Dealing With Verbal Abuse

It saps your energy, self-esteem and motivation.

It can be shouting or angry tirades, but it can also be:

  • passive-aggressive put-downs
  • outright insults (whether said quietly or with deliberate anger)
  • insinuations that you are somehow not good enough or don’t live up to someone’s else’s expectations
  • sneers
  • constant disagreements
  • being made fun of
  • sarcasm
  • blaming
  • shaming

Abuse is abuse. We need to look at it for what it really is, name it and learn how to protect and stand up for ourselves.

Or perhaps you’re like I was – trying to find the cure that would heal the hurt and put everything right.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you know exactly what I mean without reading any further.

The hardest part of the cure is going inside yourself to find out what makes you want to stay in a situation such as verbal (or emotional or physical) abuse.

What Are The Effects?

You walk on eggshells, only to be blamed by the other person for being: too aggressive, too difficult or _________ (fill in the blank). The list of things you could be accused of is limited only by the manipulator’s imagination.

It’s as if someone shoves you to the ground from behind, then blames you for being in their way.

You feel that whatever you say stands a good chance of being taken out of context and turned against you.

Don’t fall for the “you’re being judgmental” tactic. You are not imagining things nor are you being too harsh. Your anxiety is based upon evidence of what has happened so often in the past.

Maybe you’re derided, brushed off or belittled.

(I was made fun of for my taste in music: percussion – apparently that shows little musical sophistication in my sibling’s world, and sneered at for my favourite colour! Nothing is too trivial to escape the abuser’s barbs.)

You become so involved in wondering: “What did I do?” “Am I really so stupid?” “Why can’t there ever be a normal discussion with him/her”, that you no longer focus on your own growth and interests. It can feel like you don’t even know who you are anymore. You’re just an automaton reacting to what’s thrown at you.

When played out over a long time, or a lifetime in the case of family members, it takes every ounce of your strength to shore up your defenses and just get on with basic everyday responsibilities – work, household duties, groceries, etc. It’s emotional warfare and the other person is stronger and has the advantage because you have more empathy and cannot conscientiously act like that towards another person.

When a sibling is playing this game, you ask yourself over and over: “how can they be like this?” “I can’t believe we come from the same family”.

If it’s a partner, you ask yourself: “how did I not see this?” “maybe it is me, I didn’t have these problems in the beginning.”

An Example: Controlled Outbursts of Rage

If the narcissist feels you know more about a subject than they do, they will make sure to slap you down, no matter how inconsequential the topic you may be discussing.

The following is just one example:

A friend and I were sitting at lunch with my brother one time when he was in town on business.

We were explaining long distance phone cards for international calling. He said he had never heard of them.

My friend mentioned that they save a lot of money and can be found in several places. He insisted he had never heard or seen anything like it.

I repeated that they could be found here in many corner stores or drugstores; he then turned on me and savagely hissed, red in the face:

“Don’t you dare lecture me!”

I was shocked into silence. Believe me, I thought if I didn’t shut up he’d hit me.

My friend got up and left for the bathroom (maybe she thought that would give him a chance to apologize – or she just wanted to get out of the way).

I couldn’t figure out what I had said that was so horrific, that would merit such an enraged response.

I stuttered and stammered and then, I apologized.

At that second he was fine. Smiling, relaxed, as if nothing had happened. He had “won”.

In the meantime, I felt as though I had whiplash. What the f&ck just happened?

Make no mistake: he was livid with anger.

More precisely, it was a calculated, controlled outburst to put me in my place. He needed the upper hand, and this tactic works. It wasn’t the first time he had used it with me.

Predatory or instrumental aggression is very different. It’s not an instantaneous reaction, it’s a planned and deliberate initiative. It’s also not primarily prompted by fear, but rather fueled by desire. The mode of behavior is different, too. When a cat is on the prowl (e.g., spots a mouse), it keeps low to the ground, hair undisturbed, is quiet and careful. It remains as calm and collected as possible as it prepared to pounce on its prey. The intended victim never sees what’s coming. If it does, it’s usually after it’s too late. – Dr. George Simon (In Sheep’s Clothing)

I had not insulted him, teased him, raised my voice. (But even if that had been the case, his response was magnitudes more severe than anything I may have done.)

I had been conditioned to respond as I did, taking the blame and letting him off the hook.

If you have a narcissist or verbally abusive person in your life, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s one of many tactics they have in their arsenal to get their way.

They  are always innocent. Everyone else is the perpetrator, no matter how small or superficial an issue.

What you do will be blown out of proportion, their actions minimized.

You end up asking yourself: “Why do they act like that? What gives them the right? Can’t they see it’s inappropriate? Can’t they see we don’t act like that towards them?”

If you try and reason with them, explain yourself, you’re giving them more ammunition. It’s not a level playing field. They’re not after the same things you are.

You want a relationship.

They want to win.

They “most often have inflated self-esteem. Their inflated self-image is not a compensation for underlying feelings of inadequacy.” – Dr. George Simon, In Sheep’s Clothing

You are dealing with a very smart manipulator who only wants what they want when they want it, and if you don’t give in right away, they will mow you down.

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

When I finally had had enough (I was in my 50s – I know, took long enough) and broached the subject with him, he said, “yeah? Give me an example.”

Manipulators don’t expect you to actually come up with something on the spur of the moment. They count on you being caught off guard, and can then reply: “well, if it was so bad why can’t you think of anything?”

But when you are prepared with specific examples, it still won’t matter.

I recounted the above-described experience concerning the phone cards.

“And L___ was there also, remember? She heard what you said. That’s the type of thing I mean. It wasn’t the first time either.”

“You’re being too sensitive,” was the reply I received. “That’s just normal back and forth banter.”

He changed the subject, justified, rationalized and explained away his actions, while implying that I was the one who is too easily offended.

Finally I knew. Nothing I could say or do – other than take full responsibility again for his behavior, in essence blame myself for the abuse – would ever make a difference.

Narcissists expect you to take whatever rotten thing comes out of their mouths, and heaven help you if you manage to corner them with their inconsistencies or fabrications. If you’re hurt by their actions and words, that’s your fault. You just “can’t take a joke.”

Only, it’s no joke. It’s abuse.

You are not dealing with a person who wants a reciprocal, respectful relationship.

You will always be to blame.

Narcissists, Manipulators and Other Character Disordered People

The narcissist, (or covert-aggressive personality) has no moral impediment to their actions. they like who they are.

For them, it’s not about relationships, it’s about winning.

If you think you can show them how their actions impact others and use the same tactics as they do, they will explode in anger or feign such outrageous indignation that you scarcely believe your ears.

And you begin to doubt yourself. You’ll take the blame – again.

“You hate it when I say things like that? I’m repeating back to you what you said to me.”

I remember trying to extricate myself from one of my brother’s verbal sniping. He, of course, didn’t see the irony in his reaction. Just utter outrage that I turned the tables on him.

It would have been a joke, except that he was deadly serious. And I was exhausted with the pointless off-topic tangents, arguments and lectures that would prove his superiority and “rightness”. (And my brother often told me how extremely intelligent he is – in effect, heading me off at the pass. How could I possibly have anything of value to say when he is so much smarter?)

Of course, there are loads of examples I could use, variations on the same themes. You probably have lots of your own.

So great, you now know (or always had a feeling) that something is terribly off with the person you’re dealing with.

Do you wonder: Why do they act that way? This is what I found out.

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