Verbal abuse is as bad as sexual or physical abuse. The only problem is, until recently, not everyone believed it to be so.
Abuse doesn't just apply to physical actions which lead to trauma. Verbal abuse can be just as bad for your mental health, also possibly causing anxiety in adulthood. While many overlook this type of abuse, people who've suffered through it may have experiences that bring back the trauma in the most unexpected situations, be it loud noises, sudden movements.
According to Sherri Gordon, a published author, and a bullying prevention expert, “Because verbal abuse isn’t as clear-cut as other forms of abuse and bullying, like physical bullying and sexual bullying, it can be hard to identify. But that doesn’t make it any less real," she said in an article by Very Well Mind.
First, it's important to identify exactly what counts as verbal abuse. Defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, reported by Psychology Today, regarding psychological maltreatment of children, the official definition they came up with was: “Psychological maltreatment of children occurs when a person conveys to a child that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs.”
And Psychology Today states that it's these factors that come across as abuse:
1. Name-calling: Habitual name-calling in the form of “pet names” or “teasing" or even straightforward insults is a way of belittling you.
Example: "It's not your fault you're so dumb."
2. Condescension: When the abuser’s comments are sarcastic, disdainful, and patronizing, it's a way to make them feel superior and make you feel inferior.
Example: “Let me see if I can put this in simple terms that even you can understand.”
3. Negative criticism: Constructive criticism is based on the principle of helping people understand their faults and working on them. However, negative criticism works to bring you down.
Example: “You messed up again. Can’t you do anything right?”
4. Degradation: The abuser always wants you to feel bad about yourself. They use shame and humiliation as a way to eat away at your confidence.
Example: “I mean, look at yourself. Who else would want you?”
5. Manipulation: Abusers use manipulation to keep you in control and off-center so that you're always dependent on them physically, emotionally and mentally.
Example: “You’d do this for me if you really loved me.”
6. Blame: No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But when the abuser always puts the blame on you even for things you are not at fault for, it's their way of tearing down your self-esteem and making you feel like you are always wrong. They want you to believe you brought the verbal abuse on yourself.
Example: “I have to yell, because you’re so unreasonable and thickheaded!”
7. Accusation: When someone repeatedly and frequently accuses, it could be that they're jealous or envious. Or it could be that they are actually guilty of something. But either way, it can result in you feeling if you feeling guilty or questioning your decisions and choices.
Example: “I saw the way you looked at them. You can’t tell me there’s nothing going on there.”
8. Isolation: When they refuse to talk to you or even look at you, it's an indication they want you to work harder to give them more attention. However, this method is toxic in the long run.
Example: If you say something they don't like while in a group of people, they storm off and sit elsewhere, refusing to look or talk to you.
9. Gaslighting: It is a method of making you question your own truth. It can make you apologize for things that aren’t your fault and constantly increase self-doubt.
Example: When you bring up an incident that occurred, the abuser denies it vehemently and goes out of their way to create a different illusion until you believe it.
10. Threats: When an abuser makes outright threats, the verbal abuse is about to escalate. They want to scare you into compliance.
Example: “When you come home tonight, you might find a ‘for sale’ sign on the lawn, and I might just be gone with the kids.”
All of these verbal attacks can increase not only self-doubt and lower your self-esteem but also increase your anxiety and depression. This can be especially detrimental in the victim is a child of an impressionable age.
In a study conducted by Florida State University, researchers found that people who were verbally abused as children grow up to be self-critical adults prone to depression and anxiety, according to Science Daily. By studying data from 5,614 participants aged between 15 and 54, they discovered something important.
Those who were verbally abused had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused. They were also found to be twice as likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder over their lifetime, according to psychology professor Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, the study's lead author.
"We must try to educate parents about the long-term effects of verbal abuse on their children," Sachs-Ericsson said. "The old saying about sticks and stones was wrong. Names will forever hurt you."
Over time, the child can actually start to believe the negative things they hear about themselves and become extremely self-critical. Whether it's getting poor results on a test or not being invited to a get-together, this self-bashing carries on into adulthood and make them more prone to depression and anxiety.
"Childhood abuse of any type has the potential to influence self-critical tendencies," Sachs-Ericsson added. "Although sexual and physical abuse don't directly supply the critical words like 'you're worthless,' the overall message conveyed by these kinds of abuse clearly does."
If you know someone who is suffering from such anxiety and who has a history of being verbally abused, immediate action should be taken to help them out. Whether it's taking them for a consultation or being there for them by encouraging them, it'll go a long way in easing the burdens they carry.