How to Help Someone Recover from Verbal Abuse
Verbal abuse doesn’t leave physical marks, but it can have long-term consequences and leave emotional scars that last far longer than a bruise. Being verbally abused can rob a person of their confidence, self-esteem, and optimism. Verbal abuse is also frequently a precursor to physical abuse. If someone you know has been verbally abused, you can help support them as they recover. Determining the kind of verbal abuse that a person received can help you to better support them in their recovery. Learn how by educating yourself about verbal abuse, providing emotional support, and helping the person find the resources they need to move on.
Offering Emotional Support
Be available for the person if they want to talk.Often someone who has been verbally abused needs a supportive and sympathetic ear more than anything else. A victim of verbal abuse may feel confused, angry, or depressed and need an outlet for their emotions. Make sure the person knows they can rely on you to listen to them whenever they need to talk.
- Be aware that the person may need some time before they want to talk about their experience. Avoid pressuring them to talk to you before they are ready.
- Say something like, “Hey, I know you’ve been through a lot lately. I just wanted you to know that I’m here for you if you ever need to talk about anything.”
Help the person understand the verbal abuse was not their fault.Many people who have been verbally abused feel like they brought it on themselves. They may think that if they had behaved differently or avoided pushing their abuser’s buttons, the abuse would never have happened. Emphasize to the person that any kind of abuse is the abuser’s choice and not the victim’s fault.
- Try saying something like, “It was Drew’s choice to take out his anger on you. You didn’t make him do it, and he could have chosen to find a better way to express his feelings.”
Encourage the person to stay socially connected.Sometimes people who have been abused become isolated from their support networks, especially if the abuser was a partner or spouse. As the person recovers, encourage them to see their family, visit friends, and participate in social activities they enjoy, such as taking classes or doing volunteer work.
Encourage the person not to contact the abuser.If the person has chosen to break up or become estranged from an abusive partner, friend, or family member, they may face the temptation of getting back in touch with the person in the future. Encourage them to call you for support instead when they get lonely or feel down.
- For instance, it may be easier to cut ties with an abusive ex, but how does one completely cut ties with a parent or sibling? The best method is to cut down on contact with the person as much as possible. When your friend does have to come in contact with their abuser, suggest that they have another person present to act as a mediator.
Watch for signs that the person is dependent on their abuser.Sometimes people who are verbally abused feel like they need the other person, even if the relationship is harmful. Look out for symptoms of co-dependency. Co-dependency occurs when one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. Signs to look for include:
- Low Self-Esteem
- People Pleasing
- Poor Boundaries
- Dysfunctional communication
- Problems with intimacy
- Painful emotions
Avoid judging the person for their choices.Abusive situations are always more difficult to navigate than they appear from the outside. It might seem obvious to you that someone who’s being abused should just cut contact with their abuser, but from that person’s point of view, things may be more complicated. Remaining non-judgmental is the best way to support someone who’s struggling with an abusive relationship. If the other person feels like you’re judging them or blaming them for getting into their situation, they may shut down and stop talking to you.
- Try to phrase things in terms of your concern for the person. Instead of saying, “Why don’t you just get away from her already?!” say something like, “This situation seems really hard for you, and I’m a little worried. Let me know if you need anything.”
- They may not recognize that they are in an abusive relationship. If the person was with an abusive partner for a long time, they may begin to see it as normal. You may help by pointing out what you may consider to be abusive so that they can become more aware that the behavior is unacceptable.
Providing Practical Support
Encourage the person to seek counseling.Healing from the wounds of verbal abuse can be especially difficult without the assistance of a mental health expert. Help the person find a good therapist or counselor who can help them work through their trauma and rebuild their self-esteem.
- Say, "I can see that it has been hard on you to end that relationship. There's this therapist that really helped a friend of mine who was going through a similar situation. I thought it would be helpful if you scheduled an appointment to talk. I'll go with you, if you like."
