Verbal abuse is a prevalent and serious issue that can go unrecognized because it leaves invisible scars. The abuse may be subtle or overt, and cutting words can be used to exert control, making the person doubt herself and lose interest in things that she was once passionate about. It can happen anywhere, between anyone—men and women, children and parents, friends, siblings, teachers, and coworkers. In your internships and jobs, stay vigilant for any inequities around you.
What constitutes verbal abuse?
- Harassment – Unwelcomed comments or actions based on a person’s gender, ethnicity, or religion are considered harassment. One has legal rights to stop this behavior.
- Belittling, teasing, or sarcastic remarks – These demeaning verbal attacks can make someone feel as if she is not good enough. Shouting, swearing, name-calling, put-downs, and hurtful comments or jokes can be humiliating, damaging the person’s well-being.
- Gossiping or criticizing in a hurtful manner – Whether work-related or personal, gossiping or criticizing a person or her performance is demeaning.
- Intimidation – Verbal threats of physical harm or of dismissal from a position creates a hostile work environment and is another example of verbal abuse.
- Ignoring – Although nothing is verbally said, deliberately withholding information and preventing access to opportunities is abusive. Dismissing something as unimportant or implying that you are “overly sensitive,” can discount the person’s abilities.
If these forms of abuse remain unchecked, the results can be extreme stress, declining productivity, lowered self-esteem, and anxiety. If the abuse is ocurring at work, it is important to know your rights and the company’s policy regarding these violations. Find out the rules and regulations about how an employee should deal with harassment.
- Gain Insight – If you feel you are being verbally abused, ask yourself if you did anything to enable the situation. Look at this honestly.
- Assert Yourself– It may be possible to reach a resolution with the person about his behavior. Maybe he or she isn’t even aware of the impact. Try to set boundaries and limits. If the abuse continues, take the next step by reporting it to a supervisor. You may have to make a formal complaint to the HR department.
- Record outbursts – Keep notes about the abuse. If you can, record them. By playing it back your case is made, whether to the person himself, or your supervisor.
If after all these actions the abuse persists, you may have to remove yourself entirely.
Trust your perceptions and stand up for your right to be treated with respect. Surround yourself with supportive friends. You may also want to consider seeing a therapist if you’re having trouble dealing with the scars of verbal abuse.
– Melissa Lim