Are You Being Verbally Abused?
Are You Being Verbally Abused?
In today’s podcast episode I’m sharing a story (with permission) – and a lesson – from a big conversation I had recently with my daughter about verbal abuse.
Listen to the podcast episode here:
Read the transcript and find more details here:
I usually try to keep this podcast (and blog) clean, but just a heads-up that there is some bad language in this post. I’m going to be talking about my daughter’s personal story that I have permission to use. My daughter came downstairs the other morning, and I was sitting on the couch trying to meditate, and she said, “Mom, can I talk to you?”
I knew this was going to be an important conversation.
When my kids ask me that I always know whatever I’m doing, I need to put down and give them my ultimate attention because it’s going to be a conversation and a half.
My daughter is gay, and it’s something that I am a thousand percent, not only supportive of, but excited about.
I always knew, having so many kids, that odds were good that one of them would turn out to be gay. I just assumed it would be one of my boys. I don’t know why I made that assumption; it’s very naive. When my daughter told me I was thrilled, so happy and, of course, ran out and got a bunch of books.
I already kind of had a speech prepared in my head because I had done so much research and heard many gay people talk about how important it is when they come out to their parents. How their response, the first couple of sentences really matters, and I wanted to nail it.
I knew that if any of my kids ever come out as gay, I wanted my first couple of sentences to show them that I’m supportive, loving, and excited.
I already had a speech planned out. I just thought it was going to be for one of my boys, so I adjusted my speech. And, anyway, long story short, we’re all thrilled. My entire family is excited and happy for Lauren. I went out and bought everyone in my family rainbow t-shirts. I sent them around to my parents and my brother and his wife. I asked them if they could please make videos for Lauren in their shirts, telling her that they love her and are happy for her.
If she ever feels attacked or vilified or unsupported in her life, I wanted her to have a collection of videos she can look at and know, yeah, I’ve got a really solid support group.
I promise this post does include important information about addiction.
I’m just taking a long personal way there. So bear with me today. Going back to my daughter, I had no idea that there was still so much prejudice against LGBTQ individuals.
With the recent riots going on and the Black Lives Matter movement being so prevalent, I am aware of the prejudice that goes on against African Americans and minorities, but I just thought we had moved on past the prejudice against LGBTQ individuals.
Just recently, one of Lauren’s very good friends got mad at her (here comes the swearing) and wrote her a text saying, “you’re a f*cking idiot and a f*ggot.” Lauren came downstairs, and this is what she wanted to talk to me about. She said, “I don’t know what to do.”
It opened up a dialogue between us about what verbal abuse looks like and what do verbal abusers or even abusers in general look and sound like.
And immediately, it brought me back to my first marriage when I loved somebody suffering from addiction.
I explained to her: Lauren, when you are in a relationship, whether romantic or even a friendship with somebody who has abusive tendencies, they are not going to look like an asshole right away. Abusers are smarter than that. They know they’re not going to be abusive right off the bat because then you wouldn’t give them the time of day.
You are a smart girl. You would have said, “Screw you. I’m out of here,” and left the relationship, or not even started it, but abusers know they need to capture you, rope you in, and charm you. They get you to care for them deeply before they can truly reveal who they are.
I told her that even if your friend is 99.5%, a good guy, that other 0.5%, the part that is verbally abusive, willing to call you names and belittle you is still unacceptable, and you have to pay attention to that.
That still defines them as abusive. You cannot ignore that.
I explained to her: this is an opportunity in your life, a genuine and solid opportunity to value yourself, to declare self-love and say, you know what?
“This friendship is over. This relationship is not going to happen because I’m not going to put up with somebody that talks to me like this. I love myself too much to make space and to make excuses for you to call me hurtful names for you to belittle me.”
Even as we were talking, he’s writing her saying, “Where the hell are you? I want to talk about this, answer your phone, or I’m going to pull my hair out.”
If you’ve taken any of our programs, you will know that there is a cycle of abuse. And this is part of the cycle, one in which the abuser wants to continue engagement with you. They follow you. They stalk you. They won’t let you go. They want to continue the disagreement.
And so let me ask you a question today: Is there anyone in your life that reminds you of my daughter’s friend?
Is there anyone in your life that is saying terrible things to you?
And I’m going to get specific here. So pardon me for my language, but is anyone telling you to shut the f*ck up?
Is anyone telling you you’re a whore?
Is anyone telling you that you’re a bitch?
That you’re a whiner?
That you’re a slut?
Is anyone belittling your past?
Is anyone trying to keep you under their control by hurting you and harming you and lashing out at you?
Remember abusers, groom their victims.
They sit there, and they’ll say something so incredibly hurtful… but not right away in the relationship. Usually, it’s after they have gotten you in a position where you care for them, or you love them, and they test you slowly, right?
They don’t start with just a bang like, “Shut the f*ck up.” They usually start off with little dings, little pings, little hurtful remarks to see how much you can take. How much can I get away with? How much can I lash out?
