Education increases the facility abusers have with words. They have a rapier-like capacity to inflict verbal abuse, some of it extremely subtle. As Cathy Meyer says, not all words meant to hurt are ugly words. An ‘expert’ at verbal abuse can damage the self-esteem of another, and yet appear to care deeply for them. They frequently use the phrases ‘What’s the matter with you?’ or ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. Further, the victim can be utterly confused by verbal abuse because the abuser sometimes appears vulnerable, lost, loving, or supportive, until the blaming begins again.
There are many stories of verbal abuse in the blog, Wounded by Words, written by Susan Osborn and her colleagues. These stories describe the blaming, belittling, isolation, indoctrination, shaming, escalating control, silencing, rejection, and insults that accompany verbal abuse. Abusers like to degrade others by swearing at them, calling them stupid, shouting at them, insulting them, and imitating them. These individuals are shamers, who use criticism, sarcasm, and mocking words to degrade their victims. Some abusers are very volatile and resort to yelling, swearing or screaming with little provocation. As with all abusers, they blame the victim for their actions, alleging that if the victim were only ‘perfect’ the abuser would not lose control. Verbal abusers are quick to threaten. These threats indicate that violence is imminent. Threats are used to control or to influence victims’ behaviours. This can occur in the context of a divorce, especially when the abuser wishes to stay in the marriage. Overall, they coerce their victims to follow their way of thinking, regardless of how harmful it is to them.
Patricia Evans categorises the controlling behaviours of verbal abusers. One abusive type withdraws from intimacy, eschews empathy, and dismisses a partner’s desperate need to be heard. How often have I heard some of my clients say ‘he/she never listens to me? It’s as if I don’t exist.’ These abusers remain bunkered inside their rigid boundaries and refuse to engage in any meaningful dialogue. They dismiss their victim’s plea for understanding and discussion. Ironically, such insidious abusers may be perceived by others as quiet, gentle individuals, a passivity that utterly confuses the unfortunate victim and plays with the mind. Yet anger always simmers beneath the calm surface. It is more apparent in aggressive verbal abusers, who make serious threats to harm the victim and to engender fear. They may threaten to abandon the victim, or to kill her and her children, unless she does what he wishes.
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press
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