Verbal Abuse: If You Can Recognize It, You Can Stop It

There's only one rule and it's simple, just "Blog Against Abuse". Any kind of abuse. The topic I've chosen to blog about is verbal abuse.

I first became aware of the concept of verbal abuse in the mid-1990's, I guess. I was wandering through the eclectic mini bookstore of the university where I matriculated and then worked for several years, and the book titled "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" by Patricia Evans just jumped out at me.

(There's a slide show of links at the end of this post, to Ms. Evans' books on Amazon - which are currently the best books available on the subject.)

I read the bulleted list (below) from the back cover of the book and answered 'Yes!' to every question when apparently just one 'yes' would have made the book required reading:

• Does your partner seem irritated or angry at you several times a week?
• Does he deny being angry when he clearly is?
• Do your attempts to discuss feelings of pain or emotional distress leave you with the feeling that the issue has not been resolved?
• Do you frequently feel perplexed and frustrated by his responses, as though you were each speaking a different language?

I was intrigued, so I bought the book. It starts with a quote that's oh-so-appropriate, by Robert Fulghum:
Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts...

It's a good quote, but verbal abuse is so very much more than just yelling or name calling. It's kind of an extensive subject generally, so I'm just going to tell you my story to introduce you to the concept of covert or subtle verbal abuse, and then post some good links for more information, if you would care to learn more about it.

So I bought the book and went home and devoured it. It resonated with me on many different levels. I highlighted my way through it the first time and then I talked to my counselor about it.
Note: Here marks the spot where I write publicly for the first time about my diagnosis of a mental illness, major depressive disorder (one more ICI to add to my list). I do so with the full awareness of the possibility (likelihood) of the stigma, both subtle and overt, that can occur as a result of this admission, such as prejudice and discrimination, fear, distrust and stereotyping. I'm taking this individual action in the hope of contributing to a change in public attitudes toward mental disorders, from fear, rejection and isolation of persons with mental illness to acceptance, understanding, and support.
See the Stigmabusters flyer for more info.

Back to my story. I was in individual counseling with a lady who was working on her PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy, Mary Jane. My dear husband (DH) and I were in marriage counseling with a man my counselor had recommended who was working on his LPC designation at the same school. He was a minister also and that's the best thing I remember about him. I talked to Mary Jane about this book and the revelations I was having regarding my marriage relationship while reading it, and she suggested I call The Minister and get an appointment asap to talk to him about it. Our next appointment as a couple was a week or two away, and I also wanted to talk about the book first without my DH being present. The Minister grudgingly granted me a special appointment and I went in and bared my soul to him, telling him that all along I had been thinking I had escaped the verbal abuse in my life, but after reading this book I realized I had just traded an overt verbal abuser for a covertly abusive one. The Minister took the book from me, flipped through it, and proceeded to repeatedly suggest to me that I was mistaken. After fifteen minutes or so of this I started crying hysterically, telling him "I KNOW this is what's happening to me because I feel it in my GUT!" He stopped arguing with me but never acknowledged the reality I told him I was living. He handed the book back to me and suggested that when I read a book I should take it more lightly and not do all that HIGHLIGHTING in the process. I didn't quite know what to say to this, so I just said I would see him at our next appointment and left.

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I never saw The Minister again. Turned out that he was a verbal abuser too, or he would not have insisted that I was not experiencing what I knew I was. (See Verbal Abuse and Therapy.) Mary Jane apologized repeatedly for referring me to him, and I continued my individual therapy with her. My DH and I did try marriage counseling the third and final time a few years later. It didn't take that time either. By that time I had been studying our relationship and how it affected me long enough to feel secure in my decision to leave DH. Turns out I was feeling the abuse in my gut literally as well as figuratively. After a couple years of therapy I could tell that all my DH had to do was ~sigh~ in that meaningful way of his, and my gut (colon to be exact) twisted every which way. The physical result of allowing this to happen to myself repeatedly over time were not pretty. Didn't smell very good either. I'll leave it at that.

Patricia Evans' book "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" opened a door and let a crack of light in for me. As the years went by and I learned more about verbal abuse the door opened wider and wider. This book not only defines verbal abuse, it tells us what to do about it. I admit I had to go back to the book and look up each incident and how to respond to that particular type of abuse at first, but in the long run it worked very well for me.

Since, in the majority of cases, people who indulge in verbal abuse are selective about whom they abuse, many people are surprised to hear that someone is experiencing on-going and periodic abuse from someone they know and have always seen as nice and friendly. “Nice and Friendly” is the persona of many an abuser. My ex is a great guy. Everybody will tell you so. Although many folks are as nice and friendly as they seem, some are not. Here are some resources to help you tell the difference: Patricia Evans' books "Controlling People" and "The Verbally Abusive Man., Dr. Irene's Abuser Pages and Dr. Irene's Bookshelf. Additionally, there are bulletin boards and moderated forums on most of the sites I've mentioned so far, and End Verbal Abuse is a Yahoo group that looks good. They offer a free e-book on boundaries in the Files section of this group.

Subtle controllers can be the worst of the verbal abusers because their behavior is so hard to pin-point and describe, and society hasn't blatantly labeled it as "bad." The subtle controller tries to keep the upper hand through deliberate deprivation of love, support, and respect for you. In healthy relationships there is no "upper hand" and emotionally mature people don't try to get it. Who knew? Not me. But that's a whole different post titled "Why People Put Up With Verbal Abuse" or "I Was Verbally Abused For Years And Didn't Even Know It!" These sites address that issue: Faith's Story, Dr. Irene's Victim Pages and Dr. Irene's Codependency Pages.

When I finally understood that I would never understand why my DH acted the way he did it was very freeing for me because up until that point his behavior had a very "crazy-making" (page 25-26) effect on me. When I stopped trying to understand WHY and just told him to "Stop It!" whenever he used a covertly abusive technique on me, it was all downhill from there. Reminds me of this wise old saying:
"When you see a snake, never mind where he came from." -W. G. Benham

Just get the hell away from him.

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"Getting Free"
by Ginny NiCarthy was the best book on the subject until Patricia Evans' book came out in 1992.

Dr. Irene's Verbal Abuse Site

Emotional Abuse Checklist

Verbal Abuse Precedes Domestic Violence
by Patricia Evans

Probe Ministries' Verbal Abuse site

Patricia Mitchell's Verbal Abuse site

Wikipedia definition

Bloggers Unite

Bloggers Unite

I will eventually write about the theory that abuse has something to do with the onset of Fibromyalgia.


  1. That was a great story and a good way to introduce people to the idea of verbal abuse and it's effect on people. It's odd that sometimes people can be civil in society but leave civility at the door when home with the family, with the people who deserve their civility and respect the most.

    I really do like your blog as well, great use of images to break up the text!


  2. Thank you, sir. You've hit the nail on the head about people who can be civil in society but leave civility at the door at home when with those who should matter most. Thank you for the comment.

  3. I can't wait to read one of the books, still deciding on which one. Thanks for a great post on such an important topic, not very well known either, but important non-the-less.

  4. Thank you, Connie. Patricia has descriptions of the books that might help you decide which one to read first, on her site:

  5. Thank you Sherril. Now I truly understand what is happening to me. My partner has said horrible things about my family and friends, saying that I cannot trust them. I see clearly now what he is doing and am looking to get out of this relationship.

  6. Good for you, and good luck to you!


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