Spousal Verbal Abuse

Spousal verbal abuse can be identified by how you feel after a communication. Spousal verbal abuse is an important component of the power and control wheel of the Duluth Model of domestic violence.

Spousal verbal abuse is communicated mostly non-verbally, by tone of voice, posture, and facial expression.

One of the examples I use with my domestic violence groups is to use the words "I love you" but yelled very loudly with a snarling expression.

Then I ask the folks in the group which message they paid attention to, the verbal message of "I love you" or the nonverbal message conveyed by facial expression, tone of voice, and loudness.

Very, very seldom does anyone say the verbal data conveyed information more important than the nonverbal data.

Paul Ekman,Ph.D., says that we human beings respond to a look of contemtp in 1/25th second, with a feeling of hurt, and contempt is a quick and easy tool to use in spousal verbal abuse.

Contempt is conveyed to indicate superiority, and it is done with a lift of the left side of ones mouth, and a rolling of they eyes. Any of you who have teenagers have seen it or done that expression frequently.

Other Kinds of Spousal Verbal Abuse

* Being called names by your spouse. Remember that communication has overt and covert aspects. Very loving words and phrases can be abusive when said incongruently, in other words the non-verbal and verbal communications do not match.

* Using words to shame. Critical, sarcastic, mocking words meant to put you down either alone or in front of other people.

* Yelling, swearing and screaming. I call this the “walking on eggs shells” syndrome because you are living with someone who uses loudness to intimidate.

* Using threats to intimidate. No threat should be taken lightly, even if your spouse tells you they are only joking, especially if it causes you to change behaviors or to feel on guard in the relationship.

*Statements that begin with the words, "You" and include other words like "should, ought, or must" can be abusive if they do not include and option for choice.

* Blaming the victim. Your spouse blows his/her top and then blames you for their actions and behavior. If you were only perfect they wouldn’t lose control!

* Your feelings are minimized.

The target of verbal abuse is left feeling ashamed, resentful, hurt, angry, and anxious, and may eventually come to believe that the communicator of the abuse is correct.

If you find yourself the target of this kind of communication, it is important to remind yourself that you are not so powerful to cause anyone to feel anything, and that while you might feel frightened by this pattern of communication, you can calm yourself, and assertively ask the communicator to change the communication to an "I" statement, which asks you for a change of behavior and offers you a choice.

Should the communicator refuse to change the pattern, you are faced with some difficult choices, and you must maintain your safety first.


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