Sticks & Stones: Why Verbal Abuse Kills, Part III

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Sticks and stones
May break my bones,
But words could even kill me…

What’s in a name? That nursery rhyme (original version) says “…names can never hurt me…” But I think names can do a world of damage.

While it seems fundamentally obvious, the thing about names is that a name tells who you are. A name is your identity. Whether it is the name your parents gave you or whether it is a “modifier” screamed at you in anger or calmly hurled at you in a quiet diatribe, a name is an attempt to identify who you are.

I used the word “modifier” in its English grammar meaning. A modifier is a word that describes or quantifies another word. It is a name that identifies another word specifically — for instance, the red car, the windy weather, the unsubmissive wife, the demon child son. A modifier ascribes value to another word.

When a name is used to describe a person it strikes at that person’s very center of being. This is why name-calling is more powerful than just words. When a husband or father (or mother/wife) calls their spouse or child names they are ascribing value to that person – they are ascribing a lesser value to that person. It doesn’t matter if you attempt to say the names don’t hurt, they do – especially when they are spoken by someone closest to you, who is supposed to know you best, is supposed to love and protect you, and is supposed to be “one” with you (as your spouse) or is supposed to be your primary influence (as a parent).

It also doesn’t matter how the name-calling is phrased. If an abuser says, in screaming rage, “you are acting like a demon child” – it is no different than saying “you are a demon child” because the spirit, the rage, the violence behind it gives it the same intention. Splitting hairs by saying “you are acting like” does not give someone a pass on the intention.

Words can also “call names” through strong implication without saying the actual name. When an abuser has a pattern of the calm diatribes, carefully and constantly describing, in detail, why you are a failure, wrong, have poor judgment, etc. he is describing you – your worth, value, acceptability, etc.

For instance, Gary frequently launched into long diatribes about all manner of things about me. One was about me liking white rice with butter/salt/pepper as a side dish with a meal. He wondered how I could possibly eat white rice and described in detail all the reasons why it is worthless, bad for you, tastes bad, etc., etc. He did this everytime rice came into his sphere of reference — could be in a restaurant, could be if I fixed rice, if he fixed rice, if someone else fixed rice, if the rice came up in a casual conversation with strangers — he launched into the “how can my wife/you like white rice because…” Yes, he did this — about me — to other people in casual conversation if rice was mentioned. What he was communicating was that I was so stupid I couldn’t make a rational decision about my taste for rice. I ended up being unable to eat rice for several years and I still struggle with it. The strong negative emotional connection to rice is very powerful. There were dozens of things like this that warranted long diatribes toward or about me. Water temperature in the shower, the direction of washing dishes (left to right sinks vs right to left), theological or political sub-points, favorite colors, styles of clothes, preferred recreation, types of books I liked to read, types of TV programs I enjoyed — the list is practically endless. There was always something to rant about – literally daily.

The reason these take a toll is because they “call names” even non-specifically. These rants quantified who I was as stupid, illogical, unreasonable, unsubmissive, rebellious, un-spiritual, non-Christian (literally), etc., etc. They communicated that I was not worth respect, and they communicated that he did not respect me because I was not worthy of respect. While he said he respected me if he was directly asked, his constant way of life said otherwise.

Name-calling, in any form that describes value, is powerful because it assaults who the person is at the most fundamental level. When the person calling names is in a position of authority or in the position of protector/provider his words hold that much more power.

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6 Responses

  1. I read your aritcles about sticks and stones. I have realized that I have been in a realationship for 16 years of this kind of treatment. He always says that I am not a Christian or give him the respect he should have. That I am not a submissive wife and I have deserved the treatment because I have lied and hide bills from him

  2. I’m glad it helped you! When you’re inside it, you either believe it or you wonder if it is true, and you feel like you’re being rebellious just for having thoughts that are not in unity with your spouse – but it’s impossible to have thoughts in unity with your spouse no matter how much you try.

    I hope you can find help and hope on this site. Check out some of the other sites I link to in my blockroll and related links in the right sidebar too. There are so good resources there. If I can help in any way, e-mail me.

    — Danni

  3. Any articles on being falsely accused of molestation from a brother & then they took it back.? He has since, Repudiated me 3 other times, about our differences of the way we see God. And insinuated I was going to hell.
    I have choose at this time to not have contact, because he threatened to effect my relationships with the rest of my family & friends. Only one family member has asked what’s wrong, I have told them My bro & I had words that got out of hand & that
    I would rather not discuss it, In an attempt to not cause Gossip Etc! Thank-you for listening.

  4. When there have been legal charges made and dropped or the accused found innocent I like to publish that here and make an issue of it. That is not a charge to be made lightly and not only does it cause extreme damage to the person against whom the accusation is made, it also indirectly damages everyone else who has a legitimate problem out there when people don’ t want to believe them!

    It’s hard to know what to do in a situation like that because it seems like the one who tries to do the right thing is the one whose reputation ends up being the most damaged – because they don’t fight back. The only thing I know to do is keep pointing to the truth – which is sometimes easier said than done. You can’t stop someone from maliciously maligning you behind your back – something David spends a good bit of time talking to God about in the Psalms. I love sitting in the Psalms with David because just tells it straight and still comes back around to God every time.

    But if there is ever anything concrete by way of slander, it is not wrong to stand up for yourself and for righteousness in humility – without anger. It’s hard to do, but it can be done and it isn’t wrong to do.

    Another thought that occurs to me, on the issue of differences about the way we see God and insinuations about you going to hell — when it comes down to it, we must each give account to God and He is our only judge. So you stand or fall before Him alone. No one really has place for a judgment – and, if you want to get right to the nugget of it – anyone who does is usurping God’s position of judge. So, pointing to the truth of the matter, should the subject arise, it would not go amiss to point out that you are accountable to God and God alone for your relationship with Him, and you will stand or fall before Him alone. That’s all that matters. For anyone who has the remotest understanding, that should be answer enough.

    I’m sorry you’re in this difficult situation! It really stinks.

    — Danni

  5. Thanks for this sticks and stones series, Danni! So often the outer, visible abuse is focused on so much, that people don’t realize that it’s the verbal/emotional/spiritual component that is so devastating.

    My big beef is that far too many churches insist a woman return to her physically abusive husband, or say physical abuse is the only abuse that allows her to leave him. They totally fail to address the continual attack on her inner person, and the damage that is doing to her, her children, and to the abuser himself. As stated elsewhere, I think a wife should be given the freedom to leave–and even encouraged to leave, although not pressured–at the first sign of abuse. Most of the time a woman doesn’t even recognize the behavior as abuse until it is quite advanced and she has already experienced so much damage that she is losing her sense of competency and confidence. If the collective church culture and teaching, taught rightly about the issue, I think the male superior attitudes would stop–if nothing else in fear that their wives will leave them if they are anything less than respectful and affirming.

  6. Wait, I got that wrong. Perhaps churches should urge, or even insist that the verbally abusive husband leave the home, but continue to pay the bills, so the wife and children can continue to live in their homes and not be further uprooted by his abuse.

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