Verbal Abuse Part 1: What Is It?
This is the first in a series of three brief articles on verbal abuse. A
portion of the material is adapted from a
leader's guide on verbal abuse published by K-State University,
which is a secular consideration limited to the topic of abusive verbal
communication. For a brief treatment of the biblical concept of
submission, refer to
A Commentary on Religious Issues in Family Violence.
Beginning in 1989 the Geftakys Assemblies began promoting teaching
about wife training. Husbands were taught to insist on instant obedience
and submission from their wives, no matter how ridiculous the demand.
There was to be no hesitation, no questioning, no complaining. Here are
examples and comments
gleaned from various sources.
The atmosphere that was created was a breeding ground for verbal
abuse. The closed authoritarian Assembly system imposed an immature
dependency on the members that prevented them from questioning this
teaching. Normal listening and negotiating skills between spouses were
extinguished. Husbands were being trained to imitate a narcissistic
leader, with all that implies of self-importance, arrogance, lack of
empathy, exploitation of others and feeling of entitlement.
The material in this series of articles provides a starting place for
discussion between husbands and wives about the Assembly requirements.
Some Assembly husbands may not have had a natural inclination toward
control or narcissism, and for them, discussion might be all that is
needed for change. Others, however, may have had a more controlling or
narcissistic nature to begin with. In such cases, verbal abuse is only
one component in a larger picture. This series begins with aspects of
verbal abuse, but includes help to identify other aspects of control and
abuse. See Part II and
The K-State leader's guide outlines some of the characteristics of
verbal abuse from the book,
The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans. It also
provides some clear distinctions between verbal abuse and common
communication problems that are unintentionally hurtful.
Characteristics of Verbal Abuse
Withholding - Refusing to share ideas, feelings, intimacy, thoughts, dreams.
- Countering - Disputing the partner's thoughts, feelings, perceptions,
experiences; arguing any point or idea.
- Discounting - Minimizing the partner's accomplishments or experiences.
- Abusive jokes - Telling jokes about the partner that humiliate and
- Blocking and diverting - Creating verbal barriers to the partner's efforts
to communicate; changing the conversation to gain control.
- Accusing and blaming - Blaming the partner for the abuse, which excuses
the abuser's actions.
- Judging and criticizing - Putting down the partner's thoughts, actions or
- Trivializing - Pretending that the partner's opinions, actions, thoughts
or concerns don't count or are trivial.
- Undermining - Eroding the partner's self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Threatening - Implying harm to the partner's well-being or the well-being
of the children.
- Name calling - Stripping away the partner's identity and replacing it with
a minimizing or degrading epithet - "the wife", "the hag."
- Chronic forgetting - Forgets appointments, special days, agreements,
- Ordering and commanding - obvious displays of power and control.
- Denial of anger and abuse - Denying the partner's reality and the abuser's
- Abusive anger - Aggressive outbursts that are threatening, and may
escalate to physical violence.
Any of these verbal weapons used regularly erode the partner's
self-esteem and the capacity to act independently. They create shame and
humiliation. They are methods to manipulate, weaken and control the victim.
Assembly wife-training explicitly encouraged at least half a dozen of these
When is verbal conflict not verbal abuse?
Presumably, couples have been moving away from their Assembly behavior
in some ways since 2003. But quite apart from Assembly training, men and
women in general tend to have some communication problems in our culture
that sometimes result in painful situations.
Research studies show that there are gender differences in the way
people communicate. Conversation style differences between genders are
neither good nor bad, but differences taken to extremes can be hurtful
and lead to misunderstanding for both people. Some of the key
differences between typical male and female conversation styles include
Women tend to focus on connections in and between relationships.
Intimacy, sharing and teamwork are concepts that most women find
comfortable. They may try to create a community of connections and
bonding with others by talking about issues and problems. Men more often
focus on independence and status. They tend to be more comfortable with
competition and conflict, and may attempt to achieve bonding in an
environment where status and competition thrive. Women who go to
extremes to avoid competition and conflict can be easily exploited.
Men who avoid the involvement of sharing and teamwork become isolated.
Consequently, if a husband initiates an atmosphere of competition and
conflict in a marriage, because that's how he is used to building
intimacy with his guy friends, and his wife goes to extremes to avoid
this kind of involvement, she is at risk for being exploited. For
example, a wife suggests they eat at restaurant X. The husbands asserts
his independence and superior gourmand prowess by telling her, "No, no,
XXX is much better." Not that he strongly prefers that particular
restaurant so much as he wants to establish status, and bond with his
wife through low key give and take. She, however, wants to avoid
conflict at any cost, so she defers to him. The wife's preferences are
negated, and the husband gets his way simply because their typical
conversational style tend to stifle negotiation and compromise.
Note that the above example doesn't take into consideration any outside
influence on the couple. When Assembly teaching on the submission of
women is factored in, the exploitation and stifling is exponentially
- Men talk more than women in public, while women talk more than
men in private. In public, men tend use conversation to command
attention, convey information and insist on agreement. They sometimes
use talk as a weapon. When they retreat to the safety of home, they no
longer feel compelled to talk to protect their status, so they retreat
into a peaceful silence. But home is the arena where a woman is more
comfortable talking. She talks to him, wanting to bond through sharing,
and through discussing issues and problems, but he doesn't really want
to talk much. One researcher notes that the man who dominates the home
conversation with verbal abuse is taking his "public talk" to an
- Women tend to be more compliant than men, and use more "hedge"
language such as, "It seems to me," "Don't you think..?," "I might be
wrong, but..." In nonverbal interactions, women are more likely to lower
their eyes or blink in response to a man's direct stare, move away if
crowded by a man, or smile if a man frowns. A woman's nonverbal
responses to male dominance tend to perpetuate female powerlessness.
Men, on the other hand, use language with clear intentions, and
interrupt women almost twice as much as women interrupt men.
Interrupting gives men more control over conversation and its outcome.
A recognition of gender differences is necessary to identify whether
or not words have become weapons intentionally. An awareness of the
differences will help a woman determine whether an argument is about a
real conflict or about conversational "fighting" styles. In the heat of
verbal conflict, it is often difficult to determine if the argument is
actually hostile. But if the conflict purposely humiliates, belittles,
or degrades, there is no confusion whether or not the conflict stems
from conversational style differences; it's obviously abuse.
Victims of verbal abuse will find it especially difficult to acknowledge
that her spousal conflicts are not just due to conversational style
differences, but are a way to degrade and control. A woman who has been
verbally or emotionally abused might feel more submissive, confused, and
self-blaming than a woman who has experienced physical abuse only. A
woman with bruises or a swollen lip knows she has been abused. Emotional
or verbal abuse is sometimes so complex and bewildering it is difficult
to name and to take action against. If it can't be clearly identified,
the victim may believe she is imagining it, or worse, that she is