Sticks and Stones...

There are some who would believe that verbal abuse doesn't "count", that its victims are weak-minded, overdramatic, emotional cripples who just can't take a joke. They might tell such a victim to stop overreacting, just get over it, and just get on with their lives, remaining blindly insensitive to the fact that words do indeed hurt, and that such pain takes a lifetime to heal.

Some people don't believe that verbal and emotional abuse are real because they don't leave any concrete, tangible effects. A person who is battered, for instance, can point at the bruises on their arms and at their broken bones, and have solid evidence that something happened. Some kinds of sexual abuse leave lasting scars, as well -- many survivors of sexual abuse are unable to bear children because of the scar tissue left behind by the brutality of their perpetrators.

But emotional abuse doesn't leave physical reminders. There are no bruises, no broken bones, no slapmarks, no welts, no scar tissue, nothing at all to indicate that anything happened, except for the incidents seared on the mind of the victim.

Memory should be enough, you might say, to prove that something happened. A victim's word should be enough to validate their experiences. Why, then, do we not give emotional abuse the full coverage that it deserves?

Emotional abuse is easy to hide.The perpetrator can so easily blame the victim for any verbal attack that the victim may well doubt their own sanity. An even more insidious crazymaking tactic is for the perpetrator to deny that anything painful ever happened. "I never said that," they might say, "You're just making it up. Are you trying to start something?!" Or perhaps, the abuser behaves so wonderfully in public that no one could ever believe that they could behave so horribly in private. And how could anyone on the outside of such a relationship know that anything was wrong?

Emotional abuse is easy to blame on the victim.There is a firm belief in our society today that words cannot hurt, that if a person is brave enough they need not fear the insults or verbal rage of others, and that if they do so, they are weak and insecure, and are to blame for not being strong enough to take it. One of my own abusers once justified her actions with this very reason: when I attempted to leave the room, she berated me for being unable to handle her abuse. The truth of the matter is that she wanted to manipulate me into remaining in the room so that she could continue her verbal attack on me as she liked. It was a dare that I could not win.

This kind of abuse is especially easy to blame on a child victim, since children are immature by nature, and are often frustrating. But this is the reality of childrearing, and anyone who is even remotely considering having a child needs to think long and hard about this. Kids will drive you nuts, and it's largely not their fault until they're adults. They simply haven't had time to learn maturity yet.

Emotional abuse affects the soul, and the soul is invisible.Many people are skeptical about believing in things which they cannot see with their own eyes and touch with their own hands; like the doubting St. Thomas, they need tangible, concrete proof of something before they will believe it. Emotional abuse does not affect the physical body in readily tangible ways; rather, it affects the heart and soul of a victim first, and then the pain wreaks havoc on the body as a by-product. Wise people know that the emotional aspects of any kind of abuse are, by far, the most damaging part; but more skeptical folks may blame the victim for "taking it wrong" or "being too sensitive" or "overreacting". It can be hard for someone with solid self-esteem to ever imagine that a person can be ripped to shreds from the inside out.

But it happens.

And, a special piece: In Defense of SENSITIVITY

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