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Help for Verbal Abuse Victims

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The signs of physical abuse are more in your face than those of verbal abuse. A physically abused spouse has marks, scratches, bruises, and scars on their body that remind anyone who sees them that this person has been betrayed, that something isn't right, that he or she is in danger. As a result, there's a wealth of information available to the public about domestic violence. But verbal abuse does not get the same attention, even though it often leads to physical aggression and abuse and can be quite damaging. Here, you'll find help identifying verbal abuse, understanding how it affects victims (both women and men), and learning how to overcome it.

Signs of Verbal Abuse

Sometimes, the abuse doesn't even start until after the wedding. "Abusive controlling people instinctively (if not consciously) know that to 'get away' with controlling their partner, the partner must be in some way committed to them," writes Kellie Jo Holly, creator of the Verbal Abuse Journals, which features the blogs, "Healing Purple" and "My Abusive Marriage," in an e-mail. "The wedding, a sign of life-long commitment, could be just the thing to trigger abuse." Other milestones, such as the engagement or a pregnancy, could also do it, she adds.

At first, you might not recognize the verbal abuse. You might pass it off as your spouse's reaction to nerves or stress, warn experts. You might even think that you're being too sensitive. "Verbal abuse is anything that makes you feel devalued, demeaned, disrespected, or not good enough, including name calling or disparaging remarks geared toward undermining your confidence and lovability," writes Steve Stosny, author of Love without Hurt (Da Capo Press, 2008), in an e-mail.

If you're not sure you're being verbally abused, then consider the following:

Name Calling

Obviously, if your spouse - or anyone else, including your boss, call you derogatory names, such as stupid, cow, or slut, he or she is verbally abusing you. This kind of verbal bullying is probably the most clear-cut example. Few who hear these names on a regular basis would question whether this is verbal abuse. "If your spouse uses name-calling, you feel stung instantly," writes Holly, who is also the author of My Abusive Marriage...and What I'm Doing In It (Verbal Abuse Journals, 2012). "We all know a bad name or an insult when we hear it."

Putting You Down

Slightly different than name calling, this form of verbal abuse might be visible when your husband is always telling jokes at a parties that have you as the punchline. Or your wife is constantly criticizing you - the way you look, the way you clean the house, the way you eat, etc. You might also feel as though he or she completely dismisses your opinions, ideas, thoughts, and dreams. Essentially, the person you love makes you feel small either in public or in private.

The Cold Shoulder

A husband or wife, who can ignore you or stop talking to you for days, is giving you the cold shoulder. This might happen once in a marriage if you've had a heated argument and no resolution. One or both of you might shut down. But when it happens relatively often and for lame or inexplicable reasons, then it is a form of abuse. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells all the time or risk losing the person to one of these funks. And you want to talk or get back to loving each other, and he or she is just cold and uninterested in reuniting until he or she says. Then, you can be sure it's a matter of control. When it becomes a power struggle, it's often a sign of abuse.

Constant Criticism

A verbally abusive spouse tends to have tons of complaints about your marriage. "Your abusive spouse is more willing to tell you exactly what is wrong with you and how you should fix it, usually under the guise of caring for you, worrying about you, or doubting your sanity," writes Holly. If your spouse keeps telling you what you need to do to improve the relationship, but doesn't want to hear what you want and need from him or her, then he or she is verbally abusive.

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