Oct 28, 2009

TRULY SPEAKING: Ending Verbal Abuse

Summary: Defining "abuse" globally is difficult, but most of us know what we're willing to put up with as individuals. Once you've established this for yourself, be consistent in maintaining your personal boundaries. In special circumstances (such as when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's), follow the steps below to remain calm and communicate clearly under emotional duress.

Verbal abuse is no laughing matter. Some have said that verbal or emotional abuse can be more detrimental than physical abuse, because the victims bear no visible scars. While that is subjective, the fact is that so is what constitutes "abuse" in this global society—especially what constitutes verbal or emotional harm.

As individuals, we all set up our own boundaries when it comes to how much we'll tolerate and from whom. We may be highly sensitive to strangers, flaring up at the slightest injustice, like getting cut in line at the bank or being tailgated on the interstate. And yet we may have much higher thresholds for mistreatment by those closest to us, allowing our parents or significant others to call us names or criticize us daily without reacting with much shock or hurt.

Setting your personal boundaries—and maintaining consistency with them—is the first step toward putting an end to abuse of any kind. It's only when you know your limits that you can honor them and ask others to honor them, as well.

Once you know what (or how little) you're willing to tolerate, it's important that you not make any exceptions. And it's just as crucial that you not respond with anger toward someone else's anger, because that only aggravates the situation, rather than cooling it. If you find you cannot do this, especially early on, it's important that you remove yourself from the situation that's upsetting you and then provide an explanation (and apology, if necessary) to those involved once you are calm.

Some circumstances call for extra patience on our part, such as when a loved one has Alzheimer's and has become disoriented, lashing out verbally with hostility. We want to stay with the person who is pushing our buttons and not take what they're saying personally—though that may be quite hard. Here are some good rules of thumb for communicating calmly in such cases:

(1) Choose short, direct sentences to convey what's most important: "Grandpa, I'm Kealah. I'm your granddaughter. We're going to your doctor's office."

(2) Speak slowly and enunciate to be certain you're understood. When the brain is stressed, its ability to comprehend is deeply impaired, as is its ability to explain this to someone else.

(3) Make eye contact. (This is a good rule of thumb for critical communication of any kind, be it to a child, a coworker or an adversary.)

(4) Above all else, be sure to keep yourself calm by breathing deeply and slowly. If you find it impossible to remain calm, give yourself permission to walk away for 5 minutes and return again after you're calmer.

Journaling is another great way to stay in touch with your own feelings throughout any difficult process. Use your journal both before and after known emotional triggers to monitor your progress and objectively observe your own behavior. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to change your behavior in the heat of the moment.

Peace be with you throughout the rest of this week!

© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2009

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