6 steps you can use to cope with verbal abuse


Facing verbal abuse from your spouse/partner? Here are 6 steps you can use to immediately start dealing with an abusive relationship.

Suraj and Rita have been happily married for 4 years now. The first few months of their marriage was blessed with happiness and bliss. Initially, they did show some respect and understanding towards each other. However, this came to be short lived, as Rita soon started noticing how Suraj used abusive language and words whenever things didn’t go his way. It made Rita feel miserable and upset but the usual pattern of Suraj apologizing and continuing to say he loved her, left Rita perplexed. She felt it was her duty as a wife to forgive him after a ‘silly’ bout of his abusive nature. Her heart always fought with her mind saying, ‘everyone has flaws. Sometimes they can’t control their behavior when they are stressed. After all he does love me and does make it a point to apologize once he realizes his mistakes.’ However, not only did Suraj’s erratic behavior continue, he started to get worse. Rita found herself being verbally abused for trivial matters and sometimes even in the presence of other people. With more time, Suraj stopped apologizing or singing songs of love. Rita became depressed, wounded and didn’t know how to handle this situation anymore. She felt weak and threatened. She kept hoping for her husband’s behavior to change.

What you see between Suraj and Rita is one of the forms of verbal abuse. Verbal abuse itself is a type of an emotional abuse that is very common amongst married couples in India. It is at times tough for the victims to understand the intensity of abuse by their spouse or partner. Use of abusive language in casual conversations can be really painful. Sometimes the victim doesn’t even recognize this abusive habit as horrible treatment or abuse because there is no sign of physical hurt. Instead, it starts leading to more arguments and misunderstandings and hurts the relationship as well. Initially, when Rita was living in denial, she started dealing with stress constantly, on a regular basis, leading to more severe issues such as depression and stress disorders. Also, these arguments and abusive habits escalated to another level and if Rita had not approached the counsellor it might have intensified.

Counsellors speak: What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse

According to Dr. Nisha Khanna, a marriage and family counsellor in Delhi, “Emotional abuse is a regular pattern of threat, constant criticism, and manipulation to control and suppress the other person. It doesn’t always lead to physical abuse but equally harmful as Physical Abuse. It is extremely damaging for your self-esteem and confidence. Any relationship can be emotionally abusive like parent-child, siblings, friendship, intimate relationship (boyfriend-girlfriend) and husband-wife relationship. The most common emotionally abusive relationship is of husband and wife.”

Many have misunderstood verbal abuse, as ‘abuse’ as a term mostly gets associated with physical or domestic violence. Also, in India, unless you are physically hurt or have a visible bruise, people believe that you are not really hurt. However, verbal abuse that includes ‘verbal aggression even in a non-verbal form’ is quite damaging and can affect or harm us in many ways leading to tremendous emotional trauma.

6 steps to cope with verbal abuse

In an article online, Dr Vandana Mathur, a psychologist, says, “Although physical abuse is thought to be the most obvious form of abuse, emotional abuse has the potential to be even more devastating than physical abuse. This is because it is hard to prove and, thus, difficult to stop. Emotional abuse can include anything from verbal abuse and constant criticism to more subtle tactics like repeated disapproval. Emotional abuse can have serious physical and psychological consequences, including severe depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, isolation from others, increased alcohol or drug use, emotional instability, sleep disturbances, physical complaints, extreme dependence and feelings of shame and self-blame”

The nature of verbal abuse includes any language or behavior that has the intention to force the sufferer to distrust his or her views or potential. There are many forms and indicators of verbal abuse, some being, words (‘yelling’ abusive words), body language (showing someone the middle finger) or behavior (giving the silent treatment) that causes immense emotional hurt, distress and grief to the one being abused. It ends up leaving the sufferer with emotional scars and pain. In case of verbal abuse between Suraj and Rita, harsh verbal treatment, a kind of verbal abuse, was used by Suraj to exercise authority and control over Rita, getting her to do as he pleased.

According to Sneha Jayagopal, psychotherapist at Askmile, “Verbal abuse in a marriage is typically about assuming power, control and assertion over a partner. An abusive partner can create a barrier in the relationship that prevent real feelings from getting talked about.”

Here are 6 steps you can use to immediately start dealing with a verbally abusive partner:

“Love alone is not enough to sustain a relationship. Trust, respect, intimacy and many more elements are important in equal measure to build a strong relationship.” Sneha Jayagopal, psychotherapist at Askmile.com.

