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Understanding Verbal Abuse

Because verbal abuse is misunderstood by many people, understanding verbal abuse is extremely important to people’s wellbeing and safety. Abuse can affect the lives of people regardless of age, gender or social status.
Although people most often associate abuse with physical violence, it can come in many different forms including verbal abuse. Because of the nature of verbal abuse, its damaging effects are often underestimated and misunderstood. This can be a problem for people who are the victims of it. In addition, it can make it difficult for people who suspect that a friend or loved one is being verbally abused. To help combat verbal bullying it is important to educate people and raise awareness.

What is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse is a type of emotional abuse in which a person uses words, body language, or behavior to cause emotional pain or distress to another person. Although it is not physical in nature and does not leave visible bruises, it is just as damaging and can leave an individual with emotional scars and trauma. With verbal abuse, the abuser uses words as a way to exert control and dominance over the victim. It is a behavior that is often thought of in terms of domestic violence; however, it can occur in places of work, school, etc. Spouses, teachers, employers, girlfriends, boyfriends, or friends can be verbally abusive. When it comes to relationships, it is often a precursor to physical violence.

The Signs of Verbal Abuse

It is important that people recognize when they are being verbally abused. When looking for the signs of verbal abuse, it is necessary to consider the actions of the potential abuser towards the victim. Consistently criticizing or insulting, humiliating, and even ignoring the victim is a clear and obvious sign of verbal abuse. Using words to discount or minimize a person’s experiences or achievements is also a common sign of abuse. The abuser will often manipulate conversations or the words of the victim, or make the victim feel unworthy or unloved. A verbally abusive person will also blame the abuse on the victim. Dismissing hurtful comments as if they are “no big deal,” or turning them into a joke is another sign of verbal bullying, as is constant negative comments about friends, family or even one’s ethnic group. Withholding words or reactions is also considered a sign.

The Effects of Verbal Abuse

When a person is the victim of this type of abuse, he or she is affected in numerous ways. In general, the victim often loses a sense of self; whether that is a sense of self-esteem, independence, peace, or confidence. The individual typically lives in fear of the abuser and what he or she may say or how they react. With children, the effects of verbal abuse can potentially last a lifetime. According to studies by Florida State University, children who are victims of this type of abuse may become adults who are anxiety and depression prone. In addition, they may also tend to grow into adults who have a more negative self-image.

Recovery from Verbal Abuse

The psychological and emotional effects of verbal abuse are severe and can negatively affect many areas of an individual’s life, from their sense of confidence to relationships. To begin the recovery and healing process, people who have been victims of verbal abuse will need to take the proper steps. One of the first steps is to recognize and acknowledge the abuse for what it is. Additionally, a person must be able to place the blame where it belongs, which is on the abuser and not themselves. Often this requires the help of others, and the abused must be willing to seek out help. Help may come in the form of family or friends. Children who are victims of verbal bullying at school should seek out the help of parents or teachers. When the abuse occurs at home, help may come in the form of a teacher or a social worker. In severe cases of abuse of either adults or children, the help of a counselor or therapist is often necessary to aid in the recovery. Depending on the situation, a counselor can also help the victim learn how to set limits and ask for change if the relationship is an ongoing one. Also, if staying in a relationship with someone who has been verbally abusive, ask that he or she participate in counseling as well. Additionally, support group sessions with other victims of verbal abuse may also prove helpful to the recovery of some. In addition to therapy, there are certain self-help strategies that a person can take to aid their recovery. Keeping a journal to document emotions and thoughts is a positive way to express oneself about the abuse and the recovery process. Read self-help books on improving self-esteem. Being active and socializing with positive people can also help. It is important for people not to isolate themselves which may encourage depression and stress. By participating in positive activities and meeting new people, a person can make strides towards re-establishing his or her self-esteem and confidence.

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