How to Avoid Being Verbally Abusive

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How to avoid being verbally abusive to the people you love.

While it never feels good to be abused, abusers who are truly repentent can suffer from bouts of guilt.  No matter if it's a recovering alcoholic or a verbally abusive person - just having knowledge of what was done in the past was wrong is enough to inflict perpetual wounds that can sometimes be worse than still having the problem.  The fact that we have the power to hurt each other is a scary thing.  When we realize this, it is humbling indeed.

Knowing that what we say can do harm to others should give us pause before we speak.  Unfortunately, many people (myself included) on occasion say things that we may regret immediately or some time later.  If you worry about being verbally abusive to the people you love, rest assured that you can receive the help you need before you get carried away.  Anyone who's ever had a problem would be the first to tell you that admitting you have a problem/concern is the key to changing your behavior around.

Signs You May Be Verbally Abusive

  • You tend to be impatient, stubborn, and sometimes unforgiving
  • You find it hard to praise others for a job well-done
  • You feel that no one seems to do anything right or not as good as you do
  • You often tell others what to do, and/or begrudgingly take over and/or make fun of others' efforts
  • You can never be satisfied or happy with life

It should be noted that some of the behaviors listed go along with being depressed, where often abusive behavior (verbal or physical) results.  Moodiness is not the same thing as being verbally abusive, however, because a person who is moody just wants to be left alone, whereas an abuser wants to degrade others and make him or herself look better.  If you feel that you exhibit many of the above traits, acknowledge them and get the help you need!  Start by:

  1. Taking a deep breath and count to ten as soon as you feel angry or frustrated.  When you refrain from  immediately reacting to something that usually gets your blood boiling, you give yourself some time to think before lashing out to someone.  While doing this, it can be even more helpful to give yourself a time out, isolating yourself from others until you can face them without wanting to be mean or rude.
  2. Writing down your thoughts or talking with a counselor or trusted friend/family member.  If you are too embarrassed to get professional help, don't be - because everyone needs direction at least once in their life, whether it's with medication, relationship therapy, or encouragement through life's lows - deaths, job loss, financial ruin, divorce, etc.  But if you still feel unsure about talking with a stranger, you can talk with someone you trust.  And if that, too, makes you anxious, consider writing down your emotions.  It can bring out how you really feel, even if you don't want to acknowledge your turmoil to anyone.  Best of all, once you've written out your thoughts, you can rip them up.  It is a freeing experience worth trying.
  3. Get physical!  Two great ideas include exercise and laughter.   Any kind of exercise will help improve your appearance AND mood, while watching/hearing/reading something humorous (and laughing about it) can boost your mood and give you a more positive outlook on life overall.  There is a time for seriousness, of course, but no one says you have to be that way all the time!  Learning how to let go and not take everything that happens so personally will keep you from stressing out and striving for perfection that isn't there.
  4. Learn or build a special interest/skill.  While it might sound strange, your negative emotions can make you antsy and full of energy.  So if you normally feel unable to have the energy to do a task or follow a passion, it is a good time to use that negative energy into something constructive and work on a (new) hobby!  As you do that, you may surprise yourself at what you can accomplish, and before long you will begin to have less anger inside of you, and more peace of mind.  Eventually, you will look forward to the time you devote to your skill, and you will have found a viable outlet for your emotions and a way for you to get a grip on them before you harm yourself or others.
  5. It's ok to scream.  Just not at anybody!  In the same way that people sometimes need "a good cry", it is acceptable to let loose a scream if you need to.  Although, I would recommend screaming into a pillow while in your bathroom closet with the shower and exhaust fan running to muffle your sounds, especially if you are live in an urban area where someone might hear you and get concerned.  It might sound juvenile, but it is certainly better than the alternative.  Hopefully you wouldn't have to do this every time you feel mad, but rather switch to other methods, preferrably if you find yourself making yourself hoarse a lot.
  6. Change your life stressors.  If possible, get a new job, improve your living situation, develop or change a relationship, spend more time with your children, and basically rearrange your priorities so that you can get the most out of your life.  Why?  Because chances are, your frustrations with yourself are causing you to take it out on those you love.  So if you are dissatisfied in any of the above areas, you can easily become jaded, trapped, and prone to snapping at everyone under the Sun.  Eliminating or reducing your stress levels is highly important for you to be able to maintain your sanity.  It isn't fair to expect those around you to walk on egg shells in your presence just because you have problems coping.  So man (or woman) up and admit your unhappiness and DO something about it.  Take time to relax, get enough sleep, and have some "me" time at least once a week or month to recharge.  We all waste tons of energy complaining and whining, when that same level of activity can be used more positively.  When you are fueled for something good, you can make the impossible happen.
  7. Remember that you can only offer your opinions, but you can't control people.  This is by far one of the hardest things to do.  As a parent, as a spouse, it can be a great challenge to know when to exert your authority and expect to see results.  Since we live in an imperfect world, it is hardly fair to expect others to do everything as planned (because you know there is no way you can).  Speaking from personal experience in both these areas, which is also my reason in writing on this topic, it takes a flexible person to be in any sort of relationship, parenting included.  It is intimidating to be talked back to, or defied.  You can feel powerless if your spouse has a different concept of how to help run the home.  But between both dynamics of family life, it is possible to have harmony - at least most of the time.  It all starts with you.  As an adult, you must work together with your partner to come to a resolution in disputes, even if it means agreeing to disagree, or changing your stance in a matter.  If tasks need to be done that your spouse is unwilling or unmotivated to do, brainstorm what he or she can do differently, while at the same time ask what you can change in what you do, so that you both can grow closer and focus less on petty issues.  As your partner sees you change for his or her benefit, you will find that gesture returned in kind (unless that person is a real slouch, in which case, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship). 

