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There is No Excuse for Verbal Abuse
The verbal abuser uses words to disparage, undermine, belittle or control others, which disfigures a relationship through one of the cruelest forms of emotional maltreatment.
A manipulative and controlling personality will justify his or her abusive behaviours in any way they can. Twisted thinking, circular reasoning, and entitled attitudes all merge to create a wealth of excuses and blame. Abusers often feel like they can get away with anything. Sadly, they often do.
In Becoming Allies, a book written with the intent of helping abusers change their toxic behaviours and attitudes, Dr. Chris Huffine points out the tangled logic of many domestic violators.He explains how they tend to use the excuse of “justifiable abuse” to rationalize their behaviour. For example, often an abuser will reason:
“Calling someone a negative name is abusive—unless the name accurately describes them, in which case it’s not. Labeling someone’s behavior negatively is abusive—unless that label accurately describes the behavior, in which case it’s not. For example, if you think someone is acting stupid, then saying ‘You’re acting stupid’ is not abusive; it’s simply descriptive.”
Yep. Seriously. This is a typical abusive attitude. They feel they can call their partners whatever they want — as long as they also feel it’s true.
Someone with unbalanced narcissistic tendencies and a fondness for controlling his partner often uses this justification to violate his relationship through verbal attacks. “It’s okay to call her stupid, because she truly is stupid!” he’ll reason. The attacks then continue, and likely intensify. After all, his conscience has been appeased with his own unreasonable reasonings.
“The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life.” (James 3:5-6)
A victim is often so engrossed in trying to figure out what she’s doing wrong in her relationship—focusing on what she hopes she can do to make things better and how she can communicate on a deeper and more understandable level—that her own thinking gets tossed about until it twists into an unreasonable mass. This is a direct result of the confusion created by domestic abuse.
I have to (now sheepishly) admit that I was once in this place of shadowed confusion.
In my extreme anguish at being labeled all sorts of vile and painful names, I attempted to tell myself that he didn’t really mean it. After all, there’s a difference between the statements “you’re stupid” and “you’re acting stupid,” right? And if I could get him to understand that difference, maybe he’d apologize and tell me he didn’t really mean what he’d said …
Although I tried to “downgrade” and minimize the abuse hurled at me by attempting to reconcile a difference between the two statements, the conversation didn’t go well. (This was before I’d awakened to the fact that yes, this is abuse and no, there is no appropriate defending, justifying, or minimizing cruel behaviours.)
One evening after my former abuser decided I was giving too much attention to my child and not enough to him, he exploded in a physical, verbal, and emotional tirade in which I was repeatedly called a “stupid f*ck!ng bitch.” The next morning, hoping his anger had worn off and he’d returned to some semblance of normalcy (not to mention sobriety), I decided to talk to him about the incident. As patiently as I could, through my tears, I tried to help him to see my side of the issue and perhaps receive an apology. (As if an apology would even be remotely authentic if I had to beg for it!)
“To call me a bitch means you think my core personality is that of bitchiness,” I desperately attempted to reason. “You’re saying it’s who you think I am, deep down. My true self. But I don’t think you mean that. I think what you meant is that you felt I was acting like bitch in that moment. Not that I am, within the true core of myself, but that in this particular instance, you felt I’d been acting like one. Right? I mean, you don’t really think I’m a bitch, do you?”
But no such luck.
“I meant exactly what I said. Besides, being a bitch and acting like one are the same thing.”
It’s true. Whether someone says you’re “acting” like a bitch (or stupid, or whatever vicious name is used) or actually are that label makes no difference. It’s still a cruel statement. It’s still wrong, and there’s no justification that can ever make it okay.
“The content of his tirades reveal his values about your role as a partner and your worth as a human being.” (Lundy Bancroft and JAC Patrissi, Should I Stay or Should I Go?)
A further problem with the abuser’s claim that if “you’re being stupid” (or naive, or cold, or … whatever), isn’t a cruel statement as long as it’s true is that certain so-called “truths” are subjective. And remember, an abuser is always right, especially when he’s clearly not.
As an example, let’s say you feel your family doesn’t need a shiny new Porsche, because a reliable Camry would be best for the household—and for the budget. If he disagrees, is it acceptable for him to say you’re being stupid for wanting a different car than he does, since he truly feels you’re being stupid for thinking a stupid Camry is better than a flashy Porsche?
The answer is obvious.
I was once called a “coward” for refusing to share the same political opinions as my former abuser. As before (don’t worry, I’ve since learned my lesson), I later tried to appeal to his Dr. Jekyll side. He couldn’t have meant the awful things he’d said during his latest verbal tirade!
But yes, he’d meant them.
“For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:7-8)
When I tried to point out that calling me a coward was verbal abuse, he countered by unwittingly using Huffine’s point about twisted logic. “It’s not abuse,” he told me, looking me firmly in the eyes with that piercing, entitled, triumphant glare. “It’s not abuse, because it’s true.”
“It’s not abuse, because it’s true.” Or so the perpetrator of intimate partner violence claims.
So, because I disagreed with one of his opinions, I was being and acting like a coward. In his mind, I truly was a coward. Under this weird definition of what is a verbal assault and what isn’t, him calling me a coward wasn’t abusive, because of his claim to the “truthfulness” of his accusations.
Nope, sorry. I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. Calling me a coward—or any other intentionally vile or demeaning name—was and is abuse. It’s a clear, plain, simple, nasty and uncalled-for violation of my personhood.
“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue breaks the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
Another problem with the claim that “if it’s true, it’s not abuse” is a simple one. Saying “you’re acting stupid” is an abusive statement—no matter how a person is acting. If they’re making a legitimately poor decision or doing something unwise, kindly offering constructive help is appropriate—but an attack of character is never justified. For example, you could say, “I believe your decision is unwise. There’s no way we can afford payments on a Porsche, especially since junior will need braces soon. But we can afford a Camry.”
Can you see how much better that is then saying, “You’re acting stupid for wanting a Porsche”—even if it’s true that an expensive sports car would be impractical within your family situation?
Verbal abuse is nasty, dehumanizing, cruel and psychologically destructive. Anyone who advocates any form of verbal violence needs to rethink their attitudes, beliefs, and treatment of others.
Perhaps there’s a better way, ya think?
As I’ve said before, again and again—there is no excuse for abuse.
In this case, there is no excuse for any form of verbal abuse.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)
Please note that I don’t agree with everything Huffine writes in his book. He writes from a progressive secular point of view, so much of what he says—for example, his opinions on the sexual relationship between husband and wife, including pornography use—is definitely not something I agree with or wish to promote. He makes some good points about other topics in his book, but as a whole, the book is not one that I recommend.