Verbal Abuse Precedes Domestic Violence
by Patricia Evans

Responding to a reader, Dear Abby said,
"Although I have devoted much space to the problem of physical abuse, you have provided me with an opportunity to address the issue of verbal abuse--which is even more widespread."
from DEAR ABBY by Abigail Van Buren 1/1/1998.

Verbal Abuse Can Lead to Domestic Violence
I see verbal abuse as a boiling cauldron of pain and anguish in possibly millions of homes and physical abuse as the surface sputters that get our attention. Batterers don’t start beating their partners before they have first withheld their feelings from them, called them names or belittled them. A person who might cross from verbal to physical abuse is likely to show signs of an impending physical assault by launching intense and repeated verbal attacks, by indulging in rages or by becoming abusive in public. Such a person attempts to justify the abuse by blaming their partner. Batterers notoriously blame the victim of their assaults. "If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be in jail," says the batterer. The verbal abuser does likewise saying, "You made me...," or "You’re trying to control me," or "You’re trying to start a fight."

Battering and Myths
Domestic violence is an enormous problem made difficult to see, not only because it is usually hidden, but also because it is hard to understand why grown ups revert to hitting and sometimes killing the people to whom they claim to be close. Myths about the victims, such as "they bring it on themselves," or are "co-dependent", or "provoke it," also obscure the problem.

Control, Verbal Abuse and Violence
Domestic violence is about the control of one human being by another. This control begins with verbal abuse and is similar to mind control. Verbal abuse attacks one’s spirit and sense of self. Verbal abuse attempts to create self doubt. "You don’t know what you’re talking about," "You don’t have a sense of humor," "You can’t take a joke," "You’re too sensitive," "You’re crazy."

Verbal abuse so controls ones mind that some women who have left a verbally and sometimes physically abusive relationship twenty or more years ago still find themselves wondering, "Maybe there’s something I could have done...," or, "Maybe if I’d tried to explain just one more time my relationship would have gotten better." Very often the people who find themselves the target of controlling behaviors can’t comprehend that anyone would want to control them so they try to be nice. This doesn’t work. You can’t stop a rapist by being extra nice.

Opinions as Opposition

On a national television show, a man who was trying to overcome verbally abusive behaviors said, "When my partner has a different opinion from me, I feel attacked." This gives us a clue to an abuser: Love is not wishing you the best and wishing you the power and strength to have your own personal freedom. Through the eyes of the abuser, even your own opinions are seen as opposition.


One of the most effective ways for the target of domestic violence to realize that it was not their fault is to recognize how they were verbally abused. With that recognition they can come to the realization that there never was, and never would be, some way to be, some explanation to make, something to do, to make it stop. And one of the most effective ways for a person who indulges in controlling behaviors to recognizes their own behavior is to recognize that they have indulged in verbal abuse. Only then can they begin to change. Change only happens when the abuser has the courage to really want to change.

Is There Help?
Please explore this site and check out Services for information on private personal phone consultations, workshops and training programs.

More and more, organizations that help the victims of battering realize that verbal abuse precedes physical violence. Thousands of battered people have said that the hurt of verbal abuse lasted longer than the bruises of physical abuse. Verbal abuse is a kind of violence that creates a deep emotional pain and mental anguish that can be immobilizing. If you are in a verbally abusive relationship and need a support group, whether or not you have been battered, we recommend that you check with your state coalition office to find out if there is a group near you that meet your needs. You will find it at Support Resources.

by Cathy-Anne Jones

Because the victim is so unheard, so belittled, so undermined, there comes a time when they too might lash out in violence (physical or verbal). Usually this is after trying to communicate in every other fashion. Then, having achieved what the abuser has been looking for, they can say to you, "Yes, but you have been violent too".

This is a very dangerous trap for those who try to take responsibility for their own lives. One thinks " well, I have.......I am no better than he - I have struck out - I too have hurt and therefore, I must be more understanding of his rages". This is very dangerous and very subtle!

I abhor violence in any form yet I have hit my husband - I have been careful about verbal abuse because I have always been aware of the damage of words and not being able to take things back - I also believe that one is responsible for the all words they utter (in all situations) and that words can help create your reality.

But the pain and constant undermining and belittling/mimicking took their toll - I could no longer hold back......I hit him. Like some other abusers, he can say clearly "I have never hit you but you have hit me". He has only "pushed me around a few times" and of course, I'm too sensitive/too unforgiving/too wimpy, etc. Please warn victims that it is not their fault EVEN IF they have lashed back. It takes a HUGE amount of battering to get someone like me to hurt anyone (verbally or physically).

For a look at the denial of abuse, please see the extract below. For additional thoughts on the subject and important information, I recommend that you check out BLAIN NELSON’S ABUSE PAGES

The following is adapted from Blain Nelson’s article
Denial: It's not de long river in Egypt. Revision 15:32:03, 3 August 1998

Denial at it's most basic is saying something hasn't happened. It is extremely sick, and extremely powerful. It is the way that we can commit abuse and still live with ourselves. It allows us to continue being abusive by staying in the sick place, and by allowing us to hide our sickness from others so that we can maintain the abusive situation for a longer period of time.

We lie to others, and most devastatingly, we lie to ourselves.The major tactics we use in maintaining our denial are minimizing, rationalizing, and justifying. The effect of these tactics is to redefine what happened, what is acceptable, and what is harmful in such a way that ultimately any act, no matter how hideous, can be carried out.

