Verbal abuse is so tormenting because the facility to praise and express love is used to denigrate and insult. For example, Linda went from being a beautiful desirable wife to a ‘boring old hag’. The contrast is devastating, and the constant name-calling savage –
“I was called things like a ‘bitch’, a ‘cunt’. These seemed his favourite names to call me. He would tell me to ‘fuck off’ so many times. I used to plead with him not to call me those names; he would say this to me in front of his son from his previous relationship, who was old enough to understand what he was saying. He also said it in front of my son – even though he was too young to know what he was saying, I really used to fear that day when my son would understand what he was saying. In addition, if my son saw daddy saying these things to mammy then he would think it was o.k. to say this- and what if the day came that my son called me one of the above! I really think that would destroy me.”
Linda is right. Jack would learn this form of malignant communication. We all remember those verbal barbs at ourselves that entered our souls at an early stage. Perhaps a parent, a so-called friend, or a teacher spoke them. Long ago in the schoolyard I often heard the slogan ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. It sounded reasonable then, but I now realise that it is a myth. Many clients have told me that names have hurt them far more than broken bones. One of Elaine Weiss’s storytellers, who endured horrible physical abuse, maintains that the verbal abuse she suffered was worse than the physical. Its impact lasted for years. We never forget the sarcasm, nicknames, or words of scorn thrown at us in childhood or adulthood. Verbal scars remain etched on our souls, and research supports the view that they are more damaging than physical or emotional abuse.
Lundy Bancroft, an expert on abusive men, contends that the behaviour of verbal and physical abusers grows from the same roots, and that verbal abuse normally precedes physical assault. The abuser uses verbal put downs and insults to degrade and depersonalise the victim, so that the physical abuse can be minimised and rationalized. When the abuser no longer sees the victim as human, he can justify the violence and evade remorse. To avoid responsibility for their actions and words, verbal abusers also refuse to talk about upsetting issues that the victim wishes to discuss
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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