Did you ever comment without realizing the impact of your words or reflected on something you’d said and wished you hadn’t said it? We’ve all been careless with words, at times. Unfortunately, the hurtful words hurled by the habitual verbal abuser is never an accidental slip of the tongue. It is an emotional assault that is as damaging as a physical assault.
In an eye-opening chapter in The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans, Evans identifies and defines 15 forms of verbal abuse: withholding, countering, discounting, verbal abuse disguised as jokes, blocking and diverting, accusing and blaming, judging and criticizing, trivializing, undermining, threatening, name-calling, forgetting, ordering (a form of control), denial, and abusive anger. Are you familiar with any of these forms of verbal abuse? If so, how many of the cited forms of verbal abuse have you personally experienced?
Two forms of verbal abuse—judging and criticizing or using silence to punish, shun, and cause pain—are subtle and harder to detect than other forms. A clue that someone is judging and criticizing you in an abusive manner is the use of “you” statements. Evans believes “Most “you” statements are judgmental, critical, and abusive.”
What is a “you statement?” One example of a “you” statement is when someone talks down to you and when you object, they respond with a comment such as “People don’t like you because you are argumentative.”
Silence is a covert form of verbal abuse in which the abuser refuses to communicate verbally in an attempt to punish the victim by withholding communication. The silent treatment often involves gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser makes the victim question his or her perception of the situation. A rising form of shunning is cancel-culture or call-out culture—the act of “erasing” people or companies for expressing opinions or perspectives that are offensive to an individual or group of people. It is important to point out that expressing an unpopular, opinionated, or unconventional statement IS NOT VERBAL ABUSE. On the other hand, shunning or threatening someone’s livelihood because they used offensive language or expressed a controversial, distasteful or opposing opinion IS ABUSE. Attempting to silence an individual by acting as the language police is an assault on his or her freedom of verbal expression.
Everyone deserves the right to express thoughts, ideas, and feelings as long as language or the withholding of verbal communication is not being used to intentionally demean or damage someone. A particularly demeaning and insulting form of verbal abuse on social media as well as in the home, school, and office, is name-calling. Verbal bullying occurs when abusers hurl insulting word grenades, such as “stupid” or “weird” to make their victims feel inferior, weak, and powerless. Name-calling bullies have an uncanny ability to zero in on their victim’s real or subjective flaws while remaining keenly unaware of their own.
Verbal abuse crosses over into spiritual abuse when it involves the belittling of a victim’s ethnicity and his or her cultural and religious beliefs and traditions. For example, a husband might use ethnic slurs to insult his wife or her relatives if his wife is of a different ethnicity. Consequently, she will begin to feel ashamed of her culture’s traditions and beliefs and her spirit will be crushed.
Name calling, or any other form of verbal abuse should never be tolerated. Tolerating disrespectful behavior enables the abuser—ensuring that the abuse continues. In my opinion, if speaking up and setting boundaries to put a halt to verbal abuse is not effective it’s best to walk away from the relationship. Why sustain an unhealthy relationship when your self-esteem is continually under attack?
The two articles listed below are a good starting point for understanding and combating verbal abuse and cancel culture.