Dealing with Bullies and Verbal Abuse

Every time someone is verbally abused, whether occasionally or regularly, it chips away at their confidence and diminishes their spirit. Verbal abuse can take place anywhere from the playground to the workplace, home to the street and nobody is immune from encountering it.

As adults we can usually choose whether to react to something someone has said or to ignore it – we have the maturity to decide whether to let it bother us or not. But for a child, nasty, hurtful words can be frightening and upsetting and leave them feeling helpless and vulnerable, particularly if it is coming from their own home environment. Who can they turn to for help? Often they don’t know what to do and consequently suffer in silence and become introverted.

Many children endure taunting for years for fear of recrimination, they believe there is a worse consequence ahead if they speak out – usually because someone has threatened them, ‘If you do this, I’ll do that…’ For those who aren’t brave enough to tell someone, escaping the situation could take years, usually when a change to their environment occurs such as moving school, divorce in the family, or starting work.

The thought of change can bring hope to many coping with verbal abuse, but the sad reality is that it usually brings a fresh set of difficulties. The person may have become so introverted that they stand out like a sore thumb, easy prey to the next person looking for a rubbing-rag. The fact that someone is different makes them an interesting target for a bully because they are often intrigued by their individuality. They want to poke and prod them verbally and see what makes them tick. They are a curiosity and a muse, the punch bag on which they vent all their own insecurities.

And that is the keyword; insecurity. People often attack others verbally because there is something in their own life that is making them feel inadequate. They need to make someone feel bad so that they can feel better in return, it gives them a sense of worth. Like any addiction (as that is what it is due to the short-lived euphoria), it needs to be fed and so the bully repeats the taunting over and over again to remain superior to their victim.

Being a victim affects people mentally. Their self-esteem suffers because when someone attacks them verbally they are left feeling rubbish and emotionally bruised. For adults enduring verbal abuse, chances are there has been a chain of it running through their life. They have probably spent most of their life avoiding conflict, because it makes them feel so worthless and consequently haven’t learned to deal with it.

As a victim, the only way for them to stop it is to deal with it, or else it will follow them wherever they go. They may have already reached a point where they can’t stand being around other people, and don’t know how to relate to them. They probably prefer to be left alone and opt out of any social situations. If that is how they really feel, then that is what will happen – they will become a loner, possibly a recluse. That doesn’t mean they will be lonely, there is a difference, if they have truly accepted that a solitary life is for them then they may well be very happy.

Not everybody wants to be a loner though, many victims of verbal abuse are crying out for friendship, they really need a helping hand. The taunting they endure becomes a way of life, like a routine which plays itself out over and over again. They don’t know how to break the cycle and are so low in confidence that they cannot see a way out. They know it takes a lot of guts and courage to find the strength to break away from a seemingly impossible situation, yet feel so helpless that they don’t believe they are capable. Adults usually repeat their childhood way of coping with abuse by remaining silent and not wanting to trouble anyone else. Often something then happens that tips them over the edge, leaving them no choice but to deal with it. Their whole world collapses around them.

Out of chaos comes order, though not many people see a catastrophe as a way out. For victims of verbal abuse it can really set them free. It can mean a fresh start and give them a feeling of liberation as they dust themselves down and leave their previous life behind. They become empowered as transformation helps their confidence gradually return, and they realise that the world is not such a scary place.

Children encountering verbal abuse really ought to tell someone, soon. If not it is likely they will continue to encounter it in other forms as they mature. Adults have more opportunity to deal with it but often hesitate because any decisions they make may have a ripple effect on others, particularly family members. The only way to be free from abuse is to nip it in the bud immediately as it arises – don’t suffer in silence. Nobody has the right to make anyone feel worthless and control their life to the extent they feel trapped. If you are a victim reading this, take one small comfort in the knowledge that your pathetic abuser is probably feeling ten times worse and knows one day they will be held to account for what they have done.