Verbal abuse is a silent scourge that often remains veiled behind closed doors, but its effects are profoundly damaging. Victims bear the scars on their self-esteem, trust, and mental well-being. One frequently asked question by those enduring such abuse is, “Will the abuser ever change?”
Root causes and patterns
Verbal abuse, much like other forms of abuse, rarely manifests without reason. The abuser’s behaviour can stem from past traumas, a history of being abused, mental health issues, or a combination of these factors. Understanding these underlying causes is essential but should never be used as a justification for the harm inflicted on others.
However, identifying the root cause can be misleading. One might think that if the cause is addressed, the abuse will stop. But patterns of verbal abuse, once established, are stubborn and resilient.
The role of motivation
For any behavioural change to occur, one must be genuinely motivated. Yet, the nature of verbal abuse often means that the abuser doesn’t recognise their behaviour as abusive. Denial and rationalisation are common defence mechanisms.
Some abusers might make promises to change, especially after episodes of intense abuse. This is a part of the notorious “cycle of abuse”, where abusive behaviours are followed by periods of remorse, promises, and honeymoon phases. But these promises often fall short, with the abuse resuming after a while.
For an abuser to change, they must:
- Recognise the problem. Denial is potent. Until an abuser acknowledges their behaviour as abusive and destructive, no genuine change can occur.
- Seek professional help. Unravelling patterns of verbal abuse often requires the assistance of professionals who can provide tools, strategies, and interventions.
- Commit to the long haul. Behavioural changes don’t occur overnight. It’s a challenging journey requiring ongoing commitment and self-reflection.
Challenges to change
- Societal minimisation. As a society, we have an unfortunate tendency to minimise verbal abuse, often dismissing it with phrases like, “They’re just words” or “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This trivialisation can enable the abuser and discourage victims from seeking help.
- Lack of self-awareness. Some abusers genuinely don’t see their actions as harmful. They might believe they’re “telling it like it is” or “helping” the victim.
- Power dynamics. At its core, abuse is about power and control. Admitting to verbal abuse and seeking change means relinquishing that power, which many abusers find difficult.
The sobering reality
While it’s tempting to hope for change, the hard truth is that most verbal abusers remain consistent in their patterns. While not impossible, the journey towards change is fraught with challenges and requires intense dedication.
This isn’t to say that victims should remain in abusive situations, hoping for change. On the contrary, prioritising one’s safety and well-being is paramount. Even if the abuser does commit to change, it’s essential to maintain boundaries and seek support for oneself. Remember, one’s responsibility is towards one’s own well-being and not to “fix” the abuser.
Hope is a powerful motivator. It’s what keeps many victims tethered to their abusers, holding onto the belief that things will get better. While not every situation is the same and some abusers might genuinely work towards and achieve change, the sad reality is that the majority don’t. Recognising this is the first step to safeguarding oneself and seeking a better, abuse-free future.
Jasmine Maplewood is a freelance writer and advocate for emotional well-being. She believes in the transformative power of storytelling and the resilience of the human spirit.