My last boyfriend once asked if I was an invalid because I wasn’t quick to do what he wanted. He also called me a dummy for disagreeing with him. Another time, he called me ‘lazy’ for not watching a video he sent to me. Once, ‘frigid’ for not rolling over with laughter when he tickled.
There were other name-calling episodes and although each was unique from the other, my reaction was often the same, differing only slightly. I would, at first, be in a state of stunned disbelief and shock that I wouldn’t be able to say or do anything – literally! If, for instance, we were chatting, I would stop responding to his messages, which he would continue to bombard my phone with, like he hadn’t just said something wrong, like it was normal to call someone he claimed to love whatever derogatory term he thought appropriate to call me at that moment.
Next, I would show or state, depending on our means of communication, my displeasure and anger. He would then be so full of apologies or excuses for his behaviour that I would either have to accept one or agree with the other. Oftentimes, it was the latter, with me eventually apologising to him because his excuses. These ranged from “But I was only joking now” or “Geeze, babe, have a sense of humour!” to “Why are you making such a fuss?”. Somehow it convinced me that I had overreacted to his name-calling.
Name-calling is often times used with the intent to hurt or put another individual down. It is thus regarded as verbal abuse, especially if it occurs over a period of time. This form of abuse includes negative criticisms as well as offensive language and sometimes body language aimed at intimidating, humiliating, subjugating, coercing and even threatening other people. It occurs almost about everywhere, in the work place, where employees are victims of their employers or colleagues; at school, where children suffer abuse from their teachers or school bullies; and at home, where one spouse is the victim of the other or children are victims of their parents/relatives. Since it affects the victim’s state of mind, emotions, thinking, and beliefs, verbal abuse is also considered to be a form of psychological or emotional abuse. Common with victims are feelings of disbelief, denial, self-blame and self-doubt.
For the five months that it lasted, I denied the fact that I was in an abusive relationship. I chose to ignore the signs and telling myself that perhaps I was only reading too much into my boyfriend’s words. Often, too, I made excuses for him and blamed myself for the name-calling, saying things like “Maybe he was just joking”, “Guess I deserved that”, “If I had only kept my big mouth shut” and “I shouldn’t have said that.” During one of our first dates, I asked my boyfriend how many siblings he had, when he replied that he had seven, I repeated in surprise, “Seven?” He gave me the most exasperated look ever, threw his hands up and sighed, before saying, “Isn’t that what I just said?” I immediately felt stupid and apologised.
Of course, that was his intent. Like most verbal abusers, he was making me feel guilty enough to apologize even when he was obviously in the wrong. Since our relationship was still new, I waved it aside as part of the process of getting to know him. And he took advantage of that, Each time I drew his attention to a hurtful word he uttered to me, he was sure to excuse himself with the “Oh, that wasn’t what I meant” line. He would add that he loved me very much, wanted to spend the rest of his life with me and would never do anything to hurt me. So, I remained in the relationship, soaking up all the lies.
Besides, I just wanted to make it work. I hadn’t been in any serious relationship for a long time – or at any time in fact – and I couldn’t stand the thought of going through the “rigors” of starting a new relationship or even being single all over again. I wanted someone to be there for me, especially when I was having a difficult time adjusting to the routines of a new job. True, he wasn’t the greatest of listeners, but he had his moments, and although they were few and far between, I appreciated them. Then again, someone had once accused me of being intolerant, so I wanted to prove her wrong, even if it meant enduring emotional pain.
Emotional pain is considered to be the most common effect of verbal abuse. Victims are constantly plagued by fear, anxiety, dread or nervousness because even when they enjoy some moments of sanity and peace with their abusers, they are not sure when the next abuse would be sprung upon them. They are known to suffer from low self-esteem and loss of self-worth, as their abusers succeed with their tongue-lashing in making them lose belief in themselves. Research also shows that there are long-term physical and psychological effects, which include: migraine, ulcers, indigestion, diarrhea or constipation for the former and alcohol and drug abuse, memory gap disorders, hyper-vigilance and even suicide for the latter.
So, you’d agree that verbal abuse isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. Yet, because there are no glaring, obvious physical signs and symptoms, as is the case with physical or domestic abuse, people seem to focus less on this form of abuse than on others. That needs to change. Verbal abuse is no less dangerous than physical and sexual abuse. S
If you’re in an abusive relationship – be it verbal, emotional, psychological, physical or sexual – please, don’t stay with the hope that it’ll get better. What if it doesn’t? If an abuser fails to acknowledge his problem and seek professional help, chances are, nothing will change. When my relationship ended, I admit that I cried – oh, how I cried!
I’m writing about it now, which means I’m finally in a place where I can talk about it and I’m on the path to healing from all that emotional pain. I say get up and leave now while you have the chance. It might be much more complicated, however, when a child or a spouse is the victim and a parent or the other spouse is the abuser. Still, we cannot deny that abuse is life-threatening and folding our arms would do nothing to change that fact.
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