Verbal abuse is one of the most dangerous types of abuse, leaving lasting emotional damage and having the potential of turning into physical violence on victims in unhealthy relationships without the means of leaving or seeking legal help. Rather than discussing a form of abuse with no obvious damage, the media prefers to show physical abuse. Physical abuse is a dangerous problem in today’s society, leaving bruises and devastation. Its less frequently mentioned cousin, verbal abuse, is also hazardous, leaving fear and low self-esteem, among other things. Since this abuse is less frequently mentioned, it’s often not seen as a problem. However, according to Julia Daniliuk, in a 2005 survey of 35,000 people, 89% of women claimed to have been subject to verbal abuse. (Daniliuk) If that shocking statistic isn’t enough to prove this is a problem, the effects of this abuse are detrimental, especially to children, as children tend to be impressionable. Julia Daniliuk also said, “If insults are repeated constantly, the child starts to believe they are sound and blames themselves.” (Daniliuk)
Even though verbal abuse is commonly seen as harmless, this type of abuse can turn into physical abuse without any warning. Not every instance of verbal abuse turns into physical abuse, but Julia Daniliuk says, “in many cases, verbal abuse is a precursor to and in conjunction with physical abuse.” (Daniliuk) Verbal abuse, like any form of abuse, is about control. The abuser wants to feel as though they have complete power over the victim. Using manipulation tactics while at the same time being physically abusive gives them more power. They will say things like, ‘’It’s your fault I act this way! I know you want to hurt me!’ And ‘I love you! I’m sorry! Let me get a cloth for your bloody nose.’’ (Healthy Place) These phrases and others similar to them make the victim feel guilty, or as though the abuse is their fault. The truth of the matter is, the abuser chooses to act this way, and it is never justified.
It’s easy for one to ignore all warning signs of an unhealthy relationship when in love. Although, that lack of awareness doesn’t mean the relationship is necessarily healthy. Unhealthy relationships cause anxiety and confusion. Some warning signs of these particular relationships are intensity, jealousy, manipulation, isolation, sabotage, belittling, and betrayal. These behaviors lead to rushing the pace of the relationship, name-calling, lying, and even stalking. (One Love Foundation) Another sign of an unhealthy relationship is the sort of arguments had by those in the relationship. Unhealthy arguments can lead to verbal abuse. Some aspects of unhealthy arguments include insults, frequent yelling or screaming, destruction of property, and blocking of exits. (Healthline)
Verbal abuse leaves lasting damage on victims’ mental and emotional health. It, of course, lead to anxiety and depression, but it also causes the victim to feel as though there is something wrong with them. They analyze every experience they had with the abuser to see what they did wrong. They believe everything the abuser says and start to internalize all the insults and lose all confidence in themselves. (Healthy Place) Effects on children are similar but can be more intense. Additionally, Julia Daniliuk mentions, “researches show that mere exposure to domestic violence or conflict can be as harmful to children as abusing them directly.” (Daniliuk) Verbally abused children often feel lonely or depressed, and may have problems sleeping, focusing, and controlling their anger. They might also develop substance abuse and social problems later on. (Healthy Place)
Because abuse is about control, leaving an abusive relationship can be the most difficult part for a victim. Sometimes, the victim doesn’t want to leave, nor do they necessarily want the relationship to be over. They usually still love the abuser. That’s one reason victims stay in abusive situations. Some other reasons for staying are a lack of money, shame, religious reasons, low self-esteem, or, in LGBTQ+ relationships, the fear of being outed. (The National Domestic Abuse Hotline) Verbal abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships is even less common in the media than the same kind of abuse in heterosexual relationships. The tactics of abuse vary, but some are common ones are telling the victim no one will help them or they deserve the abuse because they’re queer. (The National Domestic Abuse Hotline) Outside sources, such as friends or family, who notice abnormalities in a loved one’s relationship should talk to the victim to help them out of this unfortunate situation. The conversation should be calm and supportive, using positive words to explain the unhealthy behavior that has been noticed. While it is important to let the victim decide how to handle leaving the relationship, it is more important to call the authorities if they are in immediate danger. (One Love Foundation)
Even though “more and more states have criminalized emotional abuse,” it’s not easy to prove. (Coble) In a civil lawsuit, the victim has to be able to prove the abuser intentionally inflicted emotional distress. “To have a successful claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a person must prove three elements: extreme or outrageous conduct, the conduct was intentional or reckless, and the conduct caused severe emotional distress,” states Christopher Coble in an article published by Find Law. (Coble) Evidence is important in every court case. For verbal and emotional abuse, the amount of proof is generally minimal, as there are no scars or black eyes. However, for a victim planning to sue their abuser, they might consider writing down each encounter with details. They could also acquire as many other people to verify their stories as possible, such as people who witnessed some aggression, or those who the victim confided in. These descriptions and witnesses could make a difference. (Domestic Shelters) The laws on abuse vary by state. For example, the Florida statutes don’t include verbal or emotional abuse, whereas California laws do. (Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, California Courts)
The important thing to remember about abuse is it’s never the victim’s fault. According to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, “Abuse is a learned behavior… However, abuse is a choice, and it’s not one that anyone has to make. Many people who experience or witness abuse growing up decide not to use those negative and hurtful ways of behaving in their own relationships.” (The National Domestic Abuse Hotline) This doesn’t mean this form of abuse is uncommon, though. “In the U.S., more than 26% of teenage girls report repeated verbal abuse,” reports Julia Daniliuk. (Daniliuk) Abusive behavior may come as a surprise to the victim, or it may have been suspected from the occurrence of unhealthy behaviors or arguments. Either way, it’s unjustifiably damaging, and, although it may be hard, it is in the victim’s best interest to leave as soon as possible.