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Verbal Aggression in Violent Relationships
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In this section, as an introduction to battering, before
I start a discussion of physical abuse I would like to talk briefly about emotional abuse. Have you found, like I, that batterers use emotional abuse as a grooming process for the physical abuse to follow? I’m sure you have found like I
that grooming is a way the abuser has of “testing the waters” for
the tolerance level and boundaries of his victim.
♦ The Grooming Process of Shame Unfolds
Here’s how this
grooming process unfolded for Shannon, age 31. Shannon mentioned some of the comments
her husband, Aaron, made regularly. Shannon stated tearfully, “He teases
me a lot. He makes fun of the way I drive, the way I walk… He even criticizes
the way I make the bed in the morning. I know he’s just affectionately teasing
me. Aaron probably thinks my stupid little ways are cute, but after a while it
does make me really feel stupid. I am not sure I can do anything right.”
Shannon later revealed an incident during which Aaron shoved her onto the bed
face down followed by a couple kicks because he felt the bed wasn’t properly
What is your first step in helping your possible potential battered woman that may be being groomed? Have you found, like I, that a way to
help this type of client is to simply increase her awareness of the emotional
abuse? I reminded Shannon that what she was calling "affectionate teasing”
might in fact fall into one or several of the following four types of verbal abuse…
I broke them down this way for Shannon… belittling, mimicking, insulting,
4 Types of Shame - Verbal Abuse
♦ 1. Belittling.
I find it helpful to
discuss with clients like Shannon to be aware of actions or verbalizations that
are resulting to making her feel smaller or ashamed of herself or her actions.
I told Shannon that belittling could include laughing, smirking, and jokes like
the ones Aaron would make about her driving. At one point, Shannon stated, “Sometimes
he repeats things to me very, very slowly, as if I didn’t get what he said
the first time, and as if I am a four-year-old.” I asked Shannon whether
she thought it might be possible that Aaron was actually belittling her by treating
her as if she were a child, rather than affectionately teasing her?
After explaining belittling, I asked Shannon to consider
whether or not Aaron’s jokes ever included mimicking. I gave her examples
such as imitating a frustrated tone in her voice, or mocking something she said.
Shannon burst into tears and exclaimed, “Yes, yes, my God, he does that
and I felt it was okay because I am such a horrible person.”
As you know, all verbal abuse is not as subtle as some
examples of belittling and mimicking. I asked Shannon what she thought about the
idea that regularly insulting a loved one is not loving behavior, and is in fact
abusive. I pointed out to Shannon that when Aaron tells her she can’t make
the bed correctly, his communication results in an insult her competence.
♦ 4. Ignoring.
As you know, emotional abuse, which may
be actually a grooming behavior for physical abuse to occur in the future, is
not always verbal. Ignoring Shannon’s words, actions, and needs can of course
be an abusive behavior. Shannon just felt that Aaron’s ignoring her was
another indication of how unworthy she was of his time.
As you know,
this list does not include every way that a person can be groomed for physical
abuse through emotionally abuse. However, I find it is helpful in simply giving
clients an idea as to what kinds of behaviors are included in emotional abuse.
This short, simple list helped Shannon to recognize and admit that a problem with
emotional abuse existed in her relationship. I reminded Shannon that even though
each of these behaviors seems small on its own, these small behaviors can actually
end up being a grooming process for Aaron’s later physical assaults.
In this section, we've looked at how physical abuse can start for your client
via emotional abuse as a means of grooming them for the violence of physical abuse.
In the next section, we will discuss what one client calls the “dog
collar” of control and a client Personal Power Exercise.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Derrick, J. L., Testa, M., & Leonard, K. E. (2014). Daily reports of intimate partner verbal aggression by self and partner: Short-term consequences and implications for measurement. Psychology of Violence, 4(4), 416–431.
Hammett, J. F., Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (2020). When does verbal aggression in relationships covary with physical violence? Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication.
Jacobson, N. S., Gottman, J. M., Waltz, J., Rushe, R., Babcock, J., & Holtzworth-Munroe, A. (2000). Affect, verbal content, and psychophysiology in the arguments of couples with a violent husband. Prevention & Treatment, 3(1), Article 19a.
What are four types of emotional abuse that a batterer may use to groom
his victim for future physical abuse? To select and enter your answer go to .