Why Does Verbal Abuse Happen? What Makes a Person Abusive?
When I first realized I'd been in a verbally abusive relationship, I asked myself, "Why me?" and "Why does verbal abuse happen?" but there were no straightforward answers to these questions. The articles I read online echoed the reassurances of those close to me -- that the abuse wasn't about me, it was about my ex. "If it hadn't been you it would've been somebody else," I kept hearing, doubting if this was really the case. Years later, I still find myself wondering whether the abuse was entirely his fault or if I could have done more to prevent it. I still wonder why verbal abuse happened.
After the relationship ended, I did some soul-searching, trying to find a reason why I was treated this way. I blamed myself before I ever blamed him, as most victims do. I assumed, for a long time, that it must have been me -- that I was just impossible to be with.
But then I met somebody else. The relationship came easily. Living together was effortless. Sure, we fought like all couples do, but we were able to resolve our differences by communicating rationally without verbal abuse. I learned the difference between normal relationship conflict and verbal abuse. And the best part? I was free to be myself without anyone telling me I wasn't good enough. This was how a relationship was meant to be, and it highlighted everything that had been wrong before.
But it made me wonder, how can some relationships be abusive and not others? In order to answer this question and strengthen our understanding, we must consider two things: why some people are verbally abusive and why others allow abuse to happen.
Why Do Verbal Abusers Do It?
Before we delve any further into this subject, I should say that I don't believe there is any excuse for domestic abuse -- physical or emotional. The abuser is responsible for his or her actions, regardless of the circumstances, and the victim is never to blame. That said, there is always a reason why one person abuses another, and unless we can attempt to understand why it happens, we are powerless to end the cycle (What Are Victims Responsible for in an Abusive Relationship?).
There are reasons to believe that early childhood experience plays a part in verbal abuse. For instance, a person who grows up witnessing the abuse of one parent at the hands of another may internalize this behavior and then replicate it in his adult relationships. He then assumes the role of the abuser for fear of becoming the victim himself. Having seen it played out, he knows exactly how to establish control.
There are other reasons why some people are more prone to verbally abusive behavior than others -- such as drug or alcohol problems, childhood abuse, attachment disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and even low self-esteem -- however, it is not our place to come up with a diagnosis, nor is it helpful. As victims, all we can do is attempt to further our understanding of what's happened to us, and know that we really aren't to blame.
Why Verbal Abuse Happens -- Can Verbal Abusers Change?
Sadly, you can't stop an abuser by simply pointing out why he's abusive, and you're in dangerous territory if you enable his behavior -- whatever the reason. It's important to remember that while there is always an explanation, there is never an excuse. He might not be able to control what's happened in his life, but he can control how he treats you.
It is hard to say whether an abusive partner will ever change for good, but you shouldn't hang around to find out. The abuse is ingrained and may have been so from an early age, so much so that it's normal to him. Sadly, he may not be able to accept that the problem lies with him and not you. As a result, he may never see his behavior for what it is.
In my next article, I'll be looking at victims of verbal abuse, and why some people go from one abusive relationship to another. As always, let me know your thoughts below.
I realize that both women and men could be abusers or victims; my pronoun choices are merely reflective of my own experience.
Smith, E. (2017, July 25). Why Does Verbal Abuse Happen? What Makes a Person Abusive?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, October 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/07/why-does-verbal-abuse-happen-part-one
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
Thank you for your comment. I'm so glad you're finding the blog helpful. My ex used to manipulate everyone into thinking he was some sort of saint -- I feel sure he would have at least tried to win over a counselor, so I know what you mean. I hope you do decide to see someone though, whether on your own or with your husband. Good luck, and please come back to the blog and get in touch anytime.
You are strong because you weathered your partner's abuse for seven years. You're even stronger for managing to leave him. Some things are very difficult to admit to ourselves and even more difficult to walk away from. My abusive ex left me, and for a long time I hated myself for not being "strong" enough to have walked away myself. I think either way we will have regrets and there will be times when we beat ourselves up for putting up with it. Your thoughts and feelings are bound to be incredibly complex at the moment, and you may need some looking after for a while.
Instead of beating yourself up for things you cannot change, try to recognize all the things you've done to serve yourself and your daughter. You walked away from a dangerous situation and had the courage to ask for help from your parents, and you sought a safe place for you and your daughter to live. You also recognized that your daughter was struggling and now she is getting help.
It's very early days, so be patient with yourself. It will get better and you will be able to trust again. There are a lot of great men out there :)
Welcome to the blog and thanks so much for your comment. I've been exactly where you are -- the first year is especially difficult. I've gone through all of those stages you've described and still feel angry at him sometimes even though it's been nearly five years since we split. Feeling like your thoughts have been put in a blender is such a good analogy because it's like all your opinions and feelings are jumbled up with his. That will change though.
One of the things I've always been mystified by are how those feelings of love don't go away just because our partners treat us badly. I don't know why that is the case, but it certainly was for me for a while.
I'm a firm believer as time as a healer. As long as you're away from him and surrounding yourself with people who build you up rather than knock you down (including yourself), you will come through this and begin to see things more clearly. Seeing a counselor really helped me to move past the verbal abuse and rediscover my identity, as well as other things like yoga, music, writing, and meditation.
It sounds like you have a lot to contend with. Remember how strong you are, and please continue to use this site for support and information.
Thanks for your comment, and I'm glad the posts are helping you. It is so easy to become trapped in the cycle of abuse, especially when that's all you've ever known in relationships. My heart goes out to you and I hope you manage to find some peace, whether that's in your current relationship or with someone else.
I can't imagine what it might have been like to be with so many abusive partners, but I do know this: you don't deserve it. There is absolutely no justifying those things he's said to you, nor are they true -- regardless of how many partners or children you had before him. It serves him to belittle you because then you won't realize how much better you deserve.
I found it difficult to identify verbal abuse in my previous relationship because I thought, "Well, he's right. I agree with everything he says." But he wasn't right, or at least he wasn't painting the whole picture. Abusers can only abuse partners who are likely to believe what they are being told -- in other words, those with low self-esteem, existing insecurities etc. That was definitely me. But a partner who truly values you will see your perceived '"flaws" as strengths, not weaknesses. For instance, my ex used to call me pathetic and miserable and poke fun at my tendency towards OCD behavior and anxiety. My current partner tells me how strong I am to have struggled with mental illness but still achieved so much, and I know he means it.
The little voice in the back of your mind tells you that you deserve to be treated this way because of all those things above. But I don't think that. It sounds to me like you're a brave, strong woman who has had some incredibly traumatic experiences and still managed to raise three kids. All power to you.