Conflicts — 28 April 2006
How to abstain from name calling

One of the most destructive habits in relationships is name calling. Yet, it is more common than expected. Some people, who are in a committed relationship, give themselves permission to behave toward their loved one in a way they would never consider exercising with any other person. The question is why do some people do this and how can they abstain from this humiliating pattern?

Those who resort to name calling often justify their conduct by assigning the responsibility to the partner who annoys or angers them. Clearly, regardless of what the mate says or does, the name caller is solely responsible for his or her language. It is also true that being annoyed or feeling anger is no excuse for bad behavior.

The reasoning mentioned above is childlike. Children, particularly very young ones who are powerless and inarticulate, often resort to name calling as a desperate measure for need fulfillment. Since they are totally dependent upon their parents for their well being and pleasures they feel small, powerless and weak. The state of dependency is so distasteful even to young people that when their wishes are unmet they resort to their arsenal of temper tantrums, crying, flailing, screaming and name calling. These are extreme reactions to a major power imbalance.

Interestingly, some parents find their children’s assaults so hurtful that they may cave in and accommodate the youngster. Hearing the child call them “a mean mom or dad” is so threatening that in order to restore the child’s love and respect some parents give in to the child’s demands. This, of course, only reinforces the child’s pattern of verbal attacks to gain power over the parent.

Even adults who were unsuccessful in name calling as children may resort to this abusive conduct when they feel powerless with their mate. A quick way to restore one’s esteem is by intimidating another. This gives the name caller a momentary sense of superiority that though ineffective and harmful, does provide a temporary emotional relief.

Once a person is labeled as inept or undesirable, he or she is likely to be stunned and withdraw from the confrontation. While that may be the name caller’s intent, it has grave negative impact on the partner and the relationship.

In adulthood, the partner’s opinion replaces the parents’ assessment as a major source of one’s self-worth. Every partner yearns to be highly regarded by his or her mate throughout the years. Name calling violates the security of being accepted and loved and shakes the foundation of the union. When the verbal discounts are continuous, the listener first doubts oneself, then dislikes the partner and ultimately questions the basis of their connection. “If I am really stupid, incompetent and unworthy, what does it say about my partner and our relationship?”

Some name calling is less blatant. People may say, “This is such a stupid thing to do.” Or, “Only an idiot would not understand this.” Or “What kind of a person would make such a mistake, over and over?” Though these statements do not begin with a “You are”, their hurtful message is equally devastating.

Name calling is an emotional boundary violation, intended to shame, belittle, intimidate and overpower another person. It is a harsh form of labeling that is devastating and traumatic to the listener. It is an abusive, inappropriate and unacceptable verbal battering.

If you find yourself inclined to name call, ask yourself:

• “What is my anger about?” “What is the perceived threat to my self-esteem?” “How can I regain control without needing to diminish my partner’s worth?”
• “Has my previous name calling behavior served or hurt my relationship with my partner?”
• “Would I like to be spoken to in the style with which I speak to my partner?” “Why not?”

• “How can I become more accepting of my own failings, so that I would not need to highlight my partner’s to feel better about myself?”
• “Is it my goal to destroy my mate’s emotional stability, and for what gain?”
• “If indeed I feel this much disdain for my partner, how can I reduce it? Do I need help in sorting out the source of my contempt?”
• “Do I want a superior-inferior relationship or a healthy partnership?”
• “How do I restore respect for myself and my beloved and create an harmonious relationship?”

Even habitual negative patterns can be repaired once the name callers realize the emotional destruction caused by their ways and choose to restore dignity and love to themselves, their partner and their union.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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