Like a bad habit, avoiding verbally abusive relationships can be difficult for someone who has experienced one in the past. Too often, verbal abuse can be overlooked as a bad mood, an argument, or dismissed as 'just how that person is.'
Awareness of the Problem
The insidiousness of verbal abuse can leave both the abuser and the one they abuse unaware of how bad the problem is. For example, belittling a spouse or friend's accomplishments on a regular basis is just one form of verbal abuse. The abuser may think they are joking or teasing, but if their tone and body language indicates otherwise, it's abuse. So how does one avoid a verbally abusive relationship if it is so hard to recognize?
Taking the Blinders Off
The first step to avoiding an abusive relationship is to learn to recognize the signs of abuse. Disrespect, commands, name-calling are a few signs. You need to believe that you deserve better. Psychology Today offers a great list of tips on how to identify the early warning signs of an abuser before you become subject to it. Blaming, sarcasm, pettiness, resentment and an air of superiority are all red flags that the person you are involved with may be an abuser.
Decide How You Wish to Be Treated
If you are in a verbally abusive relationship, seeking counseling to learn better ways to communicate is an option if both parties are open to it. However, even if your partner isn't open to counseling, you need to decide how you wish to be treated. The first step to avoiding future incidents or relationships of this nature is to set boundaries.
Your personal boundaries begin with your attitude about how you should be treated and how you treat others. You do not defer your opinions to another person and you seek clear communication when you do speak. The old adage of 'say what you mean and mean what you say' is important here.
It's easy to get upset and say, 'if you do that again, I'll kill you,' but you don't really mean you will kill the other person, you just mean you will be really upset.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Words hold a particular power in a relationship-both in what you say and what you allow others to say to you. For example, if someone gives you a degrading nickname and you just 'put up with it,' you are communicating that this is acceptable behavior. At its root, verbal abuse whittles away your sense of self. Who you are is important, recognize this and don't allow others to diminish that with words.
Assume Good Intentions, but Don't Make Excuses
As stated above, most abusers don't even realize they are being verbally abusive. You may assume that your friend doesn't mean to make you feel bad with all his backhanded compliments, but don't excuse him for doing so. Alerting someone else to how her words make you feel gives her an opportunity to retract her statements and improve her behavior. Telling him also provides you with the opportunity to withdraw from the relationship if he does not modify his choices.
Don't Look the Other Way
It doesn't matter if the verbal abuse comes from your spouse, your parent, your best friend or your boss, you have to decide that you are worthy of respect and common courtesy. Model the same behavior you wish to receive and recognize when you, yourself, have become the one offering verbal abuse. Shaming another, or using cutting comments to make your point creates emotional pollution according to Dr. Steven Stosny. Overcoming these habits can lead to better, healthier communication and relationships.
Evaluate Your Relationships Regularly
Like your health or your car, regular check-ups can alert you to potential warning signs of abuse rearing its head in your relationship. Self-awareness and boundaries are crucial, but because our personal boundaries can be flexible with those you care about, asking the following relationship questions can help.
- Do you feel better or worse when you're together?
- Does their attitude seem overly negative about everything or just you?
- How do you feel when you're about to see them?
- Do you feel like you're the only one sacrificing your needs?
- Do you feel comfortable bringing up your needs or wants?
- Do you feel like you have a voice in the relationship?
- Do you feel valued?
Answering these basic questions honestly can help you identify the health of your relationship and if you have slipped back into potentially harmful habits. Be willing to recognize that everyone slips now and then, but remember if this is not how you want to be treated, then it is time to revisit your boundaries and step away from the relationship.
Seeking Outside Help
It's always okay to seek help when you need it whether it's a support group to remind yourself that you are worthy or personal counseling to extract yourself from a bad relationship. It's important to remember that happiness is worth the effort and so are you.