When dating, can verbal abuse be more severe than physical?

By Allie Stein
April 20, 2016

Editor’s note: Some names have been omitted to protect certain sources’ privacy.

“You know that feeling you get when you meet someone and every time you see them you get butterflies in your stomach,” Thomas H. said. “That is how I felt.  I over looked the alcohol, drug and verbal abuse he would draw upon me. I was in love so it was okay.”

Often times when we hear about abusive or unhealthy relationships, we think of physical abuse.  However, abuse in relationships can come in many forms including emotional and verbal, sexual and even digital.

The pain that comes from these forms of abuse can sometimes be far more damaging than the pain that comes from physical abuse. 

Loveisrespect.org is an organization with the mission of engaging, educating and empowering young people to prevent and end abusive relationships.

Loveisrespect.org describes emotional and verbal abuse as non-physical behaviors such as threats, insults, constant monitoring or “checking in,” excessive texting, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.

Thomas experienced extreme emotional and verbal abuse for about a year and a half.  During this time, he was in and out of a relationship with a man he truly believed he was in love with.

He needed to know my every move,” Thomas said. “He couldn’t trust me for some reason, despite the fact that I caught him cheating on me three times within a month’s period.”

Gina F. also dated a man for a year and a half.  Despite the relationship being extremely unhealthy and the feelings of inadequacy she experienced, Gina stayed with her partner because of the way he would act when the two would breakup.

“Even after I asked him to respect my space, he would relentlessly harass me,” Gina said.  “He would show up to my house and just walk in because he felt entitled to come into my life in anyway he could.”

Gina describes the relationship as very possessive.  The arguments the two had progressively got worse over time due to her partner’s violent behavior and his use of sexual derogatory terms.

Gina also found alcohol playing a major role in the negative aspects of the relationship.

“He was drunk a lot,” Gina said.  “So that had a lot to do with a majority of the problems.”

Loveisrespect.org finds that it is quite common for abusive partners to blame drugs or alcohol for their unhealthy behavior. Although drugs and alcohol do affect a person’s judgment and behavior, they are not a reason or excuse for violent behavior.

Thomas also found drugs and alcohol to have played a major role in his relationship.

“He blamed me for his drug usage,” Thomas said.  “It didn’t take long for me to start doing drugs as well, something I never thought I would do.”

A key component of abuse in relationships is often that the victim of the abuse is insecure or unsure of themselves in some way.

For Alex Swallow, a sophomore exercise science and health promotion major, her partner knowing about her extreme insecurities was a major reason he continued to verbally abuse her.

He knew I would never do anything or try to stick up for myself,” Swallow said.  “So he continued to pick out every little thing that was wrong with me until he couldn’t find anything else.”

Swallow and her partner had grown up together and she described him as her best friend.  The two dated from freshman year of high school, all the way to the beginning of freshman year of college.

Despite the relationship lasting almost four years, it was very unsteady and Swallow describes it as “on and off” due to the constant arguments and fighting.

“He would call me fat and ugly and tell me that was I nothing compared to other girls,” Swallow said.  “He told me I looked gross without makeup on and sometimes would just flat out tell me I looked disgusting.”

In addition to the sexual derogatory terms Swallow’s partner called her, he would also cheat on her with other women.

“He would break up with me for a night if he was out and with a prettier girl so it wasn’t considered cheating on me,” Swallow said.  “Then, he would want to get back with me the next day.”

Why do men and women find themselves staying in such negative relationships? If your partner is bringing you nothing but sadness, why not leave them?

Often times, victims of any kind of abuse feel as if they can not escape the person that is abusing them.

“I felt trapped,” Gina said.  “I also felt like I couldn’t leave because I viewed him as a broken person who I needed to fix.”

In addition to the feelings of being trapped, many people may not believe what they are experiencing is in fact abuse.

Loveisrespect.org found that college students are often not equipped to deal with dating abuse, finding that 57 percent say it is difficult to identify and 58 percent say they don’t know how to help someone who is experiencing it.

For Swallow, despite how unhappy she was, she told herself her partner would never do anything to really hurt her.

“He is my best friend so I told myself  he would never really try and hurt me,” Swallow said.  “I told myself the stuff he said was okay because he only said them to me when we were in what I considered ‘big’ fights.”

For Thomas, staying in the relationship had much greater effects on him a person.

“I did not have the confidence in myself to believe that I deserved better than the person that I was with,” Thomas said. “I lost all confidence and self-esteem in myself, which eventually led to depression.”

Long lasting negative effects are not uncommon for those who are victims of dating abuse.

Dosomething.org is an organization for young people and social change.  The organization found that those who suffer from dating abuse are subject to long-term consequences like alcoholism, eating disorders, promiscuity, thoughts of suicide and violent behavior.

In addition to his depression, Thomas saw first hand how his relationship had negative effects that he is sill suffering from.

“I lost a lot of my friends because he would guilt me into hanging out with him instead of them,” Thomas said.  “I also got put on academic probation because he would convince me to lay in bed and watch TV instead of going to class.”

Swallow has also found herself still suffering from insecurities and the thoughts that her ex-boyfriend put into her head.

“I let a boy brainwash me into something I wasn’t,” Swallow said.  “To this day I still feel so insecure and I see how even the smallest words can have such negative affects on someone.”

Despite all of the negative repercussions, the healing process can also bring about a lot of positive realizations for victims and help them to see what they deserve in the future.

“This relationship made me realize that if someone does not accept me for who I am, then I do not need to be with that person,” Swallow said. “I know that I am not even remotely close to being perfect, but I’ve accepted that and I now know that the the person I plan to be with needs to accept that too.”

Recognizing that the healing process for those who go through an unhealthy relationship can be long, Thomas says that love and relationships are still not something to be scared of.

“You have to be able to accept yourself for everything you are worth, because you will feel extremely damaged after,” Thomas said. “There may be some self-blame, feeling as though you were so stupid to let any of this happen or that you stayed through it, but there is nothing that can be done besides accepting it as the past and moving forward.”

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Allie Stein

Senior communication major with a passion for writing, storytelling and speaking. Member of the women's swim team, former staff writer, assistant lifestyles editor for Loquitur and head sports anchor for LOQation Weekly News.

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