As we can see Rita finds herself at a loose end post every abusive event because on one side her partner claims to love her dearly and on the other side he treats her miserably and doesn’t care about her feelings or the pain he has intentionally caused in those moments of abusive nature. Rita, instead tries to console her own self, trying to be more understanding, patient and kind, believing these abusive outbursts by her spouse as ‘silly stressful bouts’.

However, here are 6 steps that can be used by sufferers like Rita to immediately address such a situation like this and allow it to not escalate.

1. Changing personal beliefs about the abusive traits of the partner:

handling abuse

Abuse is an abuse – it is not a silly stressful bout. It needs to be taken very seriously. No relationship exists without respect. Using abusive words or body language, no matter how stressed or difficult the day goes for your partner – is a sign of contempt. So this belief of ‘he loves me’ and thus can be excused for sometimes being abusive and treating you horribly is a wrong notion. First and foremost, you need to starting changing this thought.

According to Sneha, “In such a situation you need to let your partner know how much the abusive behaviour is hurting you and the relationship as well. You need to address the issue rather than justifying it. Conveying how you feel about your partner’s behavior and how it is not okay for her/him to behave this way is important. Your partner needs to know that the abusive behaviour takes something away from the relationship. “

6 steps to coping with verbal abuse

2. Recognizing and accepting abuse as an ‘unhealthy’ behaviour

Once you have started to believe differently about verbal abuse, you need to understand how it’s been affecting you in every way.

It is essential for the partner and the partner being abused to accept that constant verbal abuse is an unhealthy pattern. Relationship is supposed to offer each other that respect and understanding to heal from pain and not continue to inflict it. Repeat this to yourself several times. The more you start accepting this, the easier it will get to deal with a person who writes love poems for you but treats you awfully.

Clinging on to a verbally abusive relationship creates constant unhealthy emotions – it can be damaging for the partner as well as the relationship.

3. Address the abusive behavior at that very moment

As soon as you notice a change in your partner’s behaviour and you find them to be intimidating or upsetting you need to address it then and there. You should not allow a room for verbal abuse to be created. According to Sneha, ”Unless you take the initiative and address any kind of verbal abuse as a problem, your partner won’t know it is a problem. You need to be the one to bring this into light rather than being silent and waiting for the change to happen.”

The longer you wait, the more your partner is going to take you for granted. The only way to get him to stop is by an immediate reaction at the time or moment of abuse. If you need to use the words “STOP IT” or “NO”, then use it.

4. Set personal parameters for yourself:

coping with abuse

Setting personal parameters of how you want to be treated in any relationship is important. You should be aware of what is personally acceptable to you and what is not. This parameter is very personal and can be different for different people. What you feel you need from a relationship or how you exactly want from a partner to be can be completely different from how your friend wishes to be treated. So if your friend is okay with a silent treatment the spouse or a colleague is exercising, you do not need to force yourself to be okay with the same behaviour being inflicted by any relationship in your life.

By creating these personal boundaries you are aware of when those boundaries are being crossed by anyone in your life and it’s a signal for you to address the situation immediately.

5. Set boundaries in a relationship:

curtailing verbal abuse

One of the most important ways to deal with this kind of an abusive relationship is to draw personal boundaries in a relationship itself and parameters of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour by your partner/spouse. What you must remember is you shouldn’t hand out abuse and neither should you allow to be abused by your partner.

You need to let your partner know that you will not accept this kind of behaviour. Say for instant, if you find yourself at the receiving end of verbal abuse and you realize that the conversation is going out of control – please call it time-out. The whole idea here is to ‘remove yourself’ from the toxic environment and take control of the situation.

6. Get the right kind of support:

Dealing with verbal abuse

Humans, being one of the most compromising souls walking this planet, you might come across friends or colleagues who will ask you to stick it out. They will have their own personal reasons for coming up with such suggestions. If a friend or a family member is okay with you being treated horribly and seeing you wounded and traumatized, then please remember they are not the right support for you. They are not the ones going through the emotional trauma and pain. You must remember everyone doesn’t go through verbal abuse in a relationship and every situation/person is different.

If the support system doesn’t feel right, seek professional help. They can help you get control over this situation and handle it in the right way, one that is healthy and safe for you.

Last but not the least, you must realise that verbal abuse is serious problem. You cannot blame yourself for your spouse and partner’s behaviour. You can instead use these 6 steps mentioned above, the ones that you can connect with, to deal with an abusive relationship. Also, both you and your partner can get in touch with Askmile.com counsellors who can support you and help you find solutions to creating a healthier and more meaningful relationship, starting with a healthy relationship with your own self. Remember there are couples that go through similar situations, you are not alone and help is ALWAYS available.

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