Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
How many women think of that schoolyard rhyme while reeling from a partner's put-downs or angry outbursts? The rhyme's a lie, says Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Cruel words can do worse than break bones: They can break your spirit, cripple your confidence, even make you physically ill.
"This can happen to any woman, with any family background or career," she says. "It's happened to psychologists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, Web designers, mommies—even the director of a women's shelter." A woman falls into the trap because the abuse takes her by surprise. "He isn't abusive while he's courting you," Evans says. "But once he gets you, he switches—and you have no idea why."
Evans proposes a persuasive reason in her new book, Controlling People: An abuser needs to see you as his dream woman, an extension of himself—so the real, spontaneous, separate you becomes the enemy. That's why you get a double message: "I love you" ... "You bitch." And that's why verbal abuse is all about undermining and definining you.
Seven Signs You're In A Verbally Abusive Relationship
From the July 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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