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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)
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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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