The adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is probably a familiar one.

They are brave words that need adjustment. The truth is, words do hurt. Insults and sarcasm make up what experts call ‘verbal abuse‘. What is this form of abuse and what are its signs? More importantly, how would you cope with it if you are a victim?

What Is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse is more than just using foul language. It includes more severe forms of emotional harm, including put-downs, sarcasm and cutting remarks disguised as jokes. The aim of using these words is to disrespect people and remove their power.

Abusive words include, but are not limited to recounts of a person’s past mistakes. They also involve expressing negative expectations, such as saying that he or she will not amount to anything in life.

Such language may also include yelling and threatening violence against others. Of course, it features a fair amount of name-calling and insults as well. Verbal abuse might also involve what a person does not say. By definition, withholding necessary information from a person, knowing that doing so will cause harm is abusive.

Offensive language, as you may expect, includes ordering people around, often with threats. Abusive people often make references to death and may threaten others with it.

Signs of Verbal Abuse

This type of abuse is not easy to define since it’s hard to document legally. Many victims don’t report it to the police for fear of embarrassment or repercussions. That said, you can tell when a person has become verbally abusive.

1. You feel threatened during disagreements

First of all, conflicts are bound to surface in any relationship. Small quarrels will erupt now and then, and these are normal. However, they have become abusive if you feel threatened or fear an aggressive reaction from your loved one.

2. You hear of past mistreatment

You may hear from your partner’s ex or relatives that he or she has abused them before. If this is the case, take the accusations seriously, because people will not usually make up stories about such an uncomfortable subject.

3. You feel imprisoned

Once in a while, our other halves will express displeasure about the time we spend on activities or with our friends. In healthy relationships, people express such concerns openly and consider feelings. Conversely, you will fear aggressive or even violent verbal backlash from your partner if you are in an abusive relationship.

4. Your loved one is unpredictable

Furthermore, you will feel on edge when you are with your partner because you never know when he or she will fly into a rage. Often, abusers will behave charmingly in front of others while hurling abusive words in private.

5. You feel belittled

Another way to tell if you are in a verbally abusive relationship is if you feel worthless after your loved one talks to you. Verbal abusers have a knack for making their victims feel inferior. It’s their way of establishing power in the relationship.

The Long-Lasting Effects

Words cannot break bones, but they can harm a person’s spirit. The effects of verbal abuse are far-reaching. You are probably a victim of it if you had any of these experiences.

Verbal abuse can cause a victim to fear to make decisions. Victims may lack enthusiasm and understanding. They feel petrified of coming across the wrong way, lest they anger their abusers. Victims may wonder if they have done anything to deserve the abuse. They also live in the future and hope that everything will return to normal after the fact.

These consequences are subtle but dangerous. They are not obvious at first. You may feel as though something’s wrong with the way you interact with your loved one, but it’s hard to pinpoint the problem. The effects may become apparent later when the symptoms begin to mirror anxiety. Often, counselors will treat the symptoms of abuse, but fail to deal with its cause.

A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine showed that postmenopausal women exposed to verbal abuse tended to develop depressive symptoms.

Coping with Verbal Abuse

The only way to control verbal abuse in marriage or other relationships is to change the way you respond to it.

First of all, like other victims, you may have the incorrect responses in emotionally charged situations. Understandably, you will consider your negative feelings towards the event. You may not think about your beliefs. “Look, there he is controlling me again. If you start to feel that you are in control of yourself and your reactions, you will respond constructively to a verbal argument.

It is also helpful to tell healthy and unhealthy negative emotions apart. Healthy ones will spur you into decisive action. For example, no one feels happy about receiving abuse, and that is healthy. Therefore, it should prompt you to speak to a counselor or decide what to do about your relationship. Unhealthy negative emotions, conversely, will cause you to engage in unproductive or even harmful behaviors.

Then, set personal boundaries. Know what kinds of behaviors you will accept and which you won’t. Doing this helps to protect you from emotional harm. Also, seek support. Friends will help you stay clear-minded when a loved one turns verbally abusive.

Finally, consider that the abuser may not realize his behavior. People get carried away in emotionally charged situations. The easiest way to stop a verbal barrage is to say ‘stop that.’

Recognizing the signs and effects of verbal abuse may help to stop it. Also, developing coping mechanisms will help you deal with it in a healthy, constructive way.

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