If you have children, your primary goal during the first few years is to promote positive learning experiences - including consequences to disobedience - as well as offering unconditional love.  Making threats (both with your spouse or your children) does not help validate your words, and neither does making sarcastic comments or put-downs.  All that does is instill fear, shame, resentment, and distrust.  When disciplining your child, consider why you have to do so.  Did he or she break a rule?  Is his or her safety, or someone else's, at stake?  Did he or she know better?  Are other factors such as illness, hunger, sleepiness, etc. causing misbehavior?  I won't lie - it sounds easy to figure out and know when to control your outbursts when dealing with a child, but it really isn't.  We all have days where our reaction is "just do as I say, not as I do" or "because I said so!" because we are too tired and just want some peace and quiet.  But keep in mind, children need positive modeling to better understand why it is important for them to behave.  When they act out, or disobey, they want to see what will happen, especially if they are between the ages of 1 and 4 or even 5.  Once they are 6 and older, they know the rules, and want to exert some independence.  There may be times when you just have to let it go, even if it seems painful.  It might be a good idea to give yourself a time out when that happens, so you don't blow a gasket!  And when action is necessary, and instead of yelling back or nagging, you can take other measures.  First, give a warning of what the consequences will be for continuing bad behavior (or failing to listen).  If it is repeated, firmly remind your child of what you just said.  If he or she still persists, follow-through with your method of discipline.  I won't say to do one thing over another, because everyone's parenting style is different.  For some, it may be a spank on the bottom, others might do time-out.  Very spirited children, however, may not respond to either of those forms of punishment, and may need priviledges (or favorite toys) taken away, or be given other duties, or even be left in another room to have a melt-down elsewhere while you have a time-out to avoid reacting out of pure anger.  Once you (both) are calmer, you can revisit the situation, maybe even talk over what happened.  Overall, it is good to have a set of rules and duties that you and your family can write down and talk about on a regular basis to promote effective communication and ensure peace of mind.  It is something I am trying to do in my own household, so believe me when I say that it is quite the journey - but definitely well-worth it. 

Actions Speak Louder than Words

It might sound ironic that your actions are usually worse than any words you can ever spew out of your mouth, especially if you worry about being verbally abusive, but what I'm actually referring to here is your positive actions, rather than lip service.  Talking the talk can be done by anyone - I promise this/is won't happen again.  Sound familiar?  Any wonder why your words hold no meaning, when you continue to do the same things over and over again.  The only way it will change is by your ability to take action by following the above steps.  You must build trust for your words to hold any value.  At work, at home, at school.  People want to see results, not promises of what you plan to do in the future.  They want to see how you react, and then form their opinions about you.  Yes, people can change.  No, it's not always for the better.  But you can take things one day at a time and start turning your life around if it is truly important to you.  And I hope that you find the people in your life and your own health are vital to you, and enough to make you want to do something about it before it's too late.  Things like mental breakdowns, divorce, addictions, chronic illnesses, and risky behaviors can all be avoided if you get to the root of your issues and stop being abusive.  Above all, be honest with yourself so you can have more honest relationships with those whom you love and get the most out of life.


Posted on Mar 15, 2011
Ron Siojo
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Natasha Polak
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Bella Delanna
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