How to Respond to Verbal Abuse
You’ve probably heard this one before, especially as a child: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But the truth is words can wound. Words can become weapons. And can sometimes inflict more pain than actual weapons. At least, longer-lasting pain: emotional pain.
Verbal abuse can be defined as the systematic, ongoing use of harmful words or sharp tones in an attempt to control another person. Emotional abuse, then, is the unseen result of verbal abuse as well as all the other types of abuse – physical, mental, sexual and even spiritual abuse.
Here are some ways on how to respond to verbal abuse:
1) How to Respond to Verbal Abuse: Clearly state what you are willing to accept and are not willing to accept from the abuser.
Communicate clearly, concisely, and using positive terms. You don’t have to justify or apologize. Just simply state your boundaries.
For example, “I want our relationship to continue, but I will not listen to name-calling or constant accusations.”
2) How to Respond to Verbal Abuse: Clearly state the consequence(s) if the abuser crosses your boundaries.
Consequences or repercussions can include disengaging or distancing yourself from the person who is being verbally abusive. Remember: you can’t change the abuser, but you can change other things: you can physically remove yourself from the situation and therefore from constant exposure to verbal abuse.
For example, you can say something like, “I want to be with you, but if you call me names again, I will leave for (a specific amount of time).” Or, “I will end this conversation if you continue to make those accusations.”
3) How to Respond to Verbal Abuse: Be consistent. Be sure to “enforce” the consequence every single time the verbal abuse occurs.
Stick to your guns and don’t bluff. The abuser needs to know that you will follow through consistently. Be prepared to be tested a lot. There’s a good chance your abuser will eventually stop but, only after the verbal abuse proves to be ineffective.
4) How to Respond to Verbal Abuse: Absolutely do not negotiate.
Since abusers do not use words fairly, negotiation will not work. Instead of “talking out” the problem, your abuser will try to wear you down. Therefore, state that when the negative behavior stops, you look forward to renewing your relationship.
For example, “I’m not willing to discuss this anymore. I’ve stated clearly what I won’t accept. When you’re ready to respect my requests, let me know. I look forward to being together at that time.”
Be brief and to the point.
5) How to Respond to Verbal Abuse: Don’t react when your boundary is violated – only respond.
Expect your boundary to be violated again and again but don’t react. This is easier said than done. If you react, you will find yourself back under the abuser’s control. Respond by detaching yourself from them and enforcing your repercussions.
Expect your abuser to be manipulative. Don’t cry. Don’t beg. Don’t explode. Expect your abuser to have emotional ups and downs. Expect your abuser to be angry with the boundary you have set. But don’t compromise to make them happy – it won’t work.
6) How to Respond to Verbal Abuse: Get support from your trusted friends who can also be objective.
Include supporters as you analyze the problem, formulate your plan and enforce the repercussions. Trusted individuals – friends, mentors, counselors – can help you through this critical period.
And, if the verbal abuse continues, get out of the relationship. Even if this relationship is with a family member, you have the right to distance yourself from this person if, after you have told them about your boundaries and they continue to violate them. You have the right to be surrounded by only people who treat you with respect and who support you.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an abusive relationship, substance abuse, or addiction please call toll-free 1-888-672-4435.