The Terrifying Impact of Verbal and Emotional Abuse

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Harsh words can kill your soul. It killed mine!

The rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a boldfaced lie.

It also discounts the impact of emotional abuse, minimizing its harmful effects on the victim.

My dear friend and cohort, Adele, sent me a video link (now deleted) about emotional abuse perpetrated verbally.  It’s a poignant depiction of how words can destroy a victim, even if the latter is never beaten.

The scars are hidden, yet they exist.

In the video, a father is yelling at his daughter, obscene ravings of a lunatic. She is 15 years old, and I suspect this has been going on for a good part of her life. The mother is powerless to stop it.

No one listens to her.

As I viewed this video, flashes of  my father raging at me appeared before my eyes. It started when I was 4, when we’d just escaped from Communist China. I never knew what I did that was so bad. I just knew that I must have done something really terrible because, otherwise, why would he be so mad?

I began to believe that I was a horrible person.

Images of my father’s face loomed in front of me. Red with rage, spit foaming from his mouth, barely sputtering out the words, “So stupid. Stupid stupid girl. You are no use to me.  My son should have lived instead of you!”

My mother crouched in the corner, crying.  Afterward, I would comfort her, holding her thin shaking body, my arms around her, whispering soothing words, “It’s all right, Mama, he’s gone. You’re safe.”

The only way I was able to survive was to numb myself. I dissociated, feeling nothing. I froze. According to Belleruth Naparstek in her book, Invisible Heroes, this disorder is known as freeze (immobility) response.

This response makes victims more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because they are less present. They’ve gone away.

Even now, when I hear people yelling and screaming, my first reaction is to freeze. I can’t move, my mind goes blank, and I can’t feel my body.  Time stands still.  The world around me disappears.

And, I lose my soul.

It took years of therapy and qigong healing for me to understand what caused this disorder and how to come out of it. After several decades of qigong meditation, I know to breathe deeply and slowly. My mind quiets, my heart rate slows down, and I gradually return to myself.