Two friends may chide one another on a regular basis; they might “give each other a hard time.” This is a fairly routine and normal set of circumstances. When the chatter gets to the point of actually being abusive, it can’t help but have some degree of negative effect on self-esteem. If this kind of abuse does happen among friends, the solution can be pretty easy. The receiver of abuse can tell the abuser to knock it off or move on to other friends. When the abuse occurs in a relationship setting, the solution is a bit more difficult. No matter the situation, when words get to the point of being abusive it can end up having serious and long-lasting effects.
What exactly is verbal abuse? This depends on a number of factors. What is the intent behind the words? Is the receiver easily hurt and/or taken advantage of? Is name-calling considered abusive? To be sure, there are degrees. Also, there is a matter of interpretation. Most would probably agree that simple name-calling among friends, lovers, and relations in and of itself would not be abusive. Again, it’s more the intent behind it. It’s one thing for two friends to kid around and one calls the other a jerk and they both laugh it off and that’s that. It’s another when two people are very close and the abusive one tells the other that (s)he is worthless. Choice of words, tone of voice, intent behind the statement are all contributors to whether verbal sparring is actually abusive.
I suppose the best answer to the question is that if the person receiving the haranguing thinks it’s abuse, then it’s abuse. The problem with the person receiving the abuse and his/her self esteem is when (s)he starts to believe it. Unfortunately, perception, self esteem and continuing abuse all seem to go hand-in-hand. In other words, if I have low self esteem to begin with and then someone tells me I’m worthless, it isn’t a stretch to believe it. Once I believe these vicious and nasty things, my self esteem continues to plummet. The abuser may sense my continuous emotional downfall, and continue the abuse. Verbal abuse is not very different from physical abuse for the person who abuses regularly. It becomes a control issue for the abuser, and a huge self esteem issue for the victim.
Just as one’s best advice to someone who is a victim of domestic violence is to leave, I would say the same to a victim of constant verbal abuse. I understand, however, that this is easier said than done. If one is strong enough to walk out on this kind of relationship, one would probably not have let the verbal banter escalate into abuse. Gathering this kind of strength is very hard to do, because of the effects of the abuse on one’s self esteem. This can be a vicious cycle.
The best solution for someone in an abusive situation (no matter if it’s physical or verbal or any kind of abuse), is to have someone to talk to. Any kind of abuse has a negative effect on one’s self esteem. Ideally, the victim will get out of the situation entirely, but if that isn’t possible, (s)he needs to have someone to turn to in order to maintain some degree of dignity-some degree of self esteem.