Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts… ~ Robert Fulghum
I believe there are times in our lives when the Universe is very clearly trying to tell us something. For me, this is one of those times. Over the last few days I have been immersed in a world revolving around language, linguistics, the very nuances of the language we use every day and how we use that language.
As a words girl, this is a strong reinforcement of the power of words. And a shocking revelation of how poorly, in general, we communicate with each other. We are very good at using our words to judge and express opinions, but we have not been taught how to use our words to express our feelings or our underlying needs, to be empathetic. Communicating feelings, needs and desires involves being vulnerable, so it is far easier to communicate in a manner where blame or responsibility is placed on another, instead of taking responsibility for our own language and how we use it.
This is not the first time, or likely the last time, I’ve written about the power of words. One year ago, thanks to the Memories stored on Facebook, I wrote these words: “Words are powerful…they can spew hate or weave love. They can incite discourse and create debate. They can hide the truth or strip away all pretense and reveal the raw, unbridled humanness in all of us. In a world on the verge, everyone has a voice, be heard and be kind. There is no space for hate”. I also wrote “The Words Don’t Fit the Picture” in February of this year. In this post, I discussed how as I writer, and, likely, as a human, that words have a powerful effect on and over me, and I have had a tendency to believe the words over actions. I have failed to see that actions speak louder than words. While I do believe the volume of actions, and that actions can show someone’s true character, I have been reminded of how important it is to communicate in a non-violent way, to be conscientious of how words are used, and what is spoken. And also to take responsibility for my own language, and accountability for the words and the way in which I use them.
It is also a year ago that I found myself in a verbally abusive relationship. When I look back now, I shake my head, feel ashamed, and think that at that time I would likely have emailed all my money to a Saudi Prince had he promised to repay me times a gabillion. In my desire for a relationship, I overlooked red flags and made excuses for bad behaviour.
Verbal abuse: Words that attack or injure, that cause one to believe the false, or that speak falsely of one. Verbal abuse constitutes psychological violence. Verbal abuse by its very nature undermines and discounts its victim’s perceptions of the abuse.
At first I didn’t believe the abuse. I didn’t believe that I could let myself be in this situation. And I had difficulty understanding that it was even abuse at all. As pointed out by Patricia Evans, name calling is the most recognizable form of abuse, but there are so many other forms that are more secretive, more subversive and act to consistently discount those perceptions. I remember that the abuse became more intense over time, as I grew more used to the behaviour and the words hurled at me with such distaste and hatred. In hindsight, I wonder if my conditioning to those words was part of an occupational hazard, related to years of angry words thrown at me in the Emergency Department setting. Words that I was told I should let roll over and off me, as much as anyone could.
I got so used to hearing what I was always hearing, that after a while I stopped hearing what I was always hearing. Do you know what I mean? ~ A Partner & Survivor
In being surrounded by thoughts and discussions on our current discourse, while actively learning how to communicate in a way that conveys my feelings and my needs (thank you Marshall Rosenberg); coupled with my reading on verbal abuse in relationships, it is a staggering realization that verbal abuse, violent communication, is built into our culture. We intimidate and use punishment to get people to do what we want them to do. We judge, criticize, and put down others that we don’t understand, that don’t act or do what we expect of them or who don’t fit into some arbitrary and undefined “norm”. We blame and hold others accountable for what we are feeling, wanting and needing. We yell, scream, fight and rage. We somehow feel that it’s okay to speak to others as if our own, individual opinion is the only one that matters and is the only right one. We fail, I have failed, in so many ways, to communicate my feelings and my needs. I have then found myself disappointed at another for not meeting those, undefined, un-communicated, needs and expectations. While the other is likely left confused as to what they have missed.
My experience has taught me that abusive and violent communication is unacceptable. Although we may believe that actions speak louder than words, and have a plethora of examples where they do, we also need to be cognizant of the profound effect our words have on others, especially those closest to us. I don’t have control over how someone perceives me, or the feelings that are elicited or triggered by my words, but I can and will be mindful of the delivery of my message, my intent of my message and that all messages that I am sending are to express a feeling and a need that I have. It is not up to the other to read my mind or meet un-communicated and unexpressed needs or expectations.
In my recovery, I have learned that I was not “crazy”, that I was not to blame for the words spit at me in anger and hostility, and I had every right to goodwill, to feel supported and cared for, to live in an environment where I felt safe and free of accusation and blame, criticism and judgement. We all do. Of course, a verbally abusive person will also tell you he loves you and everyone wants to be loved so what would you choose to believe?
IT WAS YOU
It was you.
Whose words struck my barricaded door like bullets
corrupted the air, poisoned my every breath
unable to escape the barrage
stupid fucking bitch
It was you.
Who took stories given lovingly in intimate conversation
and used them as weapons
to breach my walls and batter my soul.
It was you.
Who hammered bells onto doors, to monitor my coming and going
Who rifled through my journals
disparaged my friends
asked for loans never repaid
It was you.
Who forced me to move out, secretly
eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning
there when you left for work
gone when you returned.
It was you.
Why my credit card is cancelled.
My cell phone blocks calls.
My gym schedule has changed.
My workplace is on lockdown.
It was you.
Yet who feels guilty?
Written by my good friend: Tansey R.
Rosenberg, M. B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. Encinitas, CA: PuddleDancer Press.
Evans, P. (1996). The verbally abusive relationship: how to recognize it and how to respond. Expanded 2nd ed. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Media Corporation.