Advertising
Advertising

Are You In a Verbally Abusive Relationship? (And What to Do About It)

Are You In a Verbally Abusive Relationship? (And What to Do About It)

“Shut up!!”“Don’t be so lazy!!”“What’s wrong with you?”

These types of phrases frequently come out of people’s mouths every day. So, is there really anything wrong with saying them? I mean, we have all said some of these things ourselves – or at very least had these thoughts.

But is it verbal abuse?

It depends.

You might think it’s obvious if you’re being a victim of a verbally abusive relationship. It may be to some people, but others may not recognize it.

For example, if you grew up with parents who talked to you (and each other) respectfully, then you will probably be able to spot verbal abuse a mile away. I’m like that. I don’t even like if someone slightly raises their voice to me. I will politely call them out on it and ask them to calm down.

However, if you grew up in a family where there was a lot of yelling, fighting, and screaming, then you might not be able to recognize verbal abuse when you see it.

Why would that be? It’s because that pattern of communication is “normal” to you. It’s your comfort zone. It’s what you grew up with, so it’s all you know.

But just because it’s familiar to you, that doesn’t make it right. Verbal abuse is NEVER justified in any situation.

Let’s start off by looking at some general characteristics of verbal abuse.

What is a verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse can basically be described as any communication event that causes emotional damage to at least one person. If this pattern continues, it has the power to seriously damage the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth. They may even begin to believe that what the abuser says about them is true.

While verbal abuse is always hurtful, it’s not always overt – like angry outbursts. Sometimes it is covert such as making very subtle negative comments here and there.

Above all else, verbal abuse is meant to manipulate and control the victim.

Advertising

Now that you know the definition of verbal abuse, let’s take a look at some examples so you can recognize it if it happens to you or someone else you know.

Examples of verbal abuse

Verbal abuse comes in many forms, and these are just a few examples.

1. “Teasing” and “joking”

This is one of the more covert tactics used by verbal abusers. It’s meant to confuse the victim.

For example, a man might call his wife his “big butterball” and say it with a smile on his face and a somewhat endearing tone – or perhaps even chuckling. What he’s really saying is that he thinks she’s fat. It’s a criticism disguised as a joke or teasing… but it’s not funny.

2. Trivializing

Let’s say you come home from work and tell the abuser that you had a bad day, and that your boss is being mean to you. They would tell you to get over it or call you a cry baby. They don’t take your feelings into account because they don’t find them important.

3. Diverting

Let’s say that you want to talk to someone about how to improve your relationship.

Normal people would sit and hear you out and respond appropriately. But a verbal abuser will divert the conversation to a topic that they want to talk about – not what you want to talk about. They are avoiding giving you the power to talk about what you want.

4. Judging and criticizing

If someone is always saying what you say or do is wrong, then that’s verbal abuse.

For example, maybe you just cleaned the whole house and you’re proud of yourself. An abuser would come home and find something you missed, like dusting or a spot on the floor. Or perhaps they criticize how you look or how you act. This is meant to tear down your self-esteem so they can control you.

5. Degrading

If you hear things like, “You should be grateful you found me, because you’re unlovable. No one would ever put up with your crap but me!” then that is degrading.

It’s making you think that you are lower than low – and that they are better than you.

6. Accusing

An abuser will accuse others of anything and everything. Maybe they are constantly suspecting you of cheating on them. Or that you told a lie. Or anything else for that matter.

They’re always finding ways to accuse other people of doing things that they might not even have done.

Advertising

7. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a purposeful tactic that is done to manipulate and brainwash someone into doubting their own sanity. When this occurs over time, it affects their self-identity and perception.

For example, they might say things like, “Why are you making this up?” or “It’s all in your head” or “You never said that.” They make you question yourself so they can gain the power and the upper hand.

8. Name-calling

If you hear someone call you bad names such as “loser,” “lazy,” “sloppy,” or even the “b” or “c” word, then that’s not okay.

Even if someone is lazy, that doesn’t mean you have to call them lazy. Calling someone bad names is NEVER acceptable.

9. Disregards your opinions and ideas

When you share an idea or an opinion, a verbal abuser will just shoot it down and disregard it.

Even if it’s something like “Hey I’d like to go to McDonald’s for lunch because I’ve been craving a Big Mac.” An abuser would tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t go there and have it. They’ll make your ideas seem ludicrous and make you second-guess yourself.

