Before considering the possibility that you may be a borderline personality, or a home-grown idiot, or flaky, or… fill in the blank with your own idea, consider that the person who told you that, or who keeps telling you that, has his or her own agenda. The person may be telling you that you are a borderline personality because he wants to keep you thinking you’ll never achieve anything. You may hear “you are an idiot” from a person who considers differing opinions a challenge to her authority. “Flaky” may be the label assigned to you by the person who never wants to have to think “I could learn something by listening.” This is verbal abuse: a strategy used by abusers who want to create and preserve a relationship of domination and submission.

Abusers, in general, desire a relationship based on control. These people, for we must remember that these are people, have a past typically characterized by painful emotional experiences. These emotions are then denied validity. “Why are you crying?” “There’s nothing to be upset about.” “I don’t want to hear your whining.” “One howl out of you and I’ll really give you something to cry about.” Abusers hear these things, and, because no one teaches them that there is something different to be expected, learn that this is perfectly normal. The abuser becomes used to feeling one way and creating an alternative image of himself or herself who feels as he or she should. That one person in a relationship should have control while the other obeys is the normal way of things for the abuser.

The alternative, a relationship of mutual understanding and cooperation in creating a life, would never occur to that abusive person. The partner, and indeed many rational people, believes that this is a desirable possibility. Many times the abused partner works from this assumption. Love means mutual respect and understanding. If someone says “I love you,” this must be the intent behind the words. When a person asks an abused partner “Why didn’t you get out?”, the legitimate answer is “I didn’t know I had to get out. I thought (s)he loved me.” Neither partner understood that “I love you” meant something completely different to each partner.

The insidious aspect of this type of abuse lies in its lack of recognizable evidence. That words leave no bruises is obvious. More than that, however, the abused partner does not recognize that the abuse has taken place. Verbal abuse is irrational because the statements made by the abuser are either lies or contradictions. The partner will try, as anyone faced with irrationality will try, to make sense of the statements because an adult should be speaking rationally. The rationalization almost invariably includes some self-blame on the part of the abused partner. The abusing partner happily grabs onto the notion that the abuse was the fault of the other partner. This contradictory “What didn’t happen is your fault anyway” generates a feeling of confusion and unbalance in the partner and creates a difficult situation.

The abused partner is in the difficult state that he or she cannot rely on his or her perceptions of reality. As an example, when the abuser snipes at the other partner, “You always take some stupid saying and try to make it sound impressive,” the partner feels confused because it is not “always” and the intent was not “to make it sound impressive.” The partner is hurt, and when he or she says so, the abuser replies “Well, sorry, but god, if you want people to like you, that’s not the way you do it.” The scene might continue with the partner trying to explain his or her real intent. “I was just trying to be involved in the conversation. If it wasn’t that funny, I know…” The abuser might try to cut off the explanation with “Whatever. You’re overreacting. You can never take positive criticism.”

The abused partner then exists in a state of deep self-doubt. He or she has learned that a) his or her conversation is boring, b) people do not like him/her, and c) the he/she cannot tell the difference between positive suggestions for change and hurtful abuse. This last is the common feeling of verbally abused partners. He or she cannot understand or trust his or her feelings.

Thus, the abuser projects his or her self-image onto the partner. People often do not feel the correct things, thinks the abuser, and so I must teach my partner (who is neither as intelligent nor as able as I am) how to feel about certain things. More than that, the abuser often sees his or her partner as a part of himself or herself. This part must perform as commanded. The alternative, which would have both partners as equal members to be respected, would make no sense to an abuser. Any attempts on the part of the abused partner to exist in a relationship based on the mutual respect paradigm are interpreted on the part of the abuser as a challenge to authority. Such actions might result in accusations of “trying to ruin the relationship” or “hostility.”

The hostile member, however, is the abuser. Differences in opinion, displays of talent or intelligence, emotional openness, demands for resources and even assertions of fact arouse feelings of anger in the verbal abuser. The reaction is a hostile statement. Sometimes the hostility is open, such as “You don’t know anything about that, shut up,” and sometimes the hostility is covert, such as “Yes, that’s interesting, but people who know about such things say…” A verbally abusive partner is happy when the other partner suffers. The abuser will wear a happy expression when revealing hurtful comments about the abused partner, such as “He used your name as a synonym for ‘stupid’.” Bad news about the abused partner will make a happy moment for the abuser.

The most important things for the abused partner to realize are that:

a) the abuse really happened.

b) the abuse was not deserved, and the abused partner is not to blame.

c) explaining intent to the abuser will not create understanding.

The only thing an abused partner should do is disengage. Saying “Stop that” or “that is abusive” or “I won’t listen to talk like that” and then actually leaving the situation provide the information that the abuser really needs, as a person. The abuser finds that his or her actions deprive him or her of the desired thing: control. Once the abuser has the message that he or she is not going to get control and has done something hurtful, that person has a choice. The abuser can either choose to get help to work through control issues, or can choose to continue abuse with someone else.


If you agree with two or more of the listed statements, you are either in a verbally abusive relationship or with a partner that has abusive habits. The difference is one of goodwill. A partner who has goodwill but who does abusive things needs some help. One who does abusive things with hostility needs a lot of help. The abused person definitely needs help to recover and find peace and certainty.

1. Your partner seems angry with you several times a week although you hadn’t intended to upset anyone.

2. When you feel hurt, and say so, the issue never gets resolved.

3. You frequently feel that you can’t get your partner to understand your feelings.

4. You are upset about communication issues.

5. You wonder what is wrong with you and why you feel so bad.

6. Your partner rarely shares thoughts or plans.

7. Your partner takes the opposing view from yours, and seems to declare that his or her views are right and yours wrong.

8. You sometimes wonder if your partner sees you as a separate person.

9. You can’t recall saying to your partner “Cut it out” or “Stop it” when you hear something hurtful.

10. He is either angry with you or has “no idea what you are talking about” when you try to discuss an issue.

(Paraphrased from The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Evans, 1996, p.24)

(Source of information: ibid.)

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