The Mental Abuse: Stop The Spread!

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver – Proverbs 25:11.
Words are important. An adage likens them to eggs, which when dropped cannot be gathered together again. It is therefore very important that we should be mindful of our words and their impact. The Scriptures puts it succinctly in James3:6, 5; “the tongue is a fire … and it setteth on fire the course of nature, …behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth”. Most people including the writer have had to do damage control as a result of the negative activity generated from words spoken. I encourage you to ask yourself (even in everyday relationships and activities) before you say anything these three questions:

Is it necessary?
Is it important?
Will it add value to the hearers?

If your answers to any of the above is no, then the words are better left, unspoken.

The word “abuse” paints a picture of physical or noticeable harm on someone. Mental abuse is, however, not seen especially to the undiscerning eyes but is equally as dangerous. It is easy to gloss over and not identify mental abuse even though it does exist particularly in many of our African cultures. You may even be a victim or propagator!

What then is mental abuse? It is primarily what a person goes through as a result of unkind or damaging words spoken to him/her; words or actions that make a person feels worthless, unloved and lacking empowerment. I do not want to use it interchangeably with emotional abuse, because emotional abuse sometimes is much more. A Yoruba proverb says, the person that defecates in a place may not recall what he did, but the one who clears up the mess does not forget.” In our context, it implies the one who spoke damaging words may have forgotten what was said, but the victim doesn’t forget the impact of those words!

Mental abuse occurs within a lot of families, but goes unchallenged most of the time because, it is not identified for what it is; moreover, in some cultural settings, it is even ‘legalised’ unofficially. For example, in some of our traditional settings, it is okay for a woman to be treated shabbily in her home, because she is supposedly inferior to the man; this of course is a great fallacy.

Mental abuse has a lot of effects both temporarily and sometimes permanently. Some people grapple with the effect of negative words throughout their lives: their actions, reactions, personality and even success in life can be traced to the mental abuse they have suffered. Effects of mental abuse include; loss of self-esteem, lack of confidence, indecision, loss of leadership ability, poor performance at work or in school, poor decision making, health challenge, timidity, personality destruction, loss of drive or energy, stammering, insecurity, hallucination, withdrawal from people, over-desire to be noticed, fear, self- condemnation, undue criticism /condemnation of others and possibly suicide.

I am not a clinical therapist, but I speak from the view of a social worker, cleric, wife, daughter and mother. A lot of men abuse their wives; even parents abuse their children mentally without being aware. When a man is a narcissist, he believes he is better than others, and you can see an abundance of ‘I” in anything he says. He likes to take glory for himself and believes he is better than his wife. In such a marriage, the woman is a second class and her opinion on issues are not considered in decisions taken in the home. A friend of ours once told me that the wife put him through a lot of stress before he could secure her hand in marriage, he therefore made sure the wife appeases him regularly before he gets things done in the marriage (as a retaliation). This is mental/emotional abuse!

The Bible in Philippians 2:3 says “… in lowliness of mind, we should esteem others better than ourselves”. You are not better, we are just different, everyone is unique (1 Cor. 12:20–26). It is mental abuse when a person always blames his/her spouse for every problem they may be going through, instead of taking responsibility where necessary or joint responsibility as the case may be. It is mental abuse when you shout on others even if they are your spouse or Children. Don’t say, it is my child so I can do what I like or wish. It is also mental abuse when a man chokes up the personality of his wife with words; not allowing her to express herself.
Some typical examples of words that create mental abuse when spoken by man or a woman to their spouse are:

telling he/she that she/he is of no use or that he/she is of no good.
a man who insists his wife should stay home to care for the children, snap any time his wife asks for money (for example, do I grow money in my back yard or woman your trouble is too much)
constantly reminding his/her spouse of her shortcoming(s).
compares him/her to other people.

It is mental abuse when a man deliberately hurts his wife through words. Judgmental words also lead to mental abuse. You can still speak the truth without being judgmental. The bible says ‘Speak the truth in love’. It is not just what you say that matter, but how you say it. Another Nigerian Proverb says “Sorry has both male and female versions”. Meaning the word sorry has different meaning depending on how it is spoken!

I am told that in Texas (the United States), you can say just about anything to anybody or about anybody, as long as you add “Bless his heart, or bless her heart after it”. Minnesotans (people in the state of Minnesota, United States) will rather not say the truth, especially if they know it is a ‘difficult truth”. But as brethren, inasmuch as we should always speak the truth to one another, let us do it in love: with the right motives and with speech, full of grace seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).

In conclusion, what kind of words are we speaking to ourselves, our spouses, our children, our members? Are they gracious, seasoned, words that build up or words that pull down? Remember, “Each one of us will give account of the words we speak to God” (Mathew 12:36).

Finally, someone wrote this and I think this makes a lot of sense:

“If children live with criticism they learn to condemn
A child that lives with hostility learn to fight
A child that lives with ridicule learns to feel shy
A child that lives with shame learn to feel guilty.

On the contrary,
A child that lives with encouragement learns confidence
A child that lives with tolerance learns patience
A child that lives with praise learns appreciation
A child that lives with acceptance learns to love
If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself / others
If a child lives with recognition, he learns it is good to have a goal
If a child lives with kindness and consideration, he learns respect.”
(Culled from “Children learn what they live by Dorothy Nolte”)

Now, in place of a child you can put a wife, subordinates etc. Don’t tell people how bad they are. Rather tell them how they can be better and improve themselves. Always remember that we are all frail as human beings and there is no one that is beyond making a mistake. Let us watch the kind of words we speak to our spouses and our marriages will be better for it. Emphasize what brings us together and not what drives us apart.

The writer welcomes responses to this article. She works with women and children that are victims of abuse. Please send your response to

By Pastor Mrs Abosede Adeola Oyeleye

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