This article will be written as if the males are the abusers and the females are the victims, which is true according to research the majority of the time. However, if you are a male that is the victim or a female who is the perpetrator, please just swap the pronouns in your head.
It is easy to understand that sexual and physical abuse can be traumatic. It is also easy to understand that severe verbal abuse (i.e.-yelling, name calling) can be traumatic. However, there are more subtle types of verbal abuse that can be equally traumatic. The abuser could be doing verbal abuse consciously or unconsciously.
The underlying purpose of the abuse is often to make sure the abuser gets his way, stays in control, avoids being the vulnerable one or can believe he is “right.” The victim of the abuse is often the more pliable of the two, trying to adapt and adjust to the relationship situation to make it work. Here are some of the statements I have heard from victims of subtle verbal abuse:
- “I don’t know, maybe he is right; maybe it is me.”
- “I always feel like I am walking on eggshells around him.”
- “I always feel like I am the crazy one.”
One particular couple I was seeing was comprised of a very emotional female and a very repressed, yet successful male. She would express some very legitimate feelings about some real issues in the relationship (this was during the session). He deflected her important statements and said some complaints about her that also were true. She got more agitated because he was not listening and then he said that this emotionality is what makes him think of divorce. At that point, he looked at me and said- “You see the crazy person I live with?” And I responded- “Yes and I see the ‘crazymaking person’ she lives with.” If you could imagine, that was an interesting session that continued with the hope that this subtle verbal abuse (it was subtle until he called her crazy) would be recognized by him as provocative and unacceptable.
The verbal abuser has a hard time owning his own stuff. The victim often takes too much responsibility for the relationship problems. If you recognize yourself as a victim or a perpetrator of subtle verbal abuse, do yourself a great favor and get some professional help. Subtle verbal abuse can deprive both partners of a healthy and robust marriage. It saps the emotional and physical health of each person, especially the victim. It can trigger old wounds and deprives those involved of a healthy self-esteem. Low self-esteem can affect how people are in their other relationships and it can lower the chance of career and financial success. Please address this problem. There is reason to hope!