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The Christian Response to Verbal Abuse

Updated on October 26, 2016
Carola Finch profile image

Carola is a Christian writer and author of three books. She writes about Christian living, the Bible, relationships, and other topics.

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The Bible has some things to say about verbal and emotional abuse that may surprise you.

Janey’s story

My coffee cup dropped with a bang at the sight of my poor girlfriend Janey (not her real name) crying her eyes out. We were both 20 somethings who should be enjoying our new marriages, but she was not. She told me that her second marriage was on the brink of breaking up because of her husband’s constant putdowns.

Her husband was also picking on her adolescent son from a previous marriage for everything from the way the child ate to how he looked.

“Have you talked to a counsellor about this?” I asked. My friend’s face turned from hurt to frustration.

“I have talked to several pastors,” she said angrily. “They all tell me I should honor my marriage and submit to my husband. I have decided to put up with it.”

As someone who had endured verbal abuse and bullying myself, I was appalled, but did not know what to say. She was determined to continue in her marriage.

Over time, Janey became so beaten down by her husband’s constant criticism and verbal mistreatment of her son that she couldn’t take it anymore. She took her son and left her husband. She left our church too, and was totally turned off Christianity. I never heard from her again.

This incident happened over twenty years ago, but many people, particularly women, are still getting similar advice from some well-meaning church leaders and members.

These leaders are so focused on getting people to respect their parents and stay in their marriages that they miss the signs of damaging emotional abuse. They may minimize the abuse by saying, "at least he does not hit you." In reality, the Bible strongly teaches that verbal abuse is wrong.

Signs of emotional abuse

The power of words

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines psychological and emotional abuse as: “the systematic perpetration of malicious and explicit nonphysical acts against an intimate partner, child, or dependent adult.” Emotional abuse is speech that attacks the victims’ self-esteem and self image. Verbal abuse can be subtle and hard to identify.

We can miss the signs or misinterpret them as something else. An abuser may use a “joke” or the disguise of “helping” us. Abusers are also manipulators who can convince us that we deserve their abuse.

Psalm 15

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent;

Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

The tongue has the power of life and death. Our words can help people or destroy them (James 3:5-7). The Christian faith are based on what Jesus said was the greatest commandment: that we love God with all of our might and our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:35-39). The scriptures also tell us to honor and respect others. If people say they love God and hate their neighbor, the love of God is not in them (1 John 2:9-11).

Jesus himself said that anyone who calls his brother an imbecile or a numbskull is in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:21-22). Our words are supposed to bring healing, not pain and destruction (Proverbs 12:18). Our speech should build up and encourage others in their faith (Ephesians 4:29), not tear them down.

The perpetrator’s viewpoint

People who verbally abuse others may not recognize the damage they are doing and have all kinds of excuses for their behavior. They justify their hurtful words in numerous ways such as:

“My son needs to toughen up and be a man.”
“My daughter needs to start to lose weight.”
“My wife needs to stop being so lazy and do more around the house.”
“The employee under my supervision needs to shape up and stop making so many mistakes.”

They are often blind to the damage that their words can do. We need to keep these possibilities in mind when dealing with verbally abusive people.

Some perpetrators know exactly what they are doing and use emotional abuse to manipulate, punish or control their victims.

The Christian response to verbal abuse

Understand why the perpetrator is verbally abusing us: Sometimes, the reasons are obvious. A person may have Alzheimer’s or mental health issues, for example. A husband may be under a lot of pressure at work, or a mother may be fed up with her rebellious teen.

For others, we may have to dig deeper to understand where they are coming from. If we understand why the person is saying hurtful things, we can sort out the difference between constructive criticism and emotional abuse. Some people verbally abuse others in order to control them. They use hurtful words to destroy their victims’ self-esteem, make them be submissive, and force them to tow their line.

Source

Unfortunately, some so-called Christians disguise their verbal abuse with misinterpreted scriptures. Some husbands feel that they can say whatever they want and their wives should “submit.” These men miss the verse telling them to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25) and that husbands should not be harsh (Colossians 3:10).

Some parents may use Biblical admonitions requiring children to honor them as an excuse to emotionally abuse them, forgetting about the verses that says we should not provoke our children to anger or frustrate them (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). Understanding what motivates the abuser helps us to respond to verbal abuse in an appropriate way.

Maintain our identity as children of Christ: God loves us as we are, faults and all. We are beloved children of God bought with a great price – the blood of Jesus Christ. God wants us to build a strong sense of self-esteem that will resist any attempts to tear it down. We should not fear because God will protect us from the destructive effects of tongue-lashing (Job 5:21).

