Question

I experienced horrible verbal and a little physical abuse from my husband whom I divorced 30 years ago. I haven’t been able to let myself truly love again since. My heart was broken so badly, that the thought of another marriage is staggering. I have been in several relationships. But I pick men that can’t commit or end up being controlling and abusive. I would like to attract a healthy man. My last date was three years ago. It was a man who was nice and loved me. But, I didn’t love him back. I have tried dating sites but meet weirdos. So, it’s been a year since I tried that. I have had tons of counseling of all sorts. I know God loves me, but, here I am alone.

Answer

It breaks my heart every time I hear a story like yours where the effects of verbal abuse continue to hold the victim hostage decades later. Even though you’ve left your abuser, the effects of the abuse don’t leave. Before we talk about what you can do to heal, I’d like to say a word about the seriousness of verbal abuse.

There is nothing benign about verbal abuse, especially when it comes from lips of the one who is supposed to love and protect you. It’s incorrect to say, “it was only verbal abuse”, as if it doesn’t count as much if there isn’t obvious physical damage. Yes, physical abuse can clearly be life-threatening. No one argues with that. However, verbal abuse is often downplayed by both perpetrators and victims as less damaging. The truth is that the body experiences the same physical effects regardless of how the abuse is delivered.

Rachel Mullen from the Sonas Housing and Meath Women’s Refuge in Ireland described it this way:

“If a woman is experiencing physical abuse, she can name what is happening and there are bruises and scars to prove it. Verbal abuse can have a hugely debilitating effect emotionally and psychologically, but because of the lack of tangible evidence it can be harder for women to name or show its impact. No one goes to [a women’s shelter] because they have been humiliated or ridiculed and it’s difficult to file a complaint…to say that your partner isolates you from your friends.”[i]

It’s well-documented in the research literature that verbal and emotional abuse have long-lasting effects. [ii] One of the reasons verbal abuse is so damaging is because it is often intentional. When someone who has promised to care about your wellbeing intentionally hurts you, it’s a serious violation of that promise and it makes it terribly difficult to ever put yourself back in a situation where another person could do that to you.

Dr. Steven Stosny has developed some excellent resources to help abused women (and men, for that matter) heal from the impact of verbal and physical abuse. He teaches the importance of not only healing from the damaging view of self that was inflicted on the victim, but also how to heal the defenses that are left behind. I highly recommend his book, “Living and Loving After Betrayal”, which can help you recondition the harmful mental processing that has resulted from being abused by your ex-husband for so many years.[iii]

I’m not sure what kind of counseling or support you’ve received over the years, but please don’t give up on getting the healing you deserve. Seek out trauma-centered treatment to help release the impact on your body and your view of self. One of the most sinister aspects of experiencing abuse in a trusted relationship is that you slowly start to implicitly agree with the beliefs your abuser holds about you. Your work is to reclaim the truth about yourself so you can quickly recognize when someone is objectifying and devaluing you. You can learn to detect warning signs from someone who is unable or unwilling to treat you like a person worthy of love, respect, and belonging. As painful as your single status is right now, you already know that it’s better to be alone than to be stuck in the loneliness of an abusive relationship.

Hopefully you have meaningful relationships with safe people in your life. Your experiences from being abused can increase your capacity for compassion and give you a profound understanding of loss and suffering that is so badly needed in the world today. We live in callous times where people can be so cruel and indifferent to the suffering of others. Our families and communities need people who truly understand how to succor those in great pain. You have beauty inside and all around you precisely because of what you’ve been through. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross emphasized this when she said:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”[iv]

Your desire to heal is important and shouldn’t be ignored. You instinctively know there is more connection and healing ahead for you, even though you’ve struggled to find it. Please don’t lose hope and believe that you are beyond the reach of meaningful human connection. As you continue to heal the internal effects of the devastating consequences of abuse, I pray you can slowly and safely experience a safe and supportive relationship.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recovery. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT


[i]https://www.thejournal.ie/verbal-abuse-can-deaden-someone-from-the-inside-out-353900-Feb2012/

[ii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tech-support/201602/5-things-everyone-must-understand-about-verbal-abuse

[iii] http://www.compassionpower.com

[iv] https://www.ekrfoundation.org/elisabeth-kubler-ross/quotes/