. That is often because the person who gets to decide what is verbal abuse and what isn’t is the abuser.

I received a copy of “Victory Over Verbal Abuse,” by Patricia Evans. From the moment I opened it, the words made perfect sense and brought me to a new cognitive level of viewing the social interactions around me. A letter inside the book poses the question, “When is a cutting remark abusive and when is it merely callous?”

The answer though clear cut and obvious was not previously obvious to me. I have done a lot of recovery but there is only so much one can do in a short amount of time (or even a long amount of time for that matter). “A remark from a healthy individual can be easily resolved when questioned, whereas a verbal abuser will find reasons to escalate this situation into a confrontation.” So much power in that one sentence! While reading that sentence, one family member, as opposed to the abusive boyfriends I am so accustomed to writing about, immediately popped into my mind.

Another gem from the book that really hit home for me, “If you’ve ever been told you’re too sensitive, you have heard verbal abuse.” That phrase is definitely one of the most common assaults I’ve heard from my immediate family, though made out to be seemingly benign, was and still is very hurtful to me. By telling me that I am being “too sensitive,” not only are  my thoughts and feelings on the subject being ignored, but by saying that, I am also being invalidated. The author lists other common phrases that represent verbal abuse but also cites that being on the receiving end of the silent treatment is also a form of verbal abuse.

She goes on to say,“In relationships, abusers are usually much kinder to friends and neighbors than they are to their own partner” (or the person they are abusing). I have wrote about this phenomena several times, but reading it now still makes me feel validated. Abusers wear a mask when out in world. They portray themselves to be this wonderful person who is so kind and obliging to anyone in need, but then when you are alone with them, one verbal misstep unleashes an uncontrollable tyrant.

As I continue to flip through the book, I cannot help but think about my own situation.  Right now, one characteristic of this relative’s speech is really starting to stand out.

  “The lady doth protests too much.”


There is one relative who is and has always been extremely verbally abusive to me. This person is controlling and even to this day, attempts to reign me in and treat me like a child. Whenever this person screams and yells it is only at me. Few have seen this side of them. In fact, they are generally nice to everyone else, and often pit other relatives against me during our disagreements (which are almost entirely and always willingly escalated by them not me).

What is very interesting about this person is some of the things said to me about my last boyfriend. “I don’t understand why you let him treat you like that.” And of course, there were the times I was referred to callously called “stupid” for staying in the relationship as long as I did. Even to this day, given the chance, this relative continues to rant about my poor choice in men and how idiotic I was for being part of that relationship (keyword-was– as in past tense). And that in itself is just another example of the abuse- is there really a practical need to continuously bring up and rub these incredibly uncomfortable events from my past and into my face?

I can’t think of any other reason than to make me feel horrible. So one day I asked them, why they must continue to rub it in my face. Their response? They ridiculed me for being so incredibly sensitive and then attacked and showed disdain for me because I dared to  question their motives. It was additionally offensive to them because they were simply pointing out the truth. This of course, turned into a huge argument in which, before hanging up on me, the offending party started crying and asking “Why are you bullying me?”

Just thinking about this now makes me really mad, and I never get mad. Perhaps the anger comes from the injustice that this person has been able to get away with for decades now? Or the fact that they attempted to play the victim in this situation. That shouldn’t be a surprise to me or to anybody- abusers will almost never apologize for the same reason illustrated there: they think that they are the victim! I’ve called them out on it, but when your abuser has the rest of the world on a string, what does it matter what little old me says?

It’s almost comical -that the only person in my family who rags on me and rubs my failed relationships from long ago in my face- is also the one who is doing the abusing. Coincidence? I think not.

The author states that it is their intention that with this book readers will find the “strength and peace” needed to recover from years (or perhaps a lifetime) of verbal abuse. I have just begun reading the book and I like it so far. It is already eliciting some very potent emotional responses, which I like not so much… Though I’m a slow reader (it took me all summer to finish reading the only book I read this summer, Sugar in My Bowl, by Erica Jong, loved it, by the way), I will continue to explore this book, which has plenty of journaling space for the reader to jot down notes that may help them progress forward in their own healing journeys.


Filed under Dating, Healing, relationships

2 Responses to When is it Verbal Abuse?

  1. Paul Roese

    never got saw the appeal of Jong other than to hard core feministas but whatever floats yer boat. my summer reading included Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton, Songs of a Sourdough poems of Robert W Service, About a Boy by Nick Hornby, and for grins David Rakoff’s – Don’t Get To Comfortable. also read some short stories by Saki, Twain and HP Lovecraft. the book you are reading now sounds most useful although it seems that we often find these type of books long after the fact. wouldn’t it have been great to have read this 10 or even 6 years ago? as i noted in another post the sad thing though seems that people employ toxic language with very little thought these days. i think some are actually shocked when someone actually takes offense at the nastiness spewing from their mouths. as another writer worth checking out noted ;”Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength.” – Eric Hoffer

    • Hayley Rose

      Hi Paul- the Jong book is a collection of stories written by about 20 different people- pretty diverse-
      Ha- what a great quote! Ya I think you are right about this- that people take offense when you dare get offended by their rudeness- it is so second nature to them they don’t even realize they are doing anything wrong- they are just ebing themselves at that point- you were busy this summer with reading! Next year I will have to step up my game! Does reading blogs count?? lol

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