Sanctuary for the Abused

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Catholic View on Verbal Abuse

It may be surprising and alarming to some that the U.S. Catholic bishops consider verbal abuse and harassment as much a part of the continuum of abusive behavior as physical abuse.

What is verbal abuse or harassment? It is obviously personal insult and attack using words. As the late Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography, you know it when you see it, and, I would add, especially when you feel it. Like everyone else, I have witnessed instances of verbal abuse. But, like many, I was fortunate enough to never experience it from my own family. Some are not so fortunate.

One type of verbal abuse takes the following form. First, the victim makes the naive mistake, in retrospect, of sharing with others or somehow revealing to others a particular enthusiasm -- it could be an enthusiasm for a person, a place, a job, a hobby, even a religious belief. The verbal abuser -- and I will generously assume that the verbal abuser is acting out of unfortunate but unconscious habit -- will immediately see this revealed enthusiasm as a vulnerability, a point of attack. The verbal abuser then zeroes in and attacks by insulting, denigrating, or mocking what the victim likes or values. The victim learns to keep his own counsel and to keep his guard up in future encounters. True communion or fellowship is sabotaged.

Why does the verbal abuser in this scenario take a revelation of what one likes as an invitation to mockery and sarcasm? Well, it could be that the verbal abuser has himself been the target of the same treatment. It could be that the verbal abuser is a bitter and disillusioned person whose ideals have been gravely disappointed by someone important to them.

The verbal attacker need not be malicious per se, but just a person who himself has been deeply wounded by life (see Our Sunday Visitor article on "Unconscious Abuse" authored by a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix).

What makes this particular form of verbal abuse even worse is its taking place among people who are forced together on a continual basis, whether in the workplace or in the family. The situation is especially bad within family circles. The family should be a safe haven where the defenses and barriers that may be necessary in the workplace can be temporarily dropped. The family circle should be a place where you can feel free to be yourself, to be vulnerable, to be fearless, to share what you value most. The family circle should not be a setting approached with emotional body armor.

Whatever the psychological cause or particular setting, verbal abuse damages the victim.

But the verbal harassment also damages the verbal abuser.

Interestingly enough, Catholic teaching views wrong or evil acts as being even more damaging to the perpetrator than to the victim because the agent of a bad act is damaging his own moral nature and character (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1731, on the effect of our free acts).

The victim is not making himself a bad person -- he is suffering as an innocent party, just as Christ did. The verbal abuser, on the other hand, is making himself into a worse person every time he launches an attack on another's person, reputation, or life work.

So to draw attention to the problem is a favor to the verbal abuser. In the language of the Church, drawing his attention to the problem is an act of mercy.

What resolution can be made for the New Year? The verbal abuser should resolve to nip in the bud the urge to mock or attack. Both need grace to keep these resolutions. That grace is available upon the asking.


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shared by Barbara at 12:20 AM



and if they don't stop????? Then what are we expected to do?

5:25 PM  

start seeing a secular counselor ALONE or go ALONE to a DV Crisis Center or Women's Center.

Find an attorney - have him removed from the house, get a restraining order and divorce him. Staying around for abuse will just make these creeps do it more.

10:31 PM  

Catholic teachings, my ass! My so-called Catholic mother wielded her vicious attacks in a blind rage, calling my father a "rat" because she knew it was the one word that offended him. Disclosing to me as a child of 12 that that was her ammunition against him and her great pleasure. Calling us "ungrateful wretches" as young children whenever it suited her just because we were not as impoverished as she was growing up. Even though this woman was completely ruled by her insatiable addictions to cigarettes, alcohol, and food, she punished those of us in her close family to her perverse pleasure. When my children were tested as "gifted," rather than expressing pride as a grandmother, she threw out a caustic "I can't imagine which one of you THAT came from!" and then left the room, leaving my head reeling with why would she say such a thing. I know the church preaches forgiveness. But, Jesus, this is so painful that I am so angered by her cruelty. I will be looking for a healthier religion to sign up with, believe me.

11:33 AM  

Anonymous your mother may have had some serious personality disorder… Praying for you. I am dealing with a similar situation.

2:18 PM  

what if the abuser is a parish priest in the parish family or workplace? and the powers that be in the church don't want to know?

4:27 PM  

Then the people holding the offices of "the powers that be" in the church need to be told and it needs to be documented in paper and with credible witnesses, and they absolutely need to be held accountable bith legally and morally. The church is holy, but it is often filled with VERY fallible human beings who do bad things or allow bad things to happen. If you know something, you need to bring it into the light. It is the greatest form of strength, loyalty, mercy, and love to do so. ANYONE using God's church to harm others, gain access to victims, or allowing other to do so MUST BE STOPPED IMMEDIATELY from continuing this behavior. Keep going up the chain. If the archdiocese doesn't listen, go to the bishops, cardinals, pope, if you have to. Also use the legal system - report the abuse to the police and DHS if there is a child or elderly person involved. Make it public if you are willing and you think it will help. Most importantly, involve the greatest authority. Clear your mind and pray. Allow God to giide your steps. He wants His church to be healed and become a safer place for all His children to worship Him and support one another. Please hold the church accountable. Its the only way she and we can be healed.

1:04 PM  

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