Verbal abuse is hateful talk. It’s talk that demeans or overly criticizes. It’s talk that aims to make another person feel bad. Like all forms of abuse, verbal abuse wounds. The wounds are mostly emotional. But there can be physical consequences, too. And the impact can be quite long-lasting. Whether it’s of the emotional, mental, or physical variety, abuse leaves scars.
Victims of verbal abuse often experience the gaslighting effect. And it’s one that’s difficult to overcome. (See: Overcoming Gaslighting Effects.) Abusive relationship partners are often relentless. They hate to miss an opportunity to denigrate and dominate. Over time, their victims can begin to see themselves in the same negative way their abusers cast them.
Verbal abusers are disturbed characters who use language as a means of power and control. They don’t just want you to feel bad. They want you to feel bad about who you are. Accordingly, they want you to feel inferior. That way, you’ll see them as both powerful and important.
In essence, verbal abusers are bullies. (See also: Why Narcissistic Bullies Really Taunt.) And used to think of bullies as always inwardly insecure. We thought they belittled others only to make themselves feel better. But we now know differently. Most bullies simply like hurting others. And what drives them is the sense of power and control they feel.
Verbal abusers will often trivialize the seriousness of their actions and intent. But they don’t do so to assuage inner feelings of guilt. Rather, they want you to feel even worse for reacting to their taunts. This enhances any gaslighting effect associated with their abuse. (See: p. 115 in In Sheep’s Clothing.)
Forms of Verbal Abuse
Some forms of abuse can be quite subtle. For example an abusive relationship partner might engage in frequent name-calling. Such name-calling is usually quite derogatory. But when called on this they might say they were “only kidding.”
Verbal abusers also often speak in a condescending or sarcastic tone. They constantly send the message that you’re not worth very much. They want you to feel like your only value stems from being associated with them. But they make you feel this way without looking so monstrous themselves.
Other forms of verbal abuse are definitely not so subtle. The most egregious form is severe belittling. The most vile verbal abusers can make you feel like you shouldn’t have even been born. And sadly, some victims of this kind of abuse have indeed taken their own lives.
Revisiting the 9th Commandment
The “9th commandment” is about treating others with civility and generosity. To be civil is to embrace the golden rule: to treat others as we would appreciate being treated. This takes mindfulness. But it also takes a commitment to something beyond mere self-interest. To have a kind and generous heart, one must first be profoundly grateful. And that gratitude can only stem from a profound sense of indebtedness. (See also: p. 144 in Character Disturbance and pp. 7-8 in How Did We End Up Here?.)
From a spiritual perspective, all of us are inherently deeply indebted. This is profoundly true whether we know it or not or appreciate it or not. As I muse about in The Judas Syndrome, this life we enjoy is an unearned gift. And we’re all destined for the same eventual fate, too. When, in the depths of our souls, we stand in awe of what the universe has granted us, we can’t help but feel both beholding and grateful. And it’s only then that we can engage others with an kind and generous heart. That’s the point I’ll be doing my best to stress in my re-write of the 9th commandment of character.
Weekly posts have almost always been published on Friday afternoons. But henceforth, they will usually be published on Sunday evening or early Monday morning.
Also, recording will begin soon for a series of podcasts that will replace the old Character Matters program. Stay tuned for details.