I could see that this relationship meant a lot to my daughter. There’s a lot of history there. And she wanted to make excuses. She was tempted to belittle, right? She was tempted to say, “Well, you know, he’s never really done that before,” but instead, she stopped herself.
She said, “You know, Mom, I feel so embarrassed because I never really saw the signs.”
“I guess there were warning signs now that I think back over the history of our friendship, but I ignored them.”
And then she put her head in her hands and bent her head down. And she said, “I just feel sick. I just feel sick to my stomach because I feel so embarrassed that I didn’t see this sooner. I opened up to him. I really trusted him. And I opened up to him, and I told him things and, and I’ve been vulnerable with him.”
And I thought, oh my gosh, I feel like I’m looking at me. I got the feeling like I was looking at me in the sense that we all sit there and kind of beat ourselves up for being in a relationship with somebody who doesn’t treat us well and continuing to put up with it and tolerate it. Then we all feel slightly embarrassed or ashamed of ourselves.
And so I said to her, “No, baby, you don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed. A lot of women have been here, and instead of sitting there, beating yourself up about it and feeling embarrassed – which is okay – we can also move through it.”
We can say, okay, let’s remember we are empowered here. We are empowered human beings, and we can choose what we are willing to put up with.
We can choose to set boundaries and put up walls around ourselves that protect us from people that harm us.
I told her to think about her girlfriends; she has a great group of girlfriends. I said, “If one of them were to say this to you, would you sit there and make excuses?”
You probably would sit there and say, “No, this is not good. I don’t need this in my life.” This is an opportunity for you to honor yourself, honor your values and morals, and say, “You know what, no, I’m not allowing somebody to talk to me like that.”
So in that moment, she grabbed her phone. And she sent him a text back saying, “I’m going to take a little pause, a break from our friendship right now, just to reflect and to grab my bearings. And I’ll reach out to you if, and when I want to.”
She wasn’t burning any bridges. She wasn’t exploding back. She wasn’t retaliating with hurtful things; she was just claiming her space, honoring her soul, recognizing her womanhood, and saying, “This is not okay with me at 16.”
And I’m so amazingly proud because it’s the exact opposite of what I did when I was 16.
I told her that I was in a verbally abusive relationship with a man who treated me horribly when I was her age.
I loved him. And most of the time, he was great. I absolutely made excuses and told myself, “Yeah, but he’s such a funny guy. He’s super popular. Everybody likes him. All my girlfriends want to be with him. I’m so lucky that he chose me.” I still have nightmares about that guy to this day. I didn’t honor my soul.
I didn’t make a healthy decision by saying, “No more. I’m not gonna let this happen. I can do better. I can be better. This is not love. This is not healthy.”
I’m wise enough now to recognize that I didn’t do what my daughter did today. And I’m so proud of her. This is why I continue to say that addiction is such a wonderful opportunity for us. Even if it feels like a world is closing in, and we have no options, and our future is doomed.
It is not true. Addiction is a blessing. This is an opportunity.
If I had not been in a relationship with an abusive and addictive man, I would not be able to pass down the wisdom to my kids that there is a different way.
I would not have the wisdom to be able to recognize the patterns that I didn’t recognize myself years ago. I would not be able to educate my daughters on not getting into unhealthy relationships and educate my sons on ways to treat women.
Like I told my daughter today, it is better to have to be lonely or to have just one true friend than to have a bunch of friends that include people who are verbally abusive.
Recently, my daughter competed with her best friend in a poetry contest at school, and her best friend won. Her best friend is the sweetest, most wonderful girl in the world. And I asked her, “How did you feel? How did you treat her when she won?”
She said, “Mom, she said she didn’t want to talk about it in front of me because she was worried about rubbing my face in it. And I said, no, please talk about it. I’m so happy for you. I’m celebrating you. I want you to do well, put it on a tee-shirt, you know, advertise it, so please bring it up with me.”
That is true friendship. And that is true love.
I brought up how I believe that when my husband and I disagree, we don’t go into another room to discuss it, away from the children. I actually love to discuss it in front of them.
I want to model for my children, what it looks like to have a healthy, loving argument. I want them to see what I say to their father, how their father receives that, and then how their father responds. And then how I received that. And how I respond.
The other day my husband and I were having an argument over something. There’s no shouting, there’s no name-calling, and there’s no swearing at each other.
Lauren was in the room, and she grabbed her phone and started to get on her phone. And I said, “No, Lauren put the phone down. I want you to see this. I want you to witness this.”
I want you to learn from this because here’s the truth: Anger is okay to feel.
Anger is not bad. Anger is a normal feeling. Don’t shove anger down; allow it to come through you. The key is when you get angry, to express it in a healthy format, use your big words, be a mature adult, express your feelings, but don’t do it in a mean, hurtful way.
