As many of you know I am the Executive Director of the Emergency Homeless Shelter in Culpeper.  We serve mainly women and women with children.  I have been overwhelmed lately by the number of clients that we serve that come from abusive relationships, particularly verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse is a behavior not a disease.  Emotional abuse is used to control, humiliate, degrade and punish a spouse.  When a woman (or a man) suffers this abuse she starts to change her own behavior to keep her partner happy and at times becomes fearful of her partner.  The happier the partner, the less the spouse has to suffer.  She will doubt herself and her own sense of reality because emotional abuse is meant to cause the victim to question her every thought and behavior.

Abusers try hard to distort the spouse’s reality to make their reality feel safer.  The hurt from abuse can come in many ways, including physical attacks, verbal attacks, sexual attacks, withholding things the spouse needs, such as affection, sex, money, or contact with friends and family.  Verbal abusers use words to hurt.

“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  We have all heard this from the time we were children.  This rhyme is a lie!  Cruel words can do worse than break bones.  They can break a person’s spirit, cripple a person’s confidence, and even make a person physically ill.  The sad truth is, the broken bones eventually heal, but the scars left from emotional abuse can last a lifetime.

Verbal abuse tends to be secretive, i.e. it happens in private.  Verbal abuse also tends to increase over time as both the victim and the abuser adapt to it.  Sometimes the abuser uses words (or silence) to gain and maintain control.

Here are some tactics an emotional abuser will use:

•    Isolating spouse from friends and family

•    Discourage any independent activities

•    Accuse spouse of being unfaithful if she talks to a member of the opposite sex

•    Withhold sex as punishment

•    Constantly criticize spouse’s weight, looks and the way she dresses

•    Control all the financial decisions; refuse to listen to partner’s opinion. Withhold financial information and make the spouse live on limited resources

•    Make all major decisions such as where they live, how to furnish the home, and what type of car to drive

•    Use children to gain control by undermining the other parent’s authority

•    If spouse doesn’t give into their control they are harassed, and intimidated by the abuser

The victim feels like a prisoner in her own home.

If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner – constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid confrontation or a blow-up – chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive.

At Culpeper Housing and Shelter Services we hear stories of verbal abuse frequently and try togive our clients the resources necessary to help change their lives.  No one deserves to be abused. Cheryl S. Carter is the Executive Director of Culpeper Housing and Shelter Services. She can be reached at 540-825-7434.

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