Verbal Abuse: Have You Ever Had These Experiences?

Text: Kelvin U, UM Reporter Wong Cho Kio │ Illustration: Kelvin U
Photo: Manuel Reis, Ella Cheong │ ISSUE77 March2018 MyUM

Words are powerful. Encouraging words can go a long way towards helping someone achieve his full potential, while hurtful words can leave people traumatised for life. How can we be more careful about what we say in a conversation?

Learn to Control Your Emotions

We have all been at the receiving end of verbal attacks in our lives. To Dr Liang Qingning, a resident fellow of Ma Man Kei and Lo Pak Sam College, the most hurtful words are those that deny his contribution to a project when he has done his best. A few years ago, Dr Liang and his friends co-organised a grand charity gala dinner on a tight schedule. They encountered many unexpected difficulties in the process, but the event was a great success and the participants enjoyed it very much. However, when the organisers were celebrating after the event, a donor friend who did not participate in the preparation said: ‘I don’t think you put your heart and soul into the event, and I personally found many flaws in the arrangement. This left Dr Liang feeling very upset.

Dr Liang Qingning

‘At that time, I thought my friend was being picky and wanted to deny our contributions,’ says Dr Liang.
Although unhappy about what he heard, Dr Liang did not confront his friend right away. He calmed himself first, and later found an opportunity to ask his friend about the things he thought the organisers could have done better. Dr Liang then told the friend about the details of the various arrangements and the reasons for those arrangements. ‘After I explained everything, he began to show appreciation of our work and apologized for what he said,’ says Dr Liang. From this incident, Dr Liang learned the importance of emotional intelligence. He realised that in order to clear up a misunderstanding, one must refrain from knee-jerk reactions, and learn to think positively and initiate timely and effective communication with the other person. Dr Liang likes to share tips for effective communication with his students. ‘Our residential college is like a second home for our students. Here, students from different backgrounds live under the same roof,’ says Dr Liang, ‘So they must learn how to be respectful and understanding when communicating with each other.’


Words Can Hurt

‘It’s none of your business!’ It has been several years after the unpleasant exchange happened. But
Fortuno Hong, a first-year student from the Faculty of Education, still feels stung by his friend’s words.
He never thought a close friend of his would say that to him. As he recalls, on the day of the incident, this friend lay his head on the desk and was unusually quiet. ‘He was not his usual self, as if he was worried about something,’ says Hong. ‘Although he is a quiet person, he likes to share his feelings with me. I thought we were close friends.’ So he approached his friend and asked: ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘It’s none of your business!’ his friend huffed. Feeling embarrassed at being shouted at in front of other students, Hong turned red and said: ‘Alright’ and then left.

Fortuno Hong

The next day, Hong went to find his friend. Neither of them brought up the incident. They both pretended it never happened. But Hong actually felt awful after the incident and couldn’t even concentrate on his homework. He said at that time he was still a high school student and was probably more sensitive than the average boy. Hong never again asked the friend what happened to put him in such a foul mood that day. Later he found out from others that his friend was scolded by a teacher because of his homework. Luckily, this incident did not break their friendship and they remain friends to this day. But sometimes Hong feels the urge to ask this friend: ‘Do you know what you said that day hurt my feelings?’

Improving communication skills can help to solve problems without using verbal abuse

Break the Vicious Cycle

Li De, associate dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and a professor from the Department of Sociology, says that the prevalence of verbal abuse has its roots in the family environments in the Chinese communities. ‘Many Chinese parents today still adopt an authoritarian parenting style. For example, they would scold their children when they don’t behave,’ says Prof Li. ‘Sometimes they use threat (‘No food until after you do what I tell you to’) or ridicule (‘Stop acting so stupid!’), without regard for their children’s feelings.’ Prof Li adds that this kind of parenting style teaches children to inflict verbal abuse by osmosis, because it makes them think it is alright to get what they what by using verbal abuse or to entertain themselves by ridiculing others.

Prof Li De

In other words, children who were once the victims of verbal abuse are likely to become perpetrators when they grow up, and many of them will have difficulty getting along with others. Prof Li have also seen some students hurling insults at each other childishly simply because their feelings were hurt. In order to break this vicious cycle, Prof Li suggests that we should be more aware of the destructive nature of words that are used to scold, intimidate, and ridicule. This is particularly important for parents, as hurtful words can cause immeasurable damage to children. He adds that parents should be more careful about what they say and how they act in front of children. Finally, Prof Li suggests that students who have been verbally abused should take general education courses in family relations, gender relations, and mental health, in order to heal their wounds.