It’s part of growing up, right? Take accountability for your feelings, be truthful, but don’t use your words to hurt people. Use your words to try and build a connection with people even when you’re angry. And so I was telling Lauren that it’s okay for two people who love each other to get angry with each other. This whole notion that we shouldn’t argue or work through problems is ridiculous.
My parents never argued. And then, one day, my dad just packed his bags and left, and I couldn’t figure out why. I don’t think that’s necessarily healthy.
It’s okay to have arguments as long as you have two people that are playing fair. If you have a person who is playing by the rules, and you have a verbal abuser, then it’s impossible to fight fair.
In our programs, we go into different types of abuse: there’s financial abuse, there’s physical abuse, there’s verbal abuse, sexual abuse. In any instance, if there’s somebody that’s abusing you, it’s impossible to fight fair. It’s impossible to be productive in an argument because they’re not playing by the same set of rules. They’re not playing by any rules. Their rules are to hurt you as long as it takes to get you under control and put you back in your place.
So what do you do if you’re in a verbally abusive relationship?
You do what my daughter did. You sit there, and you honor your soul. You honor who you are. And you say, “I’m taking a time out. I’ll let you know if I want to reengage in this.”
They’ll do everything they can to try and get you to engage back with them. They’ll insult you. They’ll beg you. They’ll stalk you.
And that’s when you exercise your self-control and say, “I’m blocking you,” or “I’m moving out temporarily with the kids,” or “I’m hanging up the phone,” whatever it is. But you know you teach people how you are treated by people. The only reason why people abuse you is because you’ve made it okay to be abused.
I’m not saying abuse is your fault. But please, don’t forget how empowered you are. If you are not around, then you are not able to be abused. If there’s no audience for your abuser, the only person they can abuse is themselves, right?
If you disengage, if you quit the relationship, if you walk away, there’s no one for them to abuse anymore. There’s no audience. So walk away and disengage. I know it’s scary.
I saw the fear on my daughter’s eyes when she realized that she needed to end this friendship. And I remember the realization that I came to when I needed to end my marriage.
It was horrible. It was scary. It was. But let me tell you something:
You have the most amazing courage hiding within your body that cannot and will not come out unless you do something scary.
I promise you that your courage does not show up when you’re folding laundry or remaining comfortable. Your courage bubbles up to the surface when you call on it to do something in fear. That is the only way you are going to know if you can do it.
It’s not logical. You can’t sit there and say, okay, “I’m going to do this. And then maybe if I plan it all out perfectly, I’ll start to feel courageous, and then I’ll do it.”
If you wait for courage to arrive before you take action, you’re going to be waiting for your entire life.
The thing about courage is it doesn’t show up until you’re taking the very first scary step. And you’re asking yourself, am I going to make it? And you take the step. And you’re more confident. You’re more powerful.
Here’s the deal with courage: the more steps you take, the more it shows up, and the stronger it becomes and the more solid you feel in your bones and gut.
You learn to count on your courage. That the moment that you need it, you count on it to be there.
Even though it’s nothing tangible, you know, I’ve done scary things before and I can do them again. As long as I’m doing them, I know courage will show up and stand right next to me and get me through this.
Every single one of you, there’s not one of you reading this that doesn’t have that gift. Now there’s some of you that might not exercise it. There’s some of you that don’t believe me. And some that will hold onto fear and stay stuck and feel helpless. That’s a choice.
For all of you, you have this courage. It’s innately born in you. It cannot get beaten out of you. It doesn’t disappear. You don’t need to read 12 self-help books or have a thousand therapy sessions to get it back. It’s just there. It’s not a gift. No one can give it to you.
You were born with it, and it never leaves you.
How much are you willing to use your courage, or are you willing to ignore it? I promise you courage will get you through this. Courage will be your hero. Courage will save you.
Everything in life that’s difficult about loving someone with an addiction can be healed by courage because courage is the opposite of fear. Fear is what you have been living in for a very long time: fear that you don’t deserve to be loved, fear that it will never get better, fear they will never get sober, fear that there’s not somebody else out there that will love you. Fear that you’ll be broke. Fear that people will hate you.
When you live your life out of fear, you are stuck. You do not grow. Things do not get better. You do not get healed.
So you have to flip it. You have to say, even though I’m scared to death and I’m shaking in my bones, I can do this.
I remember when I started standing up for myself and banking on the fact that courage would show up and carry me. And it did. Now I know that I have it, and I can use it anytime I need it. And it’s in you too, I promise you.
Use it for good. Use it to honor your soul. Use it to claim who you are without apologies. Use it to put a stake in the ground and say, I am going to build a better life because this isn’t working, and this is not feeling good anymore. And I’m sick of not feeling good. I’m sick of things not getting better. I’m sick of being lied to, and I’m sick and tired of being manipulated. I’m sick of being disappointed and worrying and waiting.
You’ve got this. I believe in you. I am your greatest cheerleader. I know that my life’s purpose is to remind you how freaking wonderful you are. I love you. Thank you for putting up with my language, and I’m here for you every step of this way.
Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.
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