Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Book Talk :: The Verbally Abusive Relationship

This is part one of a four part series of self-help books that I have read in recent months. They work together and build on each other in interesting ways.

The Verbally Abusive Relationship
by Patricia Evans

This entry will be more of a story than a real book review.

I've been fascinated for a long time by the subject of verbal & emotional abuse. I call it "white collar" abuse. Like white collar crime is harder to detect and a bit more sophisticated than knocking an old lady on the head with a beer bottle. What I call "white collar abuse" is abuse that is quietly and secretly rampant in all levels of society but more generally accepted--even encouraged in some circles. It is what my aunt calls "The Invisible Heartbreaker" in an article that she wrote for the Ensign magazine. I love that article.

So that's why I picked up "The Verbally Abusive Relationship." It sounded kinda interesting and I thought it might have some pointers on good communication skills. (Yes, I majored in "Communications" but it was Mass Media, and not interpersonal...) And the book was really cheap. Bada bing bada boom. Done deal.

I was totally unprepared for what happened while I read it. For months, I had been feeling a growing level of anxiety. I was reluctantly ready to get medicated to deal with the problem, but after reading this book and another one about verbal & emotional abuse (I'll do that review shortly), my anxiety melted away to a reasonable level.

As I read the examples and stories in this book, I suddenly realized that I've been a vulnerable target for verbal abuse for years! I put the pieces together and saw a pattern of what had happened on a social level and even on a professional level. More importantly, I realized an important truth: IT WAS NOT MY FAULT.

Sure, I'm not the easiest person to deal with at times. But I have never deserved to be treated the way people have treated me. Nobody deserves that. I have no desire to rehash the details of what has happened to me, but I will admit that it has made this grown woman sob for hours. It has made me feel that I had nothing to offer anybody--and that I had no intrinsic worth. It made me question for sanity. It made me question why God had created me and why he hadn't struck me dead yet.

What I'm saying is: verbal abuse is serious stuff and it was causing serious problems in my life. I can't overestimate how serious this kind of abuse is. This book helped me to get my head out of the mud and see some important truths. Most importantly, knowing that there wasn't something inherently wrong with me changed my life. My anxiety is slowly disappearing and I am learning to actually enjoy life more.

Now, to the nitty gritty: this book was a good starting point, but it could NOT stand on its' own. It focused way too much energy on villainizing "abusers." I have a personal theory that the same things create abusers and victims--some go one way, some go the other, and a whole lot of them go both ways in different relationships.

Patricia Evans spent a lot of energy saying that most abusers cannot and will not change because they are fundamentally bad. My religious sentiments reject that completely. It's comforting to a victim of verbal abuse to feel like they are completely innocent while that other person is the bad guy. I don't buy it. Every person is complex and difficult to understand. Best to leave it at that.

Another important point is that this book is extremely sexist. She has one line saying that she's just using men as an example, although men or women can be verbally abusive. That one line doesn't erase the fact that the rest of the book is man-bashing and discriminatory. Just my opinion. I foresee fewer men than women ever giving this book much respect.

Also, this book was really repetitive. I think it could have been half as long and explained the fundamental ideas fully. That wouldn't have sold as well, however. So you gotta do what you gotta do, eh? I would encourage anybody who wants to read this book to do so with a VERY open mind, trying to decide for themself what is true and what is trite. I found some basic truths but they were wedged in with a bunch of junk, in my opinion.

Still, I'm grateful for what I learned and how it started me on a very healthy pathway. So I recommend it to others--with caveats firmly in place.

Next up in my line of reviews: "The Emotionally Abusive Relationship," ""Codependent No More" and ""I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better."

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