Verbal abuse is a specific type of emotional abuse. Most often, the aggression happens right at home. And victims are often not keen on reporting it because they think it’s the norm in their household. They rather keep the impact within themselves.
What is verbal abuse?
Verbal abuse, also known as name calling, exists in almost all societies. It occurs when words are used as weapons to attack another – where the victim is subjected to insults, racist or offensive remarks. Abuse also comes in the form of sexist or homophonic jokes and teasing using sexually suggestive or abusive language.
Sadly, it happens at the very place where you thought you are safest – at home! And the problem is that the victims are not keen on sharing their ordeal with outsiders for many varied reasons. One of which is that they view verbal aggression as a common thing in the household that everyone should accept. And so, they opt to keep the suffering within themselves.
Let’s take the case of Kate (not her real name).
Kate is a 12-year-old girl, whose mother left the family home when she was 4 years old. She stayed with her father, grandfather, and aunts. Her father and grandfather are foul-mouthed, cursing every now and then. Bad language is apparently part of their daily language.
At home, Kate constantly receives a lot of offensive remarks. She is scolded for every little mistake she makes. And even if those words were uttered matter-of-factly, they seemed to impact her in a negative way.
Over the years, Kate became withdrawn. The once cheerful and sociable kid that she was has turned into a loner. She has lost her self-esteem. Her teachers complained about her unwillingness to participate in class.
Kate’s deteriorating attitude started to become evident when she turned 9 years old.
Verbal abuse leaves scars
Clearly, those lashing out episodes at home takes a toll on the young Kate. She is just one of tens of thousands more who are suffering silently. Many victims of verbal abuse live in homes or environments where bad language is common. They have become accustomed to this kind of situation that they often consider it “normal”. They don’t see themselves as victims of abuse. Unfortunately, though, the impact runs deep into their subconscious.
Different studies have revealed that victims of verbal abuse are most likely to develop certain physical ailments in the long run, like chronic pain, migraine and frequent headaches, stammering, ulcers and several other stress-related heart problems.
Not only these!
Verbal abuse eventually etches a psychological mark on the victims. Most likely, they become highly prone to
- fear and anxiety
- stress and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- intrusive memories
- memory gap disorder
- sleep or eating problems
- hypervigilance and exaggerated startle responses
- anger issues
- alcohol and drug abuse
- assaultive behaviours
Name-calling is not a common thing of the present generation only or in a particular culture. Even Scripture constantly warned the ancient people to be careful in their use of words. In the Books of Proverbs and Psalms, Sirach emphasized that verbal abuse is tantamount to physical aggression. It can even be more lethal at times.
How does the verbal abuse issue concern you and me? Don’t say it’s none of your business, please! Since we belong to a community, you and I have the responsibility to help our neighbour and alleviate the victim’s situation. Here are some ways we can help the victims.
- Ask if something is wrong. Most often, you will notice some major personality changes in the victim. Don’t wait for the victim to come to you. He or she might be hesitant to speak up.
- Express your concern. But do not readily judge or condemn the abuser.
- Listen and validate the issue. But don’t pressure the victim to immediately speak up.
- Offer help, but do not give advice.
- Support the victim’s decision. Do not set conditions for your support.
Studies further show that verbally abused children of today are likely to turn abusers in the future.
So, let’s stop the vicious cycle before it would be too late. The best way we can do it is to start with ourselves, the adults. After all, it’s us that children look up to. You see, our tongue is like a two-edged sword. It can either make or break a person. Mark Kinzer says in his book,
“Careless words are a problem because they reflect a careless heart.”
If you are prone to speaking bad words, perhaps you can start bridling your tongue now. Save your own family member from verbal abuse.