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 a few 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 Part III.

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

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 verbal weapons.

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 the following:

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 causing it.

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