The Poison of Verbal Abuse

Remember the schoolyard comeback, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”? It’s a lie—one we tell ourselves—to talk us out of feeling hurt.

Truth is, words carry power. Not just a little power. The author of Proverbs wrote, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).

Life and death! The words we use can resurrect a person’s spirit…or kill it.

Selfish, unkind words injure—sometimes deeply. The wisdom of Proverbs adds “the words of the reckless pierce like swords” (Proverbs 12:18). The author of the book of James describes the tongue as being “full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).

It’s called verbal abuse.

No one goes to the emergency room or calls the police. No bruises or cuts are visible to the naked eye. But poisonous, deadly words can spew from someone’s mouth, leaving an indisputable trail of trauma.

Verbally abused people (whether from friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, or spouses) feel belittled, threatened, demoralized, and helpless.

Verbal abuse is not the normal conflict that people experience. Because each person brings his or her unique needs and perspective into any relationship, differences of opinion and deep disagreement are common. Because we all can be selfish, because we all can be demanding, ruptures in our relationships occur. Healthier relationships repair the ruptures using genuine heartfelt words of understanding, apology and empathy.

The ruptures caused by verbal abuse in an unhealthy relationship don’t repair. They may be minimized and buried for a time under empty apologies and promises to change, but they do not get the attention and healing that is truly needed.

Those ruptures, those wounds, linger and fester like an infected cut.

Verbal abuse is oppressive. Partners stand on unequal footing. One person has most, if not all, of the power in the relationship. The other no longer feels the freedom to say no or to express his or her views, feelings, or needs. Oppressive spouses are not interested in being mutually considerate partners. Whatever is important to them—their wants, their needs, their pain, their opinion, their schedules, their hobbies, ect.,—that is the only thing that matters.
While men commit the majority of physical abuse due the physical difference of strength, both men and women are equally capable of dominating their spouses with their words.

But oppression has no place in the kingdom of God.

The writer of Ecclesiastes expressed the suffering of the oppressed when he wrote, “I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors” (Ecclesiastes 4:1. The author found oppression to be yet another symptom of the meaninglessness of life without the God of all compassion.

On a special note, oppression is a traumatic experience in any context, but especially in marriage. It’s a far cry from the mutual love and respect that God intended between a husband and a wife (Ephesians 5:21-28). Instead, it’s more like a dictatorship, with one spouse lording power over the other.

To read more about how to recognize verbal abuse in marriage and some practical steps to address the problem in a way that loves and protects everyone, check out the Discovery Series booklet When Words Hurt.

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