My aunt passed away last weekend, a life-long victim of abuse, self-hatred, domestic violence, anorexia and alcoholism. I am saddened, not so much from our loss of her life, but from her loss of what her life might have been.
I think verbal abuse of children or between spouses in the presence of children is one of the most toxic, deepest wounding forms of violence that plagues our society. It goes unnoticed, without visible scars, it induces shame, fear and doubt, and it leaves a conditioned, distorted understanding of how to communicate – with anger, aggression and violence. Those who have experienced verbal abuse in their early childhood often either internalize the experience where the violence goes on to rot their inner health or externalize it through acting out, projection and violence towards others they identify as more vulnerable. It takes great courage to embrace and heal the aftermath of verbal abuse. This is especially true among those living in a culture that frequently rejects therapy as an indication of weakness, or worse mental illness, where violent aggression is an established form of international diplomacy, where violence is at the core of entertainment and where fear-based discipline in parenting or even pet ownership is acceptable.
Patricia Evans writes, in The Verbally Abusive Relationship, “We are aware of politically and economically repressive systems that are maintained by physical force. We are less aware of psychological repression. This repression is maintained by verbal manipulation and coercion…Repressive systems perpetuate themselves as long as they remain unrecognized.”
Within relationship, the power that the abuser exerts over the victim is driven by a desire to dominate. It does not recognize that there are two equal human beings choosing to be in relationship, but suggests there is an inequality that legitimizes one’s right to control the other. This oppression leaves the victim confused, hurt and frustrated at the difficulty of communication, the lack of acknowledgement and the inability to move forward together in mutuality. The fear of reprisal, loss of love, or aloneness can motivate a victim to continue to attempt to address the imbalance in the relationship, sacrificing their ability to protect their own value and boundaries in the process. But the two realities of the abuser and the victim are not reconcilable unless each is willing to work together to heal the wound at the root of the violence.
Individually and collectively as a society, the most significant first step we can take to eradicate verbal abuse in relationship is first to explore our own histories, heal our own wounds, deepen our own consciousness and eliminate from our own actions any trace of violence that might distort our own reactions. Any time we feel a “charge” around something or someone – perhaps anger or disapproval or envy – that is usually because we have something that is being triggered in our past that is unhealed.
My spiritual teacher has defined unconditional love as the unrelenting desire to support the highest path for awakening in the self and other. Similarly, a reality of co-creation is a shared experience that requires both parties of a relationship to participate, and does not exist within a cycle of violence. Civil discourse, deep listening and loving kindness are tools less utilized to resolve conflict, but they are some of the most important capabilities we each hold within us.
Today my heart is heavy for my aunt who was never able to make the transformation from victim to survivor. May her memory teach us how important it is to end these cycles and heal ourselves, so that we may love others as whole beings committed to each other’s highest path.