Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
― James 3:5-6
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen.
― Ephesians 4:29
Guard your tongue, and use it for good instead of evil. How many marriages or friendships have been destroyed because of criticism that spiraled out of control? How many relationships have broken down because of a word spoken thoughtlessly or in anger? A harsh word can’t be taken back; no apology can fully repair its damage.
― Billy Graham
Verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse, and in some cases, it does even more damage to a child. Insulting names, degrading comments and constant criticism all leave deep emotional scars that hinder feelings of self-worth and personal agency.
― Susan Forward
Just like I didn’t like writing about dealing with evil, I don’t like writing about verbal abuse either. Nevertheless, we have to talk about how deadly the human tongue can be for inflicting all kinds of emotional pain on others.
This is a two-way street, us being verbally abusive to others at times and others being verbally abusive to us as well.
There are numerous ways we fall into verbal abuse. I’m going to highlight ten.
- BLAMING. We tend to blame others for our feelings and actions. “You really made me mad” and “It’s your fault I punched a hole in the wall.”
- CRITICISM. We are being verbally abusive when we criticize others rather than give them constructive feedback. “You never do anything right” and “You’re always upset about something” are critical statements aimed at making the person feel bad about themselves.
- GASLIGHTING. Gaslighting is an effort to get the person to question their version of reality and get them to wonder if they’re crazy. “Of course, I told you about the appointment, you just have a really bad memory and forgot.”
- JUDGING. Judging involves looking down on someone as inferior. “You were raised on the wrong side of the tracks” and “You never know what you’re talking about” are examples.
- NAME-CALLING. Abusive, derogatory language aimed at making the person feel less valuable and worthwhile. “You’re just stupid” and “You’re a loser.”
- THREATS. Statements meant to manipulate, frighten, and control the other person. “If you don’t get your act together, I’m going to leave.”
- WITHHOLDING. Refusing to interact and meet the needs of the other person. This is communicated by not being willing to talk, refusing to make eye contact, and being cold and indifferent toward the other person.
- ACCUSATIONS. Accusing someone of doing something wrong when you don’t have any evidence, like “I know you’re cheating on me and just too much of a liar to admit it.”
- CIRCULAR ARGUMENTS. Constantly disagreeing with someone and going around in circles so you don’t ever have to admit you’re wrong.
- CONDESCENSION. Being sarcastic, patronizing, and disdainful toward others to make them feel small. “Let me see if I can explain this in a way that you will understand.”
Let me pass along some tips for how to do a better job of reigning in your tongue when interacting with others. All of this is based on various quotes I came across when I wrote this chapter.
Tip #1: “Okay, let’s put this another way―if what you’re about to say wouldn’t look good permanently engraved on your tombstone, bite your tongue” (Richelle E. Goodrich). Avoid saying things that you don’t want following you around the rest of your life and come to represent how people think about you.
Tip #2: “The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust” (Josh Billings). If you feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t say something, it’s probably better to remain quiet.
Tip #3: “Hold your tongue and live your life, for it is in the way that you live that you speak the loudest” (Craig D. Lounsbrough). Actions speak louder than words. If you’re talking too much, you’re probably not backing your words up with action.
Tip #4: “A closed mouth catches no flies” (Miguel de Cervantes). The less you talk, the less likely something disgusting is going to fly in your mouth. No small payoff.
Tip #5: “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Jesus Christ). Always keep in mind that whatever comes out of your mouth reflects what’s going on in your heart. This is an especially painful truth when really sexist, racist, xenophobic, and narcissistic things come flying out of your yapper. Let your words help diagnose where your heart is at.
Munchkins, I mean this in the most respectful way possible, but, watch your mouth.
Be careful to watch the things you say to others and what others say to you.
The tongue is a fire and can burn down everything in its path. Avoid its misuse as much as possible.