Today I wanted to write something fun, but alas all I can think of is verbal abuse. Alas.
Well, verbal abuse and the Gok Wan series here in Britain called "Style Secrets." In this new season, he is giving not just style but flirtation tips to Britain's 15 million "singletons." Well, a few of Britain's singletons, anyway. I had never watched a show of his until yesterday, and I must say I was charmed. He radiates affection for women-in-general, greeting yesterday's singleton with "Hello, my darling; nice to meet you."
I loved that. Hello, my DARLING; nice to meet you. Ah, if only we all spoke to everyone as if he or she was our darling. Perhaps we will in heaven. I think it would be earthly heaven to have my style and personality worked over by Gok Wan for four weeks. "Hello, my darling. Come in at once and try on these skirts."
What a contrast to--well, not everyday life because B.A. is a very kindly, sunny-tempered man--but to relationships in which I was snarled at for being too this, or not enough that, and a failure in this and having bad taste in that. Et cetera. Et cetera. The nadir, of course, was my first marriage (now annulled) from which, almost 20 years later, I have not recovered. Sarcastic remarks (B.A. never makes sarcastic remarks) leave me in floods of tears.
Apparently the effects of verbal abuse normally last longer than those of physical abuse, although I suppose that would depend on the physical abuse. The old saying "Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but names will never hurt me" is, unfortunately, untrue. Most of us know that a relationship with a man is toxic and should be ended ASAP if he hits us, but when to end a relationship in which he just insults or belittles us is less clear. I used to wish my ex would hit me, so I would have a good excuse to go. (N.B. He never did.)
It is even more unclear if you grow up being verbally abused by one or both of your parents. If your parents constantly tell you how awful you are, how dumb, how lazy, how useless, how bad at this, how clumsy at that, than verbal abuse is going to seem normal and no more than you deserve. The same may be true if you are very unlucky with your schoolteachers and coaches. The evil teachers do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
Well, there is not much you can do when you are a child, for unless you are unusually confident and mature for your age, you are not going to have the gumption to tell your parents where to get off, or even to tell them that Mrs Thing at school makes you cry. Even if you parents ask you if Mrs Thing is mean to you, you might cover for her out of fear or Stockholm Syndrome. After all, Mrs Thing has made it clear that it is all your fault that she says what she says.
However, when you grow up, there is something you can do. First of all, if verbal abuse has left you a timid, self-hating shell of a human being, you can go to a cognitive therapist. A good cognitive therapist will teach you how to replace the nasty voice in your head with a nice voice.
Second, you can teach yourself to get out of verbally abusive relationships. There was a prof at my American grad school who made me cry, and when I told a fellow student, he told me that this prof made everyone cry. The prof had made him cry. I was thirty-five years old then, and although nobody around seemed to realize this, I knew that this was not normal or good.
Third, you can educate yourself about verbal abuse, not only so that you do not slide into one verbally abusive relationship after another, but so that you do not become habitually verbally abusive yourself. Verbal abuse is one very effective way to control people, so it is very tempting to those who long to control people. Here is a professional web page on verbal abuse. It is a bit limited in that it deals only with "domestic" abuse. Obviously, there are many more verbally abusive relationships than "domestic" ones.
My advice is to have "no tolerance" policy towards verbal abuse because, as I like to remind you, some scars do not heal. I am no longer terrified of the adult bullies of my childhood (who are very old or dead anyway), but I am still terrified of my ex. Sarcastic remarks by strangers feel like paper cuts, and those by friends or acquaintances make me cry. And that's just the beginning of it: I have just erased a woeful paragraph of neuroses caused by incredibly influential but sadly damaging teachers. The fact that your poor Auntie can barely dial a telephone number without getting the order of the numbers wrong is not your poor Auntie's fault.