but he never hit me ….

I can’t tell you how many times I have said to a woman, “do you realize that you are a battered wife?”  She has lived for years with a man who verbally and emotionally abuses her, who humiliates her at every opportunity, who is passive aggressive in his behavior, who isolates her from her friends and family, who controls her comings and goings, restricts her access to money, uses the children as a weapon against her, destroys any possessions that are significant to her … the list goes on and on …   She looks at me and says, “but he never hit me.”

Remember the little ditty that we learned as a kid …. “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  It’s a lie.  Words hurt.   As any child that has been bullied.  Physical wounds can heal, although they sometimes leave a scar.  Verbal and emotional wounds are just as painful, but they aren’t visible from the outside.   If my client had a mark on her body from every one of the times she had been verbally or emotionally abused by her spouse, she would be a candidate for the trauma unit of her local hospital.   Everyone that came into contact with her would recognize that she is in agony and needs help.

Here is a powerful video that illustrates the effect of verbal abuse.

Because verbal and emotional abuse doesn’t leave a physical mark, not many people will ever notice that my client is hurting.  Her spouse’s controlling behaviors keep her inside most of the time.   It’s hard for her to give people eye contact or engage in conversation.  For her to come to my office has taken all the courage she can muster.

There’s a link that might be very helpful to you if you think you might be like my client.


13 thoughts on “but he never hit me ….

  1. One does not understand the damage of hurtful words. The video you have in this post is such an amazing realization of how words do hurt and scar! THANK YOU MORVEN!!!

  2. So true, Morven. Here in Australia we don’t often hear the term “Battered Woman” except when we read stuff from the States. But we do hear the term “Domestic Violence” a lot. I have mixed feelings about both terms. As you so aptly describe, the label “battered” (or “violence”) tends to have the effect that most victims will not identify themselves as “one of THOSE women”. I remember sitting in the corridor at the court house, applying for my first protection order, and feeling flooded with shame and dismay: “This means I’m one of THOSE women; a victim of domestic violence! Oh no! Not me! Not that! Nothing could be worse!”

    And my husband had used violence on me, occasionally (every few months or so), but despite this I’d never thought of myself as a victim of domestic violence, And I’d been to an eight week support group for victims of domestic violence at least a year previously! Go figure!

    I think that the term “domestic abuse” is much easier for victims to identify with, but even identifying with that term is hard. And I realise that by using “domestic abuse” we can seem to be diminishing the criminality and brutality of abuse, making it a ‘soft crime’ so to speak. Which is not good either. So that’s why I’m ambivalent about all terms, but tend to prefer “domestic abuse” over the other terms. I’d like to know what others think.

    • I wish I could have sat with you as you waited in the corridor of that Court house. Shame is a terrible thing, especially as it does not belong to you, but to the ones who covered you with it. I completely understand your dislike of using ‘terms’ … sometimes using them depersonalizes the people the terms are describing. However, when I work with a victim of domestic violence, I purposely use ‘battered wife’ to bring the reality ‘home.’ DV seems too tame sometimes for what ‘these women’ … ahem …. and every one I have met is a treasure … have endured. Using ‘battered wife’ seems to open their eyes to the truth, especially the ladies who have been hesitant to remove themselves from the harmful situation.

      I’m glad to have ‘met’ you and I pray for your ministry. I gave a workshop in Australia – Brisbane – last year and was overcome by the response. We are sisters on the journey of helping other sisters heal. Blessings to you.

  3. So very, very powerful… I’ve seen this video before and it still leaves me somewhat “breathless”. It needs to be seen by those who continue to deny the horrific damage , woundedness and scars that verbal and emotional abuse causes.

    Though my husband hit and pushed me on several occasions early on in our 33 year marriage, he soon found that he could do MORE damage and control with his rage, verbal and emotional attacks, belittling, bullying, etc. His father beat his mother and he always told me that “You don’t know what REAL abuse is!!” So it was never “validated”, my pain was minimal in comparison and as a Christian, (which he claimed to be, as well) I felt obligated and my duty was to always forgive. I lived in the constant cycle of abuse – apology – forgiveness- tension – abuse – apology………. ad nauseum!
    The last time he stepped foot in our house just 4 months ago, as he was moving the last of his things out, he said ” You exaggerated the abuse……… I never “bloodied” you!!!”

    I will never forget those words and the horrible, sickening feeling in my gut.

    Thank you for your work and the many others (Cindy Burrell and Barbara Roberts) who have chosen to champion this cause and speak on behalf of truly “battered” women.
    I will never be silent again.

    • My prayers are with you, brave sister. I can’t imagine your heart ache for the lost years in captivity, but I believe with my whole heart that the next chapter of your journey will be filled with much joy. Picture me with pom poms, cheering you on as you speak the truth. Thank you so much for sharing. I’d love your input at any time. M

      • Thank you so much for your response to my post. Your words of encouragement and support (and yes your “cheering” with pom poms!!…) mean more than you’ll ever know!
        Validation for my pain and the pain of countless other women is such a vital component of healing.
        Balm to my wounded soul…

  4. Morven, thanks for sharing your thoughts about terms. I can see your point. In your counselling role I can see a real value and benefit in using the term “battered wife”. You have the luxury of spending plenty of time with each woman and being able to explain and flesh out what you mean by that term and why you think it applies to the woman you’re talking to.

    I guess I made my remarks thinking more about the sound-bite sized messages that victims will get from the media, or from flyers, leaflets or wallet cards they may pick up. In those circumstances, the woman is not going to have beside her a kind, supportive, counsellor who can gently explain why the term “BW” or “DV” might apply to her (let alone have someone beside her to help her deal with the shock of realising “that IS me!”

    Your thoughts or views would again be valued, if you have anything to say about my musings.

  5. Pingback: Verbal Abuse of the Religious « life of a female bible warrior

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