In my last post I’ve talked about what verbal abuse is and how to recognize it. My conclusion was that it is based on the effect that you notice in yourself. You may be left dazed, confused, angry, sad, doubting yourself or in a total panic. That is the clue to notice that what you’ve been experiencing is wrong.
Now let’s have a closer look at how tension builds up with verbal abuse and how it can tie itself into anxiety. Verbal abuse, like other abuse comes in three distinct phases.
The 3 phases of verbal abuse.
Phase I – Tension building phase
This is the phase where something is ‘in the air’. You can feel it building up. I could hear it from the moment my mum opened the door coming home from work. The exact manner in which she puts the key in the door was telling to me. I knew that I needed to flee to my room and be quiet. Then she came into my room, unannounced and started to ask questions. Not waiting for an answer (it weren’t logical questions at all), she became agitated with me. As I was a stubborn girl, I sometimes refused to answer. The questions were: ‘What have you been up to all day?’ If you can imagine an angry yelling tone to go with that, please do. If you want to know more about the different categories of verbal abuse, please read my post about it here.
The abuser becomes moody, controlling, angry while the victim is often baffled, caught on guard as the attack is typically unpredictable.
Phase II – The Violence Phase.
In this stage the rage of the abuser reaches a height and the response of the victim can’t change the situation. The abuser may become violent and can start to hit, destroy things, manipulate the victim and so on. Usually, with me, I got hit, the door got slammed and sometimes things were thrown at me. The effect was all the same, things came at me, that I wasn’t able to shield myself from.
The victim here fails to comprehend the entire situation and why it blew up. As the violent phase occurs as a result of the emotional state of the abuser or other external triggers, the victim here has nothing to do other than plead the abuser to “get it over with.”
Phase III – The Honeymoon phase.
In this phase things do calm down. Some abusers may be apologetic or shower the victim with love, promising to never do that again. In my case, I was the one going up to my mum to plead for a truce. What I truly wanted is for her to say ‘sorry’ so we could make up again. She never did. So I didn’t experience the honeymoon phase myself but to be complete for the post, I’ll copy what is understood about that phase from the article.
The honeymoon phase brings about a sudden change in the behavior of the abuser, as he/she starts to be more considerate, apologetic and remorseful of the entire situation. Some abusers will feel extremely miserable for their actions, beg for forgiveness and shower the victim with love, affection, and sympathy. They will even end up blaming, harming or punishing themselves to gain back the victim’s attention, promising to “never repeat it” again in the future.
Other abusers will simply walk out of the mess and ignore it as nothing happened. The victim is readily convinced and forgives the abuser to “bring the situation under control” and ‘restore harmony between the two’. That is what happened with me. And this can be considered to be a bad thing as it puts the victim up for more abuse in the future . I agree with that statement from a logical point of view. Everyone reading this can be thinking; ‘oh the hell no, not with me, there will be no next time’. What I’ve experienced was that my truth lied in the effect of the abuse. I didn’t want to happen it over and over again. I wanted to make up. How can that be that a mother, who needs to care for you or accept you at least, would say such horrible things about her offspring? Isn’t that a logical way of thinking as well?
Words are just words … or aren’t they?
It seems to be that, when met with such damaging interactions, the body responds with a fight, flight, freeze or appease response. The brain sends signals to the body that the situation is indeed threatening. As a child, there are not so many options to choose from. After a while you’ll choose a strategy, freeze in my case and you ‘sit through it’ or when I was really small I hide under the table when I got chased around. But I digress. Your mind and body become used to this situation and become very aware of your surroundings. When I heard that key in the door in that specific manner, I froze, abandoned everything I was doing and went waiting in my room for what was to come …. And what did came? Another one-sided argument.
Over time, your body is getting accustomed to this kind of anxiety triggering stimuli.
After repeated abuse, you know how to look for the signs that another cycle is coming. You prepare, mentally and physically. The body starts displaying symptoms similar to that of an anxiety attack or you find yourself in a heightened state of alertness. This can happen when you think that abuse is going to happen. You prepare and stay in that state. It is meant to shield you from pain but the same response turns into a ‘second nature’. The abuse is not just messing with your mind but is making you anxious over time.
I’ll end this post with research that shows that perceived parental verbal abuse in childhood and peer-related verbal abuse in adolescence has been associated with a risk of depressive mood, anxiety, anger-hostility, suicidality, dissociation, or drug use in young adults: According to psychology Professor Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, people who were verbally abused had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused and were twice as likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder over their lifetime.
Further reads, notes and references.
 Online article. Themindsjournal. Verbal abuse and anxiety, the connection no one talks about.
 Online article. Sciencedaily. Invisible Scars: Verbal Abuse Triggers Adult Anxiety, Depression.