Dealing With Verbal Abuse #RedFlags
Do you ever have someone who stresses you out beyond normal? Someone who yells at you or makes digs? Do they make it seem like you are the one to blame for just about everything?
There are a couple of people in my life that I realize are verbally abusive. Harsh words to say, I know. But pretending that they have my best interests at heart is a complete disservice to myself. And hoping that they will change is often wishful thinking.
You know what I have found with people who are abusive; they do the following three things often.
1. ATTACK VERBALLY
People who are abusive find something wrong with you, whether it is how you look or what you do.
They use strategies such as blaming, criticizing, threatening, or name-calling as a means to push for their way.
One excellent example is threatening to tell the authorities about your supposed transgression. It’s kind of like the days when you were a kid and someone said, “I’m going to tell your mother.”
Different ways to verbally threaten include threatening to expose you as a fraud. Or tell your boss. Or some other permutation. Something meant to disarm you but not be as bad as physical harm.
Those are extreme examples though because verbal abuse is more likely to be criticism of some sort, maybe as a supposed claim of giving you feedback. Whatever the attack, it invalidates you as a person and it happens on a rather regular basis.
Abusers will most assuredly discount what you have to say.
“Oh, that’s no big deal.”
“You think you have it bad, let me tell you about…”
“You don’t know what you are talking about.”
“You’re no good at XYZ.”
Discounting is a way of minimizing you and an attempt to make you feel small and powerless.
3. SHAME AND GUILT
Abusers like to push you down a rabbit hole of fear, trying to turn the fear towards you. Fears that you are not good enough, not doing enough, and other such nonsense.
“How dare you do that!”
“You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“You’re not going to eat that are you?”
“What would the neighbors think?”
They will tap into your weaknesses and exploit your secret sense of shame or guilt.
Perhaps there is some truth to what is said and there is something you need to improve upon. But that doesn’t mean the abuser is justified with the behavior.
All of these strategies are invalidating. And can mess you up but are also a part of life. You’ll have experienced them on some level from various people over time. However, if you notice that the same person uses these strategies over and over again, you probably feel tense around them. Or you might be stressed out just thinking about dealing with this person.
(Please note that there are other tactics used by abusers but these ones are enough to identify what is happening. You can also check out my article on gaslighting.)
How do you handle people like this?
1. For starters, I find it really important to establish and keep firm boundaries. Check out my article #BoundariesAreSexy. Boundaries make a huge difference!
2. I’ve also learned (the hard way) to trust my intuition and myself.
If something feels off, then it is off. Stop second-guessing yourself or giving someone the benefit of the doubt when clearly he (or she) doesn’t deserve it. There are red flags waving like crazy (or maybe more subtly) and by pretending everything is okay then it is quite plainly denial or discounting a situation. Your body is sending you signals, so listen.
3. Do not engage. Walk away. Don’t even talk to them.
4. If you have to have a conversation with them because they are a coworker, ex-spouse, or something like that, keep the conversation to a minimum. Say as little as possible.
Abusers like to take what you say and turn it around on you (again) and try to hang you with your words. They are master manipulators.
5. Remember that you don’t have to explain yourself. Abusers have this mindset that you should explain yourself and then pick apart whatever you say. There is no need to justify your thoughts or feelings. (You have the right to feel however you feel!)
Occasionally, you may need to share some facts for clarification, especially if a co-worker or customer. But keep it brief.
Lately, I’ve taken to meditating when I feel abused by another. Questions that I ask myself include the following:
- Where do I feel it in my body?
- Where do I need to release trauma or pain or some other form of hurt?
- How do I best stand for myself and have strong boundaries?
These are not one-time solutions. It takes a certain level of vigilance and compassion for yourself without getting trapped in the pain.