Help the person find resources.There are many hotlines, shelters, and other resources available to help people who are in abusive situations. Help the person search for resources targeted towards their geographic location and particular situation.
- In the United States, your friend can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for verbal abuse in romantic relationships.Plus, if the abuser is a parent or the person you would like to help is a minor, your friend can reach out to the National Child Abuse Hotline.
Lend a helping hand with the logistics.Offer to watch children or provide transportation so the person can attend counseling sessions. The logistics of attending counseling sessions or running other necessary errands can be difficult for someone with children to watch or a lot of other responsibilities. Help out by providing childcare or giving the person a ride if they need it.
- You might say, "If you need help with the kids while you get this matter sorted out, I'd be happy to watch them. Just give me a call and I'll come over."
Don’t insist that the person leave an abusive relationship.Though you may be certain that the person needs to leave their verbally abusive loved one, becoming estranged from the person may not seem that simple for them. If you insist they end the relationship, you might alienate them or make them feel like you’re trying to control them.
- Simply offer your support and emphasize how the person deserves better than a parent, friend, lover, or family member who verbally abuses them. Say something like "Only you can make the choice of what you want to do about this situation, but I hope you know you deserve better. There are so many people out there who care for you. Don't think you have to stay around someone who makes you feel bad about yourself."
Help the person find a safe place to stay if they need it.Someone leaving an abusive relationship may have a hard time finding a place to go. Offer them your couch for a few days or help them find another safe place to get away from their abuser.
- See if the person needs a ride away from their abuser’s house or a place to keep their necessities, like keys, phone, and clothes, until they leave their partner.
Understanding Verbal Abuse
Understand that anyone can be a victim of verbal abuse.It’s a common misconception that most abusers are men and most victims of abuse are women, especially when it comes to verbal abuse. While it’s true that women are at the highest risk for being abused, many men have been verbally abused as well. Children and the elderly are also at risk for this type of abuse.
- It’s also possible for anyone – men, women, and children – to be verbally abusive to others. Many people who are verbally abusive don’t even realize it. They may have been abused themselves and never learned healthy communication strategies.
Know that verbal abuse can happen in any situation.Verbal abuse doesn’t always happen at home. It can happen at work, school, or anywhere else. Friends, bosses, teachers, and caretakers can all be verbally abusive.
Learn about the different techniques verbal abusers use.Verbal abuse doesn’t always involve screaming or insults. Withholding information from someone, making hurtful comments disguised as jokes, trivializing another person’s thoughts and feelings, and blaming someone for things beyond their control are all examples of verbal abuse.
- If you or a loved one often feels discouraged, belittled, or frustrated after talking with a certain person, consider whether a subtle form of verbal abuse may be occurring.
- Common forms of emotional abuse include the following:
- Judging and criticizing
- Accusing and blaming
- Name calling
Educate yourself on the effects of verbal abuse.Verbal abuse can damage a person’s confidence, self-esteem, and sense of identity. It can make people doubt their own abilities or feel guilty when they haven’t done anything wrong. Verbally abused people may stop believing in themselves, feel like they do not have a right to their feelings, or even defend their abuser’s behavior.
- For instance, it’s not unusual for people who are being verbally abused to say things like, “He’s just been so stressed at work lately” or “Things will go back to normal soon” to make excuses for their abuser.
Learn to recognize the signs.Because you probably aren't present for every interaction between your loved one and their abuser, it can be difficult to spot the signs. Whether it's a romantic relationship, a friendship, or a parent-child relationship, some hallmark signs of verbal abuse include:
- The abused seems to 'walk on eggshells' around the abuser in order to minimize confrontation.
- The abused is often the subject of ridicule or nasty humor delivered by the abuser.
- The abused isn't free to do as they please; the abuser often controls who they spend time with and see.
- The abused is called "too sensitive" when they speak out about nasty comments, insults, or jokes.
- The abused is manipulated emotionally by the abuser with threats of hurting themselves or abandoning the abused in order to maintain power.
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