10. Swearing at you

Sure, most people use swear words. But normal people don’t make a habit out of slewing a ton of profanities your way on a regular basis.

If someone is constantly using swear words with you, especially when combined with anger, then that is verbal abuse.

11. Pointing out your flaws and mistakes constantly

Maybe they say you’re too fat, or too skinny, or too dumb or too… well, anything.

If someone is constantly pointing out what is wrong with you, or what mistakes you have made in your life, then that is verbal abuse.

We all have flaws and have made mistakes, but no one needs to point them out on a regular basis.

12. Threats

Threats can come in all shapes and forms. It could be a threat to harm or hurt you – or even kill you. Or it could be a threat that they might harm or hurt themselves in order to manipulate you.

Threatening some undesirable action is an attempt to guilt, manipulate, and scare you into behaving how they want you to behave.

Advertising

13. Blaming

An abuser NEVER takes personal responsibility for anything. Instead, he or she places the blame on everyone and anyone other than themselves.

Even when it’s obvious that the abuser did something wrong, they will fight to the death to “prove” someone else it to blame, not themselves.

14. Ordering you around

Abusers need to have total control. Therefore, they typically are bossy and order their victims around.

They might limit how often you leave the house, or how many showers you can take per week. Or even something simple like what they want to have for dinner that night. If they are acting more like a parent to you, then this is verbal abuse.

What you can do if you’re being verbally abused

Your first instinct is probably to get the abuser to reason with you or to calm down. Unfortunately, this rarely works, so eventually you will have to stop trying to reason with them because they are just incapable of rational thought when they are abusing you.

Instead, you need to do the following things:

1. Call them out on their abusive behavior

For example, if they call you a “loser,” you need to respond with something like, “Calling me negative names is not helping this situation, so please stop. Besides I know I’m not a loser, so you can never convince me that I am.”

Here’s another example:

If you’re late getting home because of traffic, they might yell at you and call you names. In a situation like that, you should say, “Stop blaming me for something that I had no control over.”

Calling them out on their bad behavior takes away their power. Suddenly, they know you are on to them and recognize their manipulative tactics.

You see, verbal abusers like easy targets. So, if you just sit there and take the abuse, it will continue.

But if you tell them to stop, they won’t like it and will either have to try to change their behavior or go find someone else that they can verbally abuse – because you will no longer allow it.

2. Remove yourself from the situation

If you can leave, then leave. Go into your bedroom. Go for a drive. Go for a walk.

Advertising

Just get out of the situation and tell them that you won’t talk to them until they can talk calmly and respectfully to you.

3. Remove yourself from the relationship if at all possible

If all else fails, you might have to do this.

You know it’s time to really let to and move on when you experience these 21 things.

I know that’s not possible with certain relationships (such as a parent/child scenario), but it is with some. Sometimes that’s the only thing left to do. And then get help.

Final thoughts

As Dr. Phil always says:

“We teach people how to treat us.”

In other words, what we allow from other people will continue. If we allow them to treat us with disrespect, they will continue to do so.

But if we only tolerate respectful and peaceful treatment, then you won’t settle for anything less.

It all starts with self-love. You have to love and respect yourself enough to now allow abuse from another person. Here you can learn what to do to love yourself.

So, take a good look in the mirror, and promise yourself that you are better than this. You deserve to be happy.

Featured photo credit: Aliyah Jamous via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

7 Hidden Causes of Fatigue And Steps to Prevent Serious Health Damage 13 Things to Remember When Life Gets Rough Why It’s Okay to Hit the Wall and How to Overcome It Fast How to Become a Motivational Speaker (Step-By-Step Guide) 13 Signs of a Narcissistic Husband (And What to Do) 20 Reasons Why Relationships Fail (And How to Avoid It)

Trending in Social Animal

1 How to Use the Law of Reciprocity for Effective Persuasion 2 What Will Happen When You Surround Yourself With Positive People? 3 How to Surround Yourself With Positive People 4 How to Create Social Goals to Make an Impact in the World 5 The Lifehack Show: Improving Social Skills with Dr. Daniel Wendler

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

Advertising

1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

Advertising

3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

Advertising

It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

Advertising

Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next