“What is the difference between poor conflict resolution skills and verbal abuse?” I am frequently asked this question by readers worldwide, even though they don’t necessarily use the term “poor conflict resolution skills.”
The essence of the question is, “How do you distinguish between an individual who is a classic verbal abuser from someone who is uneducated in resolving interpersonal conflict?”
For example, Josh calls his wife a “wh______” when she comes home late. Bill insists his partner is “f______ stupid and lazy” when he is depleted from a difficult day. Robin tells her partner that he is a “fool” and, in the heat of the moment, an “a______.” Timothy claims that his wife is a “b_______” when she is not accommodating his needs.
So, the question on the table is, “Are any of these people verbal abusers or are they deficient in conflict resolution skills?”
Definition of Verbal Abuse
As with domestic abuse, in general, verbal abuse is about control. Verbally abusive behavior is the use of language to dis-empower another person. It is anger springing out of pain…with the intent to transform impotence into omnipotence.
It is an expression of sorts intended to regain control in an interpersonal relationship. Even when it springs out from what appears to be a loss of control (of oneself), it emerges from a desire to establish control over another. The net result is a personal character assault, which may (or may not) wound the individual target of the verbal commentary.
Poor Conflict Resolution Skills
When we think of conflict resolution, we are referring to “resolving conflict.” Simplistically speaking, It could be the bridging of an unmet need with the fulfillment of that need. Or, it may be the fulfillment of an unmet want with that which is desired. The resolution of conflict requires an identification of the conflict itself…and a willingness to establish harmony admits discord.
For example, let’s say that Josh had been stewing over his partner’s whereabouts when she was hours late. The obvious discord in the moment is his insecurity in the relationship. He has aligned with the belief that his wife has violated her commitment to him (as he perceives it to be).
He could expose that vulnerability and seek to discover if his belief is accurate. His willingness to inquire and ask for what he is lacking could yield a resolution of the discord between him and his partner. It’s a skill that is fundamental to all intimate relationships, and one that is frequently lacking.
Verbal Abuse Intent
Going back to our original question of the distinction between verbal abuse and poor conflict resolution skills, look to the intention…intention…intention.
Recognize the mood and behavior immediately before and following the verbal attack. Ask yourself if there is awareness, ownership, accountability and remorse. The verbal abuser will fail to experience or express any remorse over the injury felt by the abused; whereas, the person with poor conflict resolution skills feels the insult of his/her own verbal sword.
If you are wondering if you are being showered with verbal abuse intended to dis-empower you verses the verbal assault stemming for poor conflict resolution skills, look to the intention and aftermath of the matter. Your discipline in doing so will aid you in dealing with the ugly words of verbal insult.
For online private help in breaking the cycle of abuse, visit http://www.domesticabusesupport.com Psychologist Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps individuals and couples end and heal from domestic abuse at home. ©Jeanne King, Ph.D. – Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention