Often I work with clients who are unaware that they are being verbally abusive. Many times it is overt … laughing while the spouse is talking. But, sometimes it is covert … giving the silent treatment.

We hear a lot about physical abuse. But, the subject of verbal abuse is often ignored. Abuse is defined as the oppression of one person over the other. This can be defined as “power over.” Power over kills the spirit. This type of power controls and dominates. On the other hand, personal power nourishes the spirit. This is exhibited by demonstrating mutual respect, trust, and empathy for your partner.

So what does verbal abuse look like? Well, in verbally abusive relationships inequality, competition, manipulation, hostility, control and negating are the common themes. Abusers feel powerless. So, often through manipulation, they find ways to get what they want either overtly or covertly.

Partly, because of their powerlessness, verbal abusers strive for dominance. They are unwilling to accept their partner as an equal. Therefore, they negate their partners’ perceptions, experiences, accomplishments, and even their hopes and dreams.

There are several forms of verbal abuse. I will define just a few. Besides name calling, verbal abuse includes: withholding, countering, discounting, making fun, blocking and diverting, accusing and blaming, and judging and criticizing.

Withholding often comes in the form of the “silent treatment.” Your accuser may punish you by refusing to talk to you. Your common response may be to try to engage him or her in a conversation or to defend yourself. This, as you know, does not solve the problem. Try ignoring them, keeping busy, or leaving the house for awhile.

Countering is when your accuser discounts you and puts you down. This is a very serious form of abuse. How should you respond to countering? Ask them to stop. Do not say anything else. When they tells you that your perception is wrong, it is as though they have stepped into your body and mind and then negated your experience. Remember that you have the right to feel what you feel and to think what you think.

Blocking and diverting takes place when you ask a question and your accuser blocks you from obtaining the answer. Such as, “Where were you last night?” And he or she responds with: “Why are you asking me this?” Or he or she changes the subject completely. It is imperative that you continue to patiently ask your question without getting sidetracked.

If your accuser tells you that you are trying to start a fight, that you are imagining things, twisting things around, or inaccurately telling the story, then you are being accused and blamed. Again, don’t try to defend or explain. That puts you in a child-like role. Calmly state to your accuser that their manner of speaking to you is unacceptable.

If you are being verbally abused, then you are most likely a victim of judgment and criticism. Do not buy into their perceptions. Your accuser is not a court of law, a Supreme Court justice, or God. Labeling you violates your boundaries. Remember, your accuser is not qualified to define who you are. Simply put: Do not engage.

Trust your own feelings and perceptions. Don’t blame yourself for the abuse. Set limits with your partner, seek a counselor, or join a self-help group. Most importantly, keep this in mind: You deserve to be treated with respect. It begins with you.

For more information regarding verbally abusive relationships, read, “The Verbally Abusive Relationship,” by Patricia Evans.

• Dr. Kristina Welker obtained her doctorate in psychology and is a licensed professional counselor, a life coach and member of the Ahwatukee Behavioral Health Network. Reach her at (480) 893-6767 or drkristinawelker@cox.net.

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