10 Myths About Verbal Abuse

Closeup of an angry man staring at the camera.

How many of us grew up hearing the quote, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?”

It is at this stage in life that we learn an misleading lesson so to speak. Saying that words don’t hurt us is not responsible or empathic. Saying that sticks and stones can break bones gives the impression then that one should be grateful that all they experienced were some mean or cruel words. This is a very misleading thing for a child to believe.

And, the reality of that little saying hurled at a child is that it invalidates his or her feelings. It tells a child that while they feel hurt by something verbal that really isn’t valid and they need to just get over it.

That attitude, along with growing up in homes where a parent or both parents yell, scream, threaten, or use words as weapons – are verbally abusive – lays the foundation for so many to become adults who verbally abuse others. It also lays a foundation for many to end up with verbally abusive partners and not realize that not only is it actual significant abuse, but how they feel and how hurt they are is valid and that they do not deserve to be treated that way.

Verbal abuse has become so common for so many that victims can take years to finally question the way they are treated when they are being constantly verbally abused. It is then difficult, especially after so long, for the victim, whose self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence have been beaten down for so long to believe that they do not deserve the abuse that they have been subject to and to feel helpless in the face of it and hopeless about escaping it or insisting it stops.

verbal abuse is insidious. It is proliferating. It is damaging and dangerous. It wounds and has tremendous emotional impact for those who are the victims of it. verbal abuse leaves so many of its victims confused and insecure. It results in them not even easily being able to identify that they are in fact being verbally abused. There are so many myths about what verbal abuse is, what causes it and whose fault it is.

The Myths About Verbal Abuse

1. Sticks and stones break bones but words don’t hurt
2. Verbal Abuse is no big deal – it doesn’t hurt
3. The target of the abuse deserved it
4. It was the victim’s fault for disagreeing with the abuser
5. The target of the abuse made the abuser mad
6. That verbal abuse is less impacting than physical abuse
7. Verbal abuse only involved name-calling or yelling
8. That it is not as abusive as hitting someone
9. The abuser doesn’t really mean it – can’t help it – he/she really loves me
10. If only you would not do this or that – if only you would change all would be well

The Truth About The Myths of Verbal Abuse

1) Sticks and stones break bones but words don’t hurt

This dismissive lack of empathy response is a negation of the reality that hurt feeling not only result from harsh and cruel words but that they do in fact hurt. In some cases they hurt more than a stick or stone ever could. It is often not just about the words hurled abusively but also about who the abuser hurling those words is. If is it a parent that one needs to trust and depend upon for love and support, the result can be an experience of abandonment and betrayal.

2) Verbal Abuse is no big deal – it doesn’t hurt

Abuse leaves people doubting their own feelings. Part of the most destructive way that it is painful and damaging has to do with the way in which it threatens to invalidate the reality of the victim. Verbal abuse is damaging to the victim’s mental health along with his or her self-esteem and self-worth.

3) The target (victim) of the abuse deserved it

The person who is the victim of verbal abuse never, under any circumstances, deserves it or causes it. If you are the victim of verbal abuse and you let someone down, forgot something, or have angered someone, or what have you, that does NOT matter. That happens in life. Each and every adult is responsible for managing his or her own feelings. Verbal abusers, as is the case with those who perpetrate other forms of abuse, try to hold you responsible for what they feel. Then they want to get you or pay you back for it. How your verbal abuser feels is NOT your responsibility. You can’t make him or her feel anything. They are out of control with how they end up feeling and they are responsible for that.

4) It is the victim’s fault for disagreeing with the abuser

It is never the victim’s fault – there is no excuse for verbal abuse. No one deserves verbal abuse. There is nothing that the victim does that warrants or justifies verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is an aggression and an emotional violation.

5) The target of the abuse made the abuser mad

Whether or not the abuser got hurt or angry the point is that the abuser has to be responsible for his/her feelings and act appropriately. Abusers notoriously think that their poor choices and inability to take responsibility for their choices is someone else’s fault. That is not true at all. It is the abusers responsibility.