Minimizing distances us from the damage we caused by claiming that the damage wasn't as bad as it actually was. "I didn't beat her up, I just pushed her." By minimizing the damage we have caused, we can then blame the victim for "exaggerating" the abuse or accuse the victim of simply making the whole thing up, depending on the nature of the evidence we face. If there is enough evidence to prove that we have done something wrong, we can use partial repentance: "I'll accept the responsibility of anything you can prove I did, and nothing more."

Rationalizing is lying to oneself about what was done to make it seem acceptable -- telling ourselves rational (sounding) lies if you will. "She's lucky I only hit her once. Anybody else would have beaten the crap out of her." This lying becomes more and more practiced until we can convince ourselves of anything -- particularly when the pain of admitting the truth of what we've done becomes larger and harder to deal with.

Justifying is explaining why it was okay to do what was done. "It was okay for me to tell her that I would kill her (justifying) because she was becoming so upset and she had to shut up before she disturbed the neighbors (rationalizing) and I didn't really mean it anyway (minimizing). She knows I could never hurt her."

The Cure
The only cure for denial is for us to give up the charade and the lies and admit to ourselves the reality of what we have done. Others can not force an end to our denial. However, the use of truth, honesty, and holding us accountable for our actions can go a long way in helping us move from denial to recovery.



Some of these safety suggestions apply if you are separated from a violent person, and some if you are living with a violent person, or a person who demonstrates violence by breaking things, walls, doors, furniture or threatens you. It is important to know that a threat to your physical safety is the assault part of "assault & battery."

Make the home as safe as possible by changing the locks, adding dead bolts, and obtaining an apartment that is not on the first floor.

Remove sharp objects and weapons from sight.

Keep a telephone in a room that locks from the inside.

If possible, purchase a cellular phone and keep it in a pocket or in an accessible hiding place; pre-program 911 or the number of a safe friend or relative into the phone's directory. Cellular services frequently offer phones free when you sign up for service.

Plan and practice an escape route out of the home and a safety plan for the children.

Keep a bag packed and hidden in a safe place at home (or locked in a car trunk with only one key), or with a safe relative or friend, in case of flight. It should include: money for phone calls, transportation, and one month's expenses, clothing, diapers, court documents, passports, identification (social security, driver's license, welfare identification, family photographs), birth certificates, school and medical records, necessary medicines, credit cards, checkbooks, work permits, green cards, lease/mortgage payments, insurance papers, bank books, telephone/address books, car/house keys, and ownership documents for car/house and copies of financial information if possible.

If a protection order includes provisions about the children, give a copy to the children's school or child care facility. Make extra copies of protection orders and keep them in safe places. Attach a copy of the interstate protection order provisions of the Violence Against Women Act and proof of service to each protection order (See 18 U.S.C. 2262 (1994)) to minimize enforceability problems in other states.

Show the orders to police officers to improve their response. Show neighbors a picture of the batterer and/or the batterer's vehicle so they can screen visitors and call the police if necessary. Batterers/stalkers often gain access to apartment buildings by pretending to be someone else or by following tenants indoors.

Develop signals for neighbors and friends to call the police, such as banging on the floor or wall. If possible, arrange to have a relative or friend call every day at an appointed time.

Enroll in a reliable self-defense course and regularly practice these skills. Obtain a private or unlisted telephone number, and be selective about revealing a new address. Batterers have located victims through friends, relatives, co-workers, court or social services documents, the post office, and private investigators.

Use the block code when making telephone calls. Use an answering machine or all trace when receiving calls to collect evidence of harassment or protection order violations.

To Thwart A Stalker
Alter routines -- change transportation routes or timing (including picking up children from school) so that the stalker cannot locate you. Trade cars with a friend or relative. Stalkers/Batterers often locate former victims by identifying their vehicles.

Be aware that motor vehicle records, including addresses, may be available to the public. Most Departments of Motor Vehicles will permit drivers to use a number other than their social security number for identification purposes and will keep information confidential upon request. If a batterer or stalker becomes violent or threatening: Call the police at 911 (or the equivalent) and ask for the dispatcher's name. When the police respond, obtain the officer's name and badge number. (Lawyers should use this information to pursue negative or positive police responses, locate police reports, and subpoena witnesses)

Seek medical treatment if injured by the batterer or stalker. Photograph all injuries.

Record all appearances of the stalker in a note book.

Travel with another person. Victims frequently are harassed on the way to or from work by stalkers or batterers who are jealous of co-workers, or want victims to lose their jobs and become economically dependent.

Safety at Work
Give a picture of the stalker and the stalker's vehicle to security guards and colleagues at the workplace. If the stalker shows up, security or other workplace personnel can order the stalker to leave or call the police. Keep a copy of your protection order at work. Notify a supervisor or the Human Resources Department of the existence of the order and give them a copy.

Screen calls with voice-mail or a machine if possible, or ask a colleague to screen calls or listen in on the line. recorded threats made by the stalker/batterer may be used as evidence in court.

Ronet Bachman & Linda E. Salzman, U.S. Dep't of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey, Violence Against Women: Estimates from the Redesigned Survey 1, 4 (1995).
Barbara J. Hart & Jane Stuehling, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Personalized Safety Plan (1992)
Office of the City Attorney, City of San Diego, California, Personalized Safety Plan (1990).
Cambridge Police Department, Domestic Violence Safety Plan, Norfolk County District Attorney's Office, Massachusetts, Personal Safety Plan and Youth Safety Plan (1996).