Many therapists share this scientific scenario to help victims of verbal abuse understand how they've been conditioned.
Place a frog into a pan of scalding water on a stove and the frog will immediately jump out; however, if you place that same frog into a cool pot of water, then gradually increase the heat, it will literally boil to death. That sounds scary, yet that's exactly how verbal abuse can progress. When little things start to happen, we may or may not notice them, but as they continue, we find that we've adapted until we become shells of our former selves. Verbal abuse is considered domestic violence, and is very dangerous.
Here is a real conversation between a couple that I've been friends with for quite some time, and as you read this, I promise you'll shake your head. While these scenarios focus on the woman as the abused, please know that men may also be victims.
Husband: I don't know why you bought that picture and put it in the living room. It doesn't even match the rest of the furniture, and it probably cost too much.
Wife: Yeah, you're probably right, it doesn't really match. Actually, *Janet gave it to me. I just loved the colors so much and wanted show it off if we have visitors. That's why I put it in the living room.
Husband: It does match with the living room furniture even though the colors suck. Does your friend Janet think we need her charity? She's always passing off her stuff on us. What's wrong with her?
Wife: You're right, it's a really good match.
Husband: How in the world can you say that picture goes with anything that's in this living room? You're crazy! (Raising his voice)
Wife: Okay, maybe the colors are not quite right. I'm with you.
Husband: That's not what's wrong with it, you idiot.
Wife: I'm just really trying to understand what you're saying.
Husband: No you're not. You just want to twist everything I say around, like you always do. I can't talk to you because you never make any sense!
Do you see the dynamics of this dialogue? There's literally no way there can be a healthy conversation despite the wife's attempt to please her husband. Every attempt is met with resistance, and this is just about a picture on the wall!
Here's another example of verbal abuse disguised as joking comments:
"You'd fall apart or kill yourself if I wasn't here to take care of you".
"All the women on my job tell me all the time how lucky you are and that you need to straighten up".
"You need to know your place".
"Your feet are so small, it's a wonder you don't topple over from the size of your head".
"What else can I expect? You're only a woman".
If you respond by saying you aren't amused, you're then angrily accused of not having a sense of humor, or what's been said is no big deal.
Or perhaps this has happened to you during a conversation:
Wife: I really need to talk to you about something that happened at work today.
Husband: (Covering his face and sighing) What is it?
Wife: Silent because she's afraid of his reaction.
Husband: Glaring. Come on, I don't have all day.
Wife: They're during some restructuring at work-------
Husband: Cutting off his wife. What is taking you so long to get to the point? You always have to drag things out!
Wife: I'm trying to tell---
Husband: Cutting off his wife again. Look, this is taking too long, then gets up and walks away.
As kids, we learned early on that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me", yet we now know that this quote is fictional. In fact, verbal abuse produces dramatic consequences that include loss of self-esteem, lack of confidence, fear, doubt of self-worth, and wondering if something is wrong with our own thought processes. The life we lived is in the past, our successes, and feeling good about who we were, is no longer valid.
Being called horrible names, cheated on, degraded or embarrassed in public, humiliated around strangers or even family members is not how we should be treated. Perhaps you are constantly blamed for things which have nothing to do with you, or everything you do is wrong. You're at the point where you're ready to pull out all your hair with frustration, and doubting your own sanity.
If this has or is happening, you're definitely not alone.
If you can safely, seek assistance from someone you trust, or contact a domestic violence shelter who can provide valuable information. There are people who care.