6) Verbal abuse is less impacting than physical abuse

Verbal abuse hurts. It is damaging. It is an element of emotional abuse – Verbal abuse is emotional battering. The verbal abuser bruises his or her victims – emotionally – in a way that hurts just as much, if not more, than actual physical bruises inflicted by the physical batterer. Being verbally abused is being abused. It is not a matter of having been done a favour because your partner or boy/girlfriend didn’t hit you.

7) Verbal abuse only involves name-calling or yelling

Verbal abuse is more than only name-calling or yelling and screaming. It is using words to intimidate or control. It involves threats, put-downs, and making fun of someone – even if it is couched in a joke and you are cajoled into joining in. Verbal abuse is any language used to demean, criticize, tear-down, make fun of, embarrass or otherwise intimidate or control another human being.

8) That it is not as abusive as hitting someone

Verbal abuse, in a comparative way is just as painful and debilitating emotionally, if not more so than physical abuse. As is the case for the victim of physical abuse who walks on egg shells and tries not to upset his or her abuser, the same is true for the victim of verbal abuse.. Many victims of both physical and verbal abuse report that the physical bruises heal a significant amount faster than do the emotional bruises of the verbal batterer.

9) The abuser doesn’t really mean it – can’t help it – he/she really loves me

Many who have Borderline Personality Disorder can be verbally abusive as are those with other personality disorders. Often verbal abuse has its roots in a legacy of abuse experienced in dysfunctional families. It also has its roots in many of the experiences of those who have personality disorders. It doesn’t just come out of nowhere.

The verbal abuser, if confronted about or called on his or her abusive behaviour more often than not will say and even believe that they didn’t really mean it and that they just couldn’t help saying what they did. They will say that said what they did because they were just so angry, they were tired, they felt pushed, they were being bugged by the victim, they felt criticized and on and on.

They may even not recognize that how they are using their words, and/or the volume at which they are yelling and screaming, and/or the hate and/or malice with which they are raging is even a problem. They may say, “Come on, you know me, I love you. I didn’t mean it. I just can’t help it.” They may claim to have a medical problem, or blame it on a medical problem, a hormone problem and what have you. What you need to pay attention to is the fact and reality of the verbal abuse – it is abuse. It is not love. It is meant. It is chosen. It is not okay. It is not safe. It can be a red flag that the verbal abuse could escalate to other forms of abuse.

When people share healthy love they do not scream at each other or threaten or intimidate of use words to tear down their partner. Abuse is not love. And watch out for the “It’s because I love you and care about you so much Baby, I get so concerned for you and I really need you to hear me.” type of defense. Control is often disguised as “caring or loving so much, or too much.”

10) If only you would not do this or that – if only you would change all would be well

Verbal abusers, like physical abusers, emotional abusers, and the like, will often tell their victims that if they would just change this or that – if they, the victims would change – everything would be well, fine and they wouldn’t have to violate with their violent verbiage. Hog wash. Don’t let someone say, “If you would just lose some weight” “You know I hate it when you talk when the game is on” “I just got home from work and I work hard and I deserve things my way” “Why do you want to see your friends, aren’t I enough for you” and things of this nature and believe that their verbal eruptions are caused by you.

It is the verbal abuser that needs to grow up, take responsibility for his/her behaviour and change – not you.

You are responsible for your behaviour and words too but no one has the right to abuse someone else because they aren’t agreeing with them, doing everything they want, or because they don’t get their own way. No one has the right to verbally abuse and/or abuse someone else for any reason whatsoever.

© A.J. Mahari 2007 – All rights reserved.

A.J. Mahari lives in Ontario, Canada. She is an Author, Speaker, Counselor, Life Coach, BPD/Loved Ones Coach, NPD/Loved Ones Coach, Mental Health Coach, and Self-Improvement Coach. She has been described by many as an insightful and astute student of life’s ups and downs. A.J. is a Mental Health Professional. A.J. writes from her own life experience, education and over 20 years of experience working with clients with Personality Disorders or the Loved Ones of those with them. You can purchase any of A.J.'s 35+ Ebooks or Written and Narrated 45+ Audio Programs or work with her as a your Counselor or Life Coach. She is a sexual abuse survivor and recovered from Borderline Personality Disorder many years ago. She is also an adult living with (“high functioning”) Asperger's Syndrome.

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