Verbal abuse is the first step into domestic violence

It is not uncommon to hear a victim of verbal or emotional abuse say, “Well, it’s not domestic violence. He’s never hit me.” Really? Do you think demeaning or threatening words don’t cause damage, too? There were many times I stood listening to the words spewing from his mouth, telling me how useless, stupid, fat or ugly I was, how nobody else would want or have the likes of me, and I’d wish he’d just go ahead and hit me with his hand. It couldn’t possibly hurt any more than the wounds that were a result of the tongue lashing. Sometimes it felt as if he were coming through my very soul with a sword or machete. It cut me to the marrow of my being.

But, he didn’t hit me. He just talked. He yelled. He threatened. But, he didn’t hit me. Whenever his verbal tirades took place, a piece of me was chipped away. My self esteem was lessened, finally reduced to nothingness. I now realize that each instance took a part of me and I became more and more withdrawn. I became more and more manipulated and controlled. He gained more and more power over me. Pretty soon, I became somewhat of a zombie—the walking dead. He was officially in control of MY life. It had stripped the life from me. I merely existed. Once I reached that point, the pinnacle of abuse, then I was in place for the physical assaults to commence.

The first time it was an open-handed slap across my face. I was so shocked he had hit me, but I knew better than to hit back. With each verbal attack, he became more volatile, and I figured if I instigated another strike, it would be harder and more painful. I just stood there, with tears rolling down my face, wondering how I had ever become that person. I didn’t know her. She was not the “me” I had known for so long. The chipper, perky optimistic blonde had become a morose, hopeless victim of abuse. He only slapped me that one time. . . until the next time. I made the mistake of calling him an SOB, so he slapped me twice, grabbed my hair and told me if I ever spoke to him like that again, there would be hell to pay. Was I not already there?

The violence culminated on Easter Sunday of 1985. Once again he grabbed me by my hair. This time was a bit different. I found myself being slung around like a rag doll, and eventually having my head repeatedly rammed into a door. It was the day after Easter I obtained an Injunction for Protection and started the divorce.

So, you see, my dear ones, if you think words don’t cause damage, you’re terribly mistaken. Every word leads to another. In my case, it started with one word: STUPID!

Every instance of domestic violence—EVERY INSTANCE—begins with a word, sentence or glare. Don’t try to be valiant, thinking it could never happen to you. I was certain it could never happen to me . . . but it did.

Carolyn is an advocate for sexual/domestic violence and assault awareness, also focusing on child sexual abuse. She is a Life Direction & Empowerment Coach, working with victims and survivors of molestation, sexual assault, domestic violence or spousal abuse, and bringing training to organizations seeking to help victims. Hennecy spent much time during October 2011, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with media doing radio and television interviews. See Carolyn’s interview with Gayle Guyardo of NBC Channel 8 News Today Early Morning Show and her featured segment on the ABC Action News Emmy Award winning “Taking Action Against Domestic Violence” at

  1. I NEVER NEVER thought it would happen to me, a strong fierce woman. Several of my friends were shocked. They thought I would be the last person to ever be involved with a batterer.

    Paul began by calling my dog goofy, it escalated to stupid……

    It never begins with physical abuse but ends with that and much more.

  2. I know how that goes. My ex had never hit me either. It started off with one minor lie, which led to a series of minor lies, to bigger lies, and tall tales to the point I couldn’t (and still can’t) tell fact from fiction. We have a son together. We were married almost 11 years, thinking that I should stay for the sake of my son. I was not the model mother I should have been, and it was a mistake.

    The intimacy had been gone for 9 of those 11 years. We slept in different rooms for 8 of those. I’d gotten closer to my son, who is most precious. There were so many things on so many levels that were wrong, and my ex refused to go to counseling or anything. He blamed it all on everything else except for himself.

    Once, as he was cursing at my boy for not picking up paper on the floor before starting home based schooling, I’d had more than enough, and rather than just saying the usual about setting a good example and not hollering at him at the beginning of the day, I followed him around yelling at him the way he yelled at our boy, and he threw a cup of coffee right on me. I became unglued and odd how I’d exceeded MY breaking point, and actually had hit him… At that moment, I knew there was nothing left. We divorced. It was finalized 2 years ago.

    I’m with a great guy now, and I’m still close with my son, but now with a healthier relationship that doesn’t involve me being co-dependent on my little boy. It’s crazy how it should never come to this, but it does. Gratefully, I left, with enough in tact to survive. And to think he’s still out there calling ME the liar…

    • You brought up a very good point, one I had not given thought to in many, many years. As I look back, I realize I was co-dependent upon my son, asking him to do and be things no little boy should have carried responsibility for. He was my “fix-it” man, my confidante, the one I leaned on emotionally. I always called him “my little man,” and he should never have been put into that position. He was a little boy. Curious to hear from other victims who “leaned” on their children for emotional support, etc.

  3. Just a thought, nothing personal to the women about this “verbal abuse” thing…. why is it always that men are the culprit? That men are being talked about this topic here. Is it maybe because men doesn’t share much of their experiences than women does to other men? Does this mean this never happens to men, too from their “nagging” wives? Is “nagging” not a “verbal abuse?” Again, just a thought & just wondering…

    • You raise a good point. I mention many times on many occasions in this blog the reference of the abuser as make is not intended as exclusivity, but because we know 1 of every 4 women will be a victim, almost every time by their mate or partner. DV ALWAYS starts with verbal and/or emotional abuse. Chronic unjustified nagging, in my humble opinion, would also qualify, regardless of gender. That is one strong reason I believe in counseling. Learning proper communication skills could improve many marriages, avoid a portion of DV and save lives. I hope you will read more of my posts wherein I address just such topics.

      • Thank you for your reply. As you said that it’s 1 of every 4 women are victims? Maybe is this because men doesn’t report or share or talk more about there personal problems, more often than women does, that’s why I guess the ratio is 1 to 4, as man’s opinions are not being reported publicly? Thank you for your time again 🙂

    • Charles Lehner says:

      Abuse is abuse… It is a matter of perception. If you perceive you are being abused, then you believe you are being abused. I think women are just as capable as men to be abusive, but men’s abusiveness is seen as a greater social ill than women’s.

      In my case my parents both abused me, but my mother raised it to an art-form, where my father was just angry and expressed it harshly. My mother had an agenda against men and I took to brunt of her negative feelings towards men in general

  4. Charles Lehner says:

    My mother started with physical abuse, but graduated into verbal abuse. Of the two, I preferred Physical. The emotional damage has taken longer to heal than the physical. Where one ends and the other begins is, I suppose not important, but they are siblings who stick together, as stated before.

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