Source

Don’t internalize the abuse: Verbally abuse can damage our self-esteem and self-image if we allow it. God is close to the brokenhearted and heals those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). We can put the abuse behind us by forgiving the person (Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness helps us to stop brooding and internalizing when the abuser has said.

Create no-tolerance policy for abuse: We have the right to demand that people treat us with respect and dignity and stop being verbally abusive. We can create boundaries and set up consequences for crossing the lines. Before we confront them, however, we need to consider how an abuser may respond to a confrontation. Here are some possibilities:

  • The person is unaware their words are hurtful and will correct their behavior
  • The person dislikes or despises us for some reason, does not care what we think, and will keep on being verbally abusive
  • The person will retaliate verbally or with physical violence, or plot revenge against us for daring to stand up to them

In some cases confrontation is difficult because the abuser has some power over us, such as a parent or a boss. We may need to seek the counsel of trusted friends or professional advice on the best approach to our abusers. In some cases, confrontation is not advisable and could be dangerous. Some verbally abusive husbands, for example, may escalate to physical abuse if they fear they are losing control over their wives.

An alternate approach is needed in some special circumstances to stop the abuser such as appealing to an abusive co-worker’s supervisor, cutting off a relationship with an abuser, or fleeing to a women’s shelter.

Avoid abusers, if possible: We should avoid people who are verbally abusive such as those who are in a continuous state of anger (Matthew 22:24). They are constantly getting into trouble and could drag us down with them into all kinds of sin (Proverbs 29:22, 1 Corinthians 15:33).

One woman's story of verbal abuse

Don’t retaliate: The Bible tells us not to repay even for evil (Romans 12:17). Their evil will come back to bite them in the end (Psalm 7:16, Proverbs 21:7). God is our avenger. Instead, we need to be proactive to ensure that the verbal abuse does not continue.

The last word

In this day and age, we in the Christian community and our leaders have become more aware of verbal abuse, and are better able to deal with it. I have gotten great advice from ministers over the years on dealing with emotional abuse.

More education is needed, however, in the Christian community on how to recognize verbal abuse and deal with it.

© 2013 Carola Finch

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  • GalaxyRat profile image

    GalaxyRat 3 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

    Thank you for this Hub. Have had questions like that myself, and this helps!

  • Ezria Copper profile image

    Ezria Copper 12 months ago

    A lot of people don't see verbal abuse as being "abuse". What they don't understand is it does severe damage. It is especially a hard topic in the Christian community because I think that often people misinterpret the scriptures. This was an excellent blog.

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    Brandy 2 years ago from TX

    Well, I'm not really religious, so I don't quite understand why a minister would tell someone to stick it through with an abusive partner. Mental abuse is the worst kind and it's very damaging to a person's personality. It's really terrible what happened and I'm truly sorry that it turned your friend away from her religion. But, I believe that people with faith usually end up coming back into their faith, even if they think they've lost it. At least, that's what I've heard from several different Christians. At some point in your life you lose it, and then you find it again. Nonetheless, hopefully she and her son will find happiness in their lives.

  • sujinmikee profile image

    Sujin Mikee 2 years ago from Philippines

    Excellent points! Deny self and put on Christ =0)

  • Hannah David Cini profile image

    Hannah David Cini 2 years ago from Nottingham

    This is a really interesting and well written piece. I think it's so true that the 'turn the other cheek' mentality can lead some Christians stay in harmful situations without questioning it.

  • mothersofnations profile image

    Mothers of Nations 2 years ago

    Great article! Voted up and definitely a must-share! God bless you*

  • Carola Finch profile image
    Author

    Carola Finch 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for your comments everyone. I am very concerned about some Christian leaders' lack of awareness and understanding about verbal abuse.

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Paula 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

    Carola.....This is beautifully written for all Christians to understand. I can only believe your hub will help many Christians who are abused and erroneously think they must tolerate this.

    I was a major staff member of a crisis center for many years. We had basic policies and programs for all victims. There was nothing specific for particular religions, of course, just a firm and constant ZERO tolerance of abuse and abusers.

    The very saddest part of being involved with those who lived with abuse was definitely the sweet, innocent children. I simply never got used to that.

    Thanks for sharing your Bible knowledge. Very nice work, Carola...Up+++

  • lone77star profile image

    Rod Martin Jr 3 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

    Beautiful, Carola.

    But in any discussion of victims, we need to introduce the driver of all victimizations -- ego. Once you get rid of ego (your own), you can never again be a victim. What does this entail?

