I Call it Verbal Abuse; You Call it No Big Deal

So you are thinking that what I am calling verbal abuse is really no big deal? Let’s see. Here are some questions you might ask: What’s wrong with verbal abuse, specifically, name calling? Why can’t people just take a joke anyway? And here’s another question, Dr. Smarty: If I’m mad at someone, shouldn’t I be able to express my feelings so that she/he knows they did something wrong? Good questions. Let’s look at each of them twice, once for marriage and once for parents. What’s Wrong With Verbal Abuse, Specifically, Name Calling? marriage In a marriage, you are supposed to be equal partners. Right? Ok, now follow my thought: The person who pins a label on another person is the one with the power. That is the reason why, as a marriage counselor, I do not believe in giving people a diagnosis–It, too, is a process of labeling people which gives me unfair power and I don’t need to do that in order to help people. As a therapist, I actually am placing judgment on people when I label them with a diagnosis. It’s as if I said to myself that I am perfectly sane and they are crazy. No wonder people are shy about seeing a therapist. And that’s a shame, but the psychiatrists and psychologists caused this problem. The same is true in relationships. As soon as I call you something, I have given myself power and taken it away from you. That’s why name-calling is a form of verbal abuse. Marriages are not supposed to be power struggles. In fact, if I call you anything except...

Two Examples Of Emotional Abuse

REPRINTED FROM NATURAL AWAKENINGS MAGAZINE, pp. 30-31 Abuse doesn’t have to be obvious. It isn’t that simple. There are some kinds of abuse that call for a really careful look to detect. But they hurt nevertheless. Example: Never praising. People Cannot Tolerate More Than One Negative Comment If Only Five Comments Are Positive Scientists have actually discovered the ratio of negative comments that a human being can tolerate before his heart breaks and something inside dies with it: 5 good: 1 bad. That’s right. People can not tolerate more than 1 negative comment or criticism in 5 positive ones or praises. So what about that kid who gets nothing but put-downs? What about that family where it isn’t obvious, where there is no foul language and no put-downs? Well, the ratio applies to any negative, any criticism, even well-meant, constructive criticism. If that’s all you hear, whether it’s from your parents or your spouse, you begin to feel like that’s all you are. And you begin to think that that’s all life is. Life is rotten. Because, for those people, it is. Let’s look at some of the ways this manifests itself in emotional abuse: 1. the Blame Game. So let me ask you something: Why do things always have to be someone’s fault? I mean, the dish broke, the car is smashed, the whatever is whatever. Can it be mended again if we just find out whose fault it is? Blame is the surest way to kill any feelings of self-worth in a child. Children who grow up always made to feel at fault suffer intolerably. When everything...

How To Respond To Put-Downs

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from Natural Awakenings, March, 2001, pp. 32-33 “Sticks and stones” are not all that hurts. Knowing what put-downs really are, the damage they do to the soul, how they escalate and how to respond to them will erase the notion that “words can never harm me.” What put-downs really are Let me begin by saying what they are not. Put-downs are not “harmless jokes.” The test of the difference between a put-down and a joke is this: Would the jokester be happy if someone he respected used that very same so-called joke on him? Put-downs are not “constructive criticism.” At a construction site, people are building something. To construct is to build. To give the kind of criticism that is constructive, you must see evidence of it helping the receiver to grow. For instance, when my children were little, they took music lessons. When they hit a wrong note after having practiced long and hard, the teacher would say, “I can tell you have been practicing well.” She would then recite, very specifically, five or so things they did well. Then-and only then-she would say, “Now play that [name of note] again for me.” If it was right this time, she would say, “Do you hear the difference from before?” This helped the child feel good about what was done right and turned the mistake into an opportunity to train the ear. In contrast, “You played the wrong note!” is just plain criticism, not constructive and, “You played the wrong note again. I don’t know what’s the matter with you” is a put-down guaranteed for the...
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