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The Silent, Incideous Nature of Abuse

The Silent, Insidious Nature of Verbal Abuse

"When I grow up, I will never be like them..." How many remember thinking that way as a child? Not only is verbal and emotional abuse invisible with no obviously broken bones to speak of, but it takes over slowly, surely, and silently. Victims of childhood verbal abuse don't recognize either the extent of their own abusive behavior or the extent of abuse they are comfortable tolerating. This is why abusive behavior is passed on from generation to generation. The only way to end the heritage is to fix it in the self before we damage those we love. Thank you Edward for sharing your keen insights.  -Dr. Irene

Sent: Friday, October 08, 1999 12:02 AM
Subject: Here's my story

I visited your site for the first time about 2 weeks ago and did I learn a lot. For the first time, I fully realized that I grew up in a verbally abusive household, as well as carried many of these traits into the beginning of my own marriage.
At this point, people are probably saying, "How could you not realize that you grew up in an abusive household?" Because verbal abuse is different, and in some ways more dangerous, than other forms of abuse. Physical abuse, not to say that it is easier or not as bad as verbal abuse, is an attack on a physical body. Verbal abuse is an attack on your soul, the very person that you are. Often growing up, we were told that we were "too sensitive", or that we were "crazy" for feeling hurt. But are feelings are the core of who we are, the very essence of our being, So to attack, and then dismiss someone's feelings is to dismiss that person on a very deep level.

So we were told, and taught, that our feelings were wrong. "Normal" people acted like my father (critical, never anything nice to say, etc.), and we were too sensitive to know that.

Also, if he was verbally abusive, what about all the good things he does? He is there for us when we need him, although he will complain about it. (Yes, I see now that this is a form of abuse. Instead of just being there, it must in some form become an attack on us.) He does good things, and good acts. This never fit into what I believed was a profile of an abuser. If they were an abuser, they would be "all bad".

But this is not necessarily true. People are complex beings. Just because one side of their personality is unhealthy, doesn't mean that they are all bad. But at the same time, just because someone does good, doesn't give them the right to be abusive.

My mother taught us from an early age that, "This is how he is. He isn't going to change, you need to learn to deal with it". But as children, this teaches us that our emotions are wrong, or cant be trusted. Plus, why would we want to even have feelings if they are just going to get trampled.

If we wrote a story, or drew a picture or even mentioned how much we liked something, in return we would get a "joke", such as, "That's pretty good. Can you try making one with your eyes open?", or " Hey, why don't you let the dog walk over that painting? He could do it just as well." Later, if we had the courage to confront the situation, we were told by him, or by mom, that "we were too sensitive, it was just a joke".

So we learned that support was not forthcoming, and if it was it would be splattered with comments that were hurtful. A few of the end results were that we learned to shut off our emotions when something was dear to us, for fear of being cut down.
Verbal abuse is not always name calling, because name calling is not always necessary. The goal of the abuser is to stop emotional growth in ways that are threatening to the abuser. It is emotional manipulation. In my case, my father was smart enough to know that name calling wasn't needed, or that name calling would have crossed a line that my mother wouldn't have allowed. But she did allow the other forms of verbal abuse, so aside from being a victim, she was also an enabler. She helped set the boundaries in which the abuse was allowed to happen.

 So this is what we were taught was "normal", or not outside the norm. This is how people, and families, interacted. At this point, you might ask," but obviously you knew other families, didn't you see how they interacted?" Yes, but unhealthy and healthy don't mix. They are like oil and water. Unhealthy people associate with unhealthy people, healthy associate with healthy. But if we did know anyone healthy, THEY seemed unhealthy. "What's wrong with those people, so worried about everybody's feelings'".

From the time I was little, I swore I would never be like that, or that I would never allow myself to be like that. Well guess what? Yes, it happened. And it happened when I wasn't paying attention. I guess you operate within the parameters in which you were taught. So I started operating within these parameters. This is what seemed "normal" to me. But the point is, I changed. And I changed almost in spite of myself. Up until I visited this site, I might never had realized that my illness was verbal abuse. I knew I was acting in an unhealthy manner, and I wasn't acting in a manner that was my true self. I was acting within a system that I was taught even though it went against everything I wanted for myself. I was acting in the manner that I was taught was "normal".

 How did it change? I'm still not sure. All I know for sure is that the strain it put on my wife, and our relationship helped her reach a breaking point. And I got tired of running from myself, and trying to live to a set of expectations that were impossible to reach. I wanted to live for myself, and for MY rules, and be the person that God put inside me instead of the person that I was trained to be. I got tired of feeling that my emotions and ideas had no value.

And I learned there were people I could trust with my feelings. And when I allowed myself to trust them, I could be free to be myself. There have been people who have abused that trust. Did it hurt. Yes, but not like I thought it would. My feelings and emotions  are correct, and if someone else doesn't see or respect that, it is not reinforcement of what I was taught. It is their lack of respect. As my self-worth improved, I realized it was their lack of health, or their inability to handle the gift of my trust, that violated that trust. It was NOT because my feelings were incorrect. So now I move on, and associate with people who do see respect my feelings.  

So how is my relationship with my father and the rest of the family? Tense. For the last few years, it has gotten more & more tense (as I have gotten healthier, the things we do seem more and more foreign to each other) But that is where it should be. By learning to operate outside their system, I think I threaten their system.

If you had asked me until recently if my father or myself carry traits of verbal abuse, I would honestly have thought "no". But after visiting your site, I realize I was wrong.