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"What you have to understand is that my mother never raised her voice and when I confronted her about her treatment of me—her put-downs and criticisms, how she said I was the problem because I was too sensitive—that was the first thing she said: ‘How can you accuse me of that when I never raised my voice, not once, to you or anyone else?’ Well, abuse can be very quiet." — Kaitlyn, 45

"I felt invisible in my childhood. My mother would ask me what I wanted to eat and then serve me something else. She’d ask if I were hungry and if I said I wasn’t, she'd go ahead and make me something and then look hurt or angry if I didn’t eat it. She did this constantly and it involved literally every choice. If I wanted red sneakers, she’d buy blue ones. I knew exactly how little I mattered to her. As an adult, I lack confidence in my own tastes and judgment." — Alice, 50

It’s not just that the culture assesses verbal abuse as less damaging than the physical kind—which it is not—but that when most people think about verbal abuse, they tend to summon up images of someone screaming and yelling. They imagine that the decibels are loud and the pitch is fevered, and that the person shouting is out of control, shaking with rage or intent. But while that’s true in some households, it isn’t always. In fact, counterintuitively enough, some of the worst kinds of verbal abuse are quiet; silence in answer to a question asked or a comment made too can pack a mightier wallop than a loud rant. Silence effectively ridicules and shames.

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