Domestic violence is best avoided by understanding the warning signs of an abusive relationship. In an effort to help educate people and increase awareness of verbal abuse, Kate Carlson, OTR/L interviews Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
Kate Carlson: Throughout the progressive stages of verbal abuse, is there a typical pattern you have observed through your years of experience? If so, what are the typical patterns an abuser uses and/or does there seem to be an over-riding goal or purpose to the verbal abuse?
Dr. Jeanne King: In response to your first question, yes I observe a "typical pattern" and it is one of escalation over time. The escalation can be in intensity of the verbal assaults and/or in increased frequency of the verbal abuse.
As far as your second question regarding the over-riding goal or purpose of the verbal abuse, there is most definitely a purpose. And this purpose is to establish and maintain unequal power in the relationship. As the perpetrator secures more of the power in the relationship, so does he/she maintain more of the control. Ultimately, it's all about control.
Kate Carlson: For example, with name calling or teasing (Airhead or calling her a Sex-atary) and when it is mentioned that this hurts her feelings or she finds the comments demeaning, his response is along the lines of minimizing or ignoring her feelings. Like... "You are making a mountain out of a molehill," or "Can't you take a joke?" But that the verbal abuse/name calling does not stop, in fact over time, it grows more frequent and negative. Is this commonly what you have observed in your work with victims of domestic abuse?
Dr. Jeanne King: Yes, it is the nature of the syndrome...that is the nature of intimate partner violence. The perpetrator will not assume responsibility for his/her actions as you point them out. Rather they will seek to externalize, minimize and deflect. Further, this being done without regard for the experience of the other person...i.e. without empathy.
Kate Carlson: If this is one common example, do you have other common patterns of verbal abuse?
Dr. Jeanne King: The basic pattern is typically escalating and without ownership of one's actions or sensitivity of the impact of these actions on another.
Kate Carlson: If you were to counsel a woman experiencing this type of verbal abuse, what would be some observations you'd bring to her attention and/or recommendations you'd offer?
Dr. Jeanne King: The observations I'd bring to her attention have to do with her feeling state. That is how does she feel when being verbally abused. When I can help someone taste that feeling, the light goes off and they see the verbal abuse for what it is.
As far as the recommendations, I'd offer:
a) Be mindful of the feelings within and be mindful of your response.
b) Learn how to maintain your equanimity, deflect the verbal assault, and do not assume responsibility for it.
c) And lastly, always know the verbal abuse is not about you.
Kate Carlson: What is going on in the interactions noted above and with verbal abuse in general? How does this escalation affect the victim's behavior/self-esteem over time?
Dr. Jeanne King: The effect on the victim depends on how the verbal assault is received and what is done in response to it. If it is internalized, it can have a destructive effect, which over time can be psychologically debilitating. And yes, it can impact one's self-esteem for a number of reasons but that's another interview.