    Christ said that we need to love others as ourselves -- even our enemies. In other words, we need to consider the needs of the enemy and give it to them as if they were ourselves. Thus, Christ said to resist not evil, but to turn the other cheek and to walk the extra mile.

    This dumping of ego is a big change. It requires we shift our viewpoint from one of a physical being to that of a spiritual being. Spirit is invulnerable.

    Now, this does not mean that we need to stick around to be abused forever.

    Love is the answer. Love allows us to take responsibility for everything that is done to us. When we take 100% responsibility, we have no room left for being a victim. It becomes impossible for us to be victim. But then, miracles happen.

    Find that spot of miracles. Be Christ-like and there will no longer be a problem.

  • no body profile image

    Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

    Men who use the "I am the head of the family and she must submit" are very mistaken to abuse. The way the Scripture says it, the wife submits to the husband that is led of the Lord. She is not to submit to someone who is not led of the Lord because that is obeying man rather than God. Another great article Carola. God bless you sister.

  • savvydating profile image

    savvydating 3 years ago

    Very useful article. I loved that you gave specific Bible verses for specific situations! The other thing to keep in mind is that people who are abusive almost never change, especially if they have a pathology like narcissism. Consequently, it is important the the person who is being abused know beyond a doubt that trying to "be nice" to the abuser will not make the abuser become nicer to them. It just doesn't work that way, primarily because abusers have little if any empathy.

    Voting up & useful.

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    ann 3 years ago

    abuse happens outside of marriage too. inside the church goers.

    not all pastors address this. verbal abuse is violent

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Verbal abuse can be awful I know of some woman who go through such a hard time with their husbands the thing is these kind of men can be controlling and dominant.

  • Carola Finch profile image
    Author

    Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    Thanks for taking the time to share and your comments. I should say that have met some caring ministers in my time who identified verbal abuse and advised a course of action to deal with it. I have opted out of showing comments on a hub, but the comments have been approved and will appear on the discussion thread.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

    Zero tolerance both for giving and accepting abuse. No-one deserves it. Thanks for reminding us of the Christian perspective.

  • profile image

    Brenda Durham 3 years ago

    Did my first comment show up?...

    I want to add something.....

    Even though I got some horrible counselling from Christian pastors/counsellors, it didn't turn me away from God nor the Scriptures. I hope others will realize that just because some Christians don't use the Scriptures correctly, doesn't mean that the Scriptures are wrong. People are fallible. I learned one thing very well--------to read and interpret the Scriptures myself instead of letting someone else twist them to hurt me with them; I learned to not blindly trust anyone else's words nor experience nor training, because mine's just as good as theirs! (and better when it comes to my personal life). And when we search the Scriptures, we should search them in overall context and personal knowledge of good and evil that we all should have. I prayed for wisdom lots of times. The Lord promises us wisdom if we're lacking in that, if we ask Him for it.

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    Brenda Durham 3 years ago

    Carola, yes this is a great hub! About a subject that's often so hard for women to talk about; they're stuck in the pattern and can't seem to find the way out, or even through.........because of the narcissism and/or control-freakiness of the abuser, the voice of the abused is often ignored or deliberately shoved aside. I know, 'cause I've been there a couple of different times, put up with that, and took me what seemed like forever to change the pattern and/or get out.

    Yup, even Christian pastors and counsellors often play into the abuser's game as you pointed out, which only enables the abuser while the victim feels more and more isolated and accused. My abuser once said a woman's supposed to endure disrespect because her reward is in heaven! By that point (after years of the stuff), I finally had the nerve to tell him that was hogwash and realize that all the responsibility was his, not mine, and I made up my mind I wasn't gonna let him blame me anymore for his problem. I came out swinging (figuratively), and even had to then nip my own anger in the bud before I developed a pattern of returning evil for evil. We went through 2 Christian counsellors who also wanted to ignore the man's first responsibility to love his wife and treat her with respect; I was supposed to "win him back with love" according to them, which is in itself a misquote of Scripture that's often twisted in order to place the responsibility on the woman (or the abused spouse no matter man or woman)..........Treating the abuser right while expecting him to take responsibility WAS love anyway, so the abuser has no excuse for their behavior; they need to own up to it and repent (and mean it, not just mouth the words for a short time) and change their behavior. Insults and cut-downs kill love.

    This is a very important subject; thank you for taking the time and interest to write about it, I believe it will help someone who reads it!

    The pattern can be broken. The victim may have to leave, or she may have to stand her ground and finally the abuser will straighten up. Depending on how narcissistic the abuser is.

    Sorry so long; just a very important subject and it has personal implications for me as well.

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    Rayne123 3 years ago

    Excellent hub

    Many blessings

    Laurie