Verbal violence leaves no physical traces, but psychological ones run deep. A sentence, spoken at a time when we are particularly vulnerable, can remain etched in our mind, reactivating continuously. Words have incredible power. They can calm and empower us, but they can also bring us down and hurt us.
We cannot ignore that coexistence generates conflicts that often leave us with emotions on the surface. To some extent, conflicts are good because they represent an opportunity for change. But when the discussion picks up and the words become offensive, a situation of verbal violence occurs. And “violence, whatever the way it manifests itself, is always a failure”, in the words of Jean Paul Sartre.
What is verbal violence?
Sometimes, in the midst of a heated argument, emotions surface and anger or frustration can make us say hurtful things. It is understandable that, in some circumstances, we lose our temper, but if it becomes the norm, we are faced with a situation of verbal abuse.
Verbal violence is a destructive form of communication in which one person harms another. It is a communication model sustained over time in which, more or less intentionally, a continuous verbal abuse is exercised that affects the victim's self-esteem, causing unpleasant emotions and generating doubts about his value as a person.
What's the difference between verbal abuse and a heated argument?
It is not easy to distinguish a heated argument from verbal abuse. In fact, many people are not even fully aware that they are victims of verbal abuse. Victims often underestimate what happens or try to justify the other's behavior by thinking things like "he didn't really mean what he said".
It must be understood that if in a heated discussion one of the two insults, humiliates and / or blames the other, verbal aggression is taking place. However, a specific situation does not mean that a dynamic of verbal abuse has been established in the relationship. This occurs when there is a recurring pattern; that is, when screams, insults, threats and humiliations are continually used to subdue the other.
7 signs of verbal abuse: beyond yelling and insults
1. Insults and shouts
Insults and shouts are the most obvious expressions of verbal abuse. In this case, the person constantly raises his voice to try to impose himself and does not hesitate to resort to insults and offenses to try to control you by instilling fear. As writer John Frederick Boyes said: "violence in the voice is often the death of reason in the throat."
2. Humiliation and destructive criticism
There is a more subtle but very harmful type of verbal abuse: humiliation and destructive criticism. In this case, the person does not resort to screaming but to sarcasm, shame, disdainful gestures and contempt to exercise control. He may use jokes that make you feel bad or use words and gestures that belittle you and / or make you feel incompetent.
3. Accusations and guilt
In some cases, verbal abuse hides manipulation. The person will make you feel guilty for all the bad things that happen, shedding their share of the responsibility and making you suffer. That person will not hesitate to accuse and blame you, always attributing bad intentions or total incompetence to you.
This type of verbal abuse is more subtle and difficult to detect since it involves minimizing your opinions and feelings to the point of making you feel completely insignificant. That person shows no empathy, continually minimizing your problems and even refusing to face them.
In addition to the typical threats through which a person tries to control your behavior, there are also threats that resort to emotional blackmail. One of the most extreme examples is "if you leave me, I'll kill myself", but there are many other forms of threats and blackmail in all kinds of relationships.
In this case, there are usually no insults or shouts, the person simply treats you as if you are an object, which means that they do not pay attention to you or do not meet your emotional needs. That person systematically ignores you, pretending you don't exist.
7. Prevent dialogue
We usually equate verbal aggression with yelling and insults, but silence can also be used to hurt severely. Not talking to a person, with the aim of making them feel bad, preventing dialogue that can resolve the conflicts that exist in the relationship, is a form of verbal violence.
The consequences of verbal violence affect your brain and your health
The fact that they shout at us, humiliate us or ignore our emotional needs ends up changing our mind, brain and even our body. When a fear reaction is repeatedly triggered due to a hostile environment, such as that characterized by screaming or emotional coldness, automatic physical and emotional reactions occur that can cause psychological trauma. In fact, it is not unusual for victims of continued verbal abuse to suffer from depression or anxiety.
In addition, verbal violence increases the activity of the amygdala, so it becomes more reactive and keeps us in a state of constant nervous excitement. It also increases the production of stress hormones and generates muscle tension, which means that it will have negative repercussions on our health in the medium and long term, triggering diseases that have a psychosomatic component.
Verbal abuse also ends up changing how we think and feel about ourselves. This is because the neural connections in our brains largely depend on our experiences. And if those experiences are marked by verbal abuse, it's hard to escape them. In other words: if someone makes us feel like we are worthless, we will likely end up believing it.
Studies related to the relationship between mother and infant confirm what we all intuitively know: as humans, we feel better when we are loved and safe, which means, among other things, receiving respectful treatment.
How to stop verbal abuse?
If you are a victim of verbal assaults, it is important that you remedy it as soon as possible. Stopping verbal violence is an act of self-defense and self-love, because in the long run this situation will end up profoundly damaging your self-esteem and health.
Set limits, red lines that the other person shouldn't cross. Let him know that you are unwilling to put up with certain behaviors.
Since some people are not fully aware of the impact of their words, a good place to start is to point them out to how much their words and attitudes hurt you. This will take them out of their self-centered position to put themselves in your place.
You can also offer help to find a solution together. Verbal abuse can be a symptom of a nervous breakdown, an inability to adopt a more assertive relationship style, or even fear. Ultimately, as psychologist Marshall Rosenberg said: "Any kind of violence is the result of people deceiving themselves into believing that their pain is caused by other people, thus thinking that they deserve to be punished." The important thing is that the person recognizes that they need help to deal with conflicts and relationships in a more constructive and enriching way.
As a last resort, if these strategies do not work, because it is not always in our hands to change the other, we always have the possibility to distance ourselves from that person who is hurting us.