Seeing these justifications as ways of legitimatizing behaviors that are essentially harmful to both the perpetrator and the victim of violence can help to interrupt the cycle of violence.
There is often collusion by the other partner who may find it difficult to hold their ground in the face of the threat of an attack. When one counters these forms of denial, it can be helpful to not get into an argument about whether or not the other is being violent or an argument about the semantics of the word ‘violence’ and to just stick with the feelings they have in response to verbal violence. e.g.) “it’s hard for me to stay open to hearing what you are saying when I’m so triggered by your words. Is there a way that you can tell me what you’re feeling that doesn’t include threats or your judgments of me?”
Verbal violence has the same roots of fear that physical violence does, and once again, it’s fear that drives these destructive behaviors. It is likely that these patterns have been in the family, handed down for generations. When our parents, grandparents, great-great grandparents got frightened, anxious that they would not get their needs met, fearful that they might be dominated or controlled, the aggressive form was to insult, threaten, criticize, guilt trip, or in some way assassinate the other person’s character.
More covert forms are swallowing feelings, denial, passive aggression and displacement onto those upon whom it is safer to dump their feelings. Some of us grew up seeing these behaviors as normal and acceptable.
When someone is in a relationship with a rage-a-holic, it can feel like it is never safe to fully relax. They are always living in a state of ongoing tension fearing an outburst. They are almost always on edge, anticipating the next attack that could occur at any moment. Not only is emotional well-being compromised, but physical health is diminished as well. Depression is also a frequent consequence of being the object of verbal violence.
The quantity and quality of sleep is similarly affected. Appetite may be diminished or greatly amplified in an effort to numb the pain of anxiety. There is always at least a low level of resentment. Even in those cases where only one person has been the abuser, both parties are always impacted. Trust between the two people inevitably erodes.
Like all destructive patterns and habituated behaviors, breaking the habit of impulsive reactivity when we feel angry or threatened is much easier said than done. It is, however possible to neutralize violent reactivity when the intention is clear, the commitment is strong and when responsible support is available.
When these conditions are present, even deeply embedded patterns can, over time be dissolved. And when they are, we can finally know the true meaning what it means to live in peace.
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Written by Linda and Charlie Bloom
Originally appeared in Psychologytoday
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