Tough love

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Verbal abusers are not open to rational discussion, explanations of the hurt they are causing, or displays of grief. They interpret this as complaining; they see you as you being a martyr; and usually their response is to ‘twist the knife’.

For anyone who has suffered verbal abuse ‘behind closed doors’ the hypocrisy is unbearable. To be treated in this way when others are given a vastly different impression of the abuser is incredibly hurtful. When the twisted logic of the abuser  heaps all the blame upon you it creates an indescribable feeling of desperation.

Conditions the thinking

Perhaps worst of all – when, through subtle innuendo and disparaging humour, the abuser conditions the thinking of outsiders to perceive you as over-emotional or unstable, the grief can be all-consuming. Other people may think that you are just complaining; that you are simply being a martyr, even though you know that you have every reason to complain.

Complaining simply doesn’t work. Complaining hands your power over to the people and circumstances you complain to and about, making you feel like their victim. Complaining often focuses on a past you can’t change. It keeps you scavenging in yesterday’s debris, searching for evidence about ‘who did what’ and ‘when’ and ‘why’, while your present slips fruitlessly away. Complaining polarizes relationships. People who don’t like stress, anxiety and negativity may begin to distance themselves from you.

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Injustice or abuse against you or your family are legitimate cause for complaint. To do nothing at such times is irresponsible. But complaining about it is not doing something about it. No matter how misunderstood you may be; no matter how helpless you may feel,  you need to put in place strategies that will make the verbal abuse ineffective. This is something you have to do yourself.

The most obvious strategy to  prevent the abuser’s tactics from being effective is to leave permanently – to put as much distance as you possibly can between you and your abuser. And in the end this may be the only strategy that can be put in place – certainly where there is physical as well as verbal abuse.

Stop trying

This isn’t always possible or desirable, however, for a variety of reasons, not least economic ones. And it’s worth trying other strategies first. You will have already learned that you can’t ‘engage with’ a verbal abuser. Getting upset, showing how hurt you are, trying to explain – none of these things work – they only result in yet more abuse. So stop trying.

The only thing that a verbally abusive person understands is consequences. This is the key to preventing the abuser’s tactics from being effective. For the victim of long-term abuse, however,  it’s not that easy! Children who grow up in an abusive environment can develop a paralyzing fear of conflict. Even to hear an argument between other people can trigger a churning fear inside. This needs to be recognised as a phobia – as much a phobia as fear of spiders.

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Allodoxaphobia: the fear of other people’s opinions; the fear of confrontation; the fear of arguments.  Allodoxaphobia can be caused by unresolved emotional conflict. This phobia affects people who have long been associated with some environment where they always feel set back or their opinion was not accounted.

When the phobic person actually encounters, or even anticipates being in the presence of the feared situation, s/he experiences immediate anxiety. The physical symptoms of anxiety may include a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, chest or abdominal discomfort, trembling, etc. and the emotional component involves an intense fear.

Usually  people try to escape, and then to avoid the feared situation wherever possible. This may be fairly easy if the feared situation is rarely encountered and avoidance will not therefore restrict the person’s life very much. At other times avoiding the feared situation limits their life severely. Escape and avoidance also make the feared object/situation more frightening.

Learned response

With these phobias the cause seems to be explained more as a conditioned (learned) anxiety response which has become associated with the feared object or situation.

Conflict in a healthy relationship isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes it is necessary to the growth of the relationship. We all need to be able to stand up for ourselves; for our rights when necessary. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a well-recognised treatment for phobias; confronting the very thing that you most fear.

In the case of Allodoxaphobia it’s the fear of confrontation that needs to be confronted. Just as the fear of confrontation is a conditioned (learned) anxiety response, so the cure must be a learned response. It will take time, therefore, to be able to easily make a stand. But it has to be done. There is such a thing as tough love and in verbally-abusive situations it is absolutely necessary.

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When abuse starts say very firmly “That’s an abusive statement! Stop it right now. If you don’t stop I am going to . . . . ”  This is where there must be a consequence – to leave, perhaps, no matter how inconvenient it may be; to walk away and stay away for a decent length of time. Always carry out the consequence you threaten. Never, ever,  give in or back down, no matter how much abuse the threat triggers  – or else  the strategy will never work.

You may need to plan in advance of the abuse. Find ways to ensure that you are able to immediately carry out your threat. For example, have a bag packed and ready to pick up and go. Make arrangements with a trusted friend or relative to have a key to their home. If you have young children you will need to plan how you can take them with you.

Mean what you say

You’ll probably need to carry out your threat a number of times before your abusive partner gets the message that you mean what you say and that you will definitely carry out your threat. Don’t expect understanding from your partner – ever. Don’t even try to explain. Make definitive statements; “your behaviour is verbally abusive.”  Just stand firm and stay quietly determined.

Short of a miracle the best you can hope for is ‘containment’ of the abusive behaviour. It’s all about you now; your sense of self-worth; your recovery from the trauma that the years of verbal abuse have caused; your decision as to whether or not the relationship is worth trying to salvage to some extent. You have long earned the right to walk away, and your abusive partner or family member has long lost the right to have you stay. Short of a miracle the best you can hope for is ‘containment’!

But victims of abuse carry the wounds of the abuse – scars on the soul. The impact of the words or actions of others upon their lives must be recognised, acknowledged and then ministered to. Victims of abuse often believe that they must be at fault.  This is why ministry to victims of abuse needs such care and compassion. Information and counselling may lead them to the healing they need but information and counselling alone will never be enough.

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