One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

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Domestic Violence is Also This - Verbal Abuse

This is part five of a series. It contains details of my own experiences and other potential ptsd triggers which may be disturbing to read.

The term “domestic violence” is in some ways misleading, the words themselves reinforcing the misconceptions and myths about this extremely common issue.  What do you think of when you hear the word “violence?” Probably the first word that came to your mind, as with most people - even many of those who have been abused  - is physical violence of some kind.  Hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, shooting, stabbing.  Something visibly violent.

But domestic violence does not start and end with physical violence, and many people have been victimized without having a hand laid upon them.  So many women (and men!) I have talked to have expressed the belief that they were in a “bad” relationship, but it wasn’t abusive because their abuser never hit them.  For this reason, I have come to prefer the term “domestic abuse,” which more easily is understood to include other abuses than just physical.  

It’s time that everyone understood that domestic violence, or domestic abuse if you prefer, is more than just physical violence.  It also includes financial, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and technological abuse.  For this October’s domestic violence awareness month, I will be discussing each one.  Most abusive relationships include a combination of several types of abuse; many of the types have overlapping characteristics.  Only one type is needed for a relationship to be called abusive, though; experiencing only one type is just as difficult and damaging as going through them all.

Verbal Abuse

I cannot count the number of times that I’ve heard someone tell me “I was in an unhappy relationship but it wasn’t abusive, because he never hit me.” After speaking these words, the person then goes on to describe a verbally abusive relationship.

Attention, everyone! This is also abuse!

Verbal abuse can be defined as any type of hurtful or controlling words.  Depending on the situation, this can also include emotional, psychological, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse - if those abusive actions are made through the spoken word.

Regardless of how you prefer to classify them, it is still abuse! Let’s not get too hung up on classifications...

Verbal abuse can include:

* name calling
* threats and ultimatums - such as threats of physical violence, of taking the children or property, of embarrassing the victim in public or telling lies about them to their family or friends, or other hurtful actions.
* nitpicking the victims appearance, work, decisions, etc.
* making jokes at the victims expense
* “blocking and diverting” - this is where the abuser controls the topics and direction of a conversation, and may including cutting off or putting down their victim for what they’re talking about, or suggest that they’re “talking out of turn”
* trivializing the victim’s work, interests, choices, etc
* undermining anything the victim says, so that the victim starts to question themselves
* making orders or demands

My Story 

I also did not understand that verbal abuse was still abuse.  If I felt hurt by his words, his cruel jokes, his threats, I would learn to bury that pain.  Speaking it about, telling him he hurt me just led to my feelings being trivialized.  I was overreacting, he said.  I was misunderstanding him and twisting his words.  I was crazy, since he never said those things anyway (since I was also being gaslighted).

Before the abuse turned physical, there was plenty of verbal.  The verbal abuse is where I learned to hide my pain, where I first started to accept pain as a normal part of my life.  If he had started by hitting me, it would perhaps have been beyond my tolerance.  But since that didn’t come until later, when I had become numb inside, the addition of physical violence did not startle me into awareness of how bad my life had become.  In many ways, it was no worse than what I’d already learned to live with and didn’t know how to change.

From the very first introduction, his choice of words changed the dynamic of our relationship, to shift the power from what should have been an equal partnership to one where he controlled my every waking moment.  I did not realize how much his words affected me, until it was too late.

Words matter.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, contact your local shelter or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (visit their page here).  Support for survivors is also available. 

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