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4 Ways To Stop The Language of Abuse

Growing up I learned what I call the “Language of Abuse.” Not only did I experience physical and sexual abuse for the first two decades of my life, I also experienced daily mental and emotional abuse in the form of judgments, name-calling, and the message that I was evil.

This was the language I learned: it’s all that I knew. It’s no wonder that as an adult, this is the language I spoke in my relationships. Even after a tremendous amount of personal work to move beyond the abuse, the Language of Abuse was my default. In conflictual situations with partners and when I was triggered, I judged, I blamed and my Irish blood boiled hot.

It took a brave and loving partner to help me see this pattern of mine. They held up a mirror so I could see the language and behavior I was using and how abusive it was. Then they showed me another possibility that we came to call the “Language of Kindness.

If you’re like me, and never learned the Language of Kindness as a child, you can feel at a loss for what words to use to create communion rather than conflict. It’s like there isn’t any wiring or vocabulary for this kind of conversation.

How do you change from the Language of Abuse to the Language of Kindness?

To start with, it’s helpful to have “cue cards” – cheat sheets of words to use when you’re at a loss for how to respond to a situation or make a request. This is a first step towards re-wiring you out of the abuse pattern and into other possibilities.

If you’ve ever learned a foreign language you may have created flashcards with words on one side written in your native tongue and words on the other side written in the language you are learning. These cue cards are like that. You are teaching yourself how to translate the Language of Abuse into the Language of Kindness.

Here are 4 “cue cards” you can use to get you started on the path of learning the Language of Kindness:

Cue Card #1:

SIDE A: (Language of Abuse) “What’s wrong with you?”

SIDE B: (Language of Kindness) “What’s going on?” or “Can you tell me more about that?”

Cue Card #2:

SIDE A: (Language of Abuse) “Leave me alone,” and, “Get out of here.”

SIDE B: (Language of Kindness) “I’d really like some space now. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for connection again,” or “I’d really like to take an hour for myself right now. We can continue this conversation then if that works for you.”

Cue Card #3:

SIDE A: (Language of Abuse) “You’re not really going to do that, are you?”

SIDE B: (Language of Kindness) “I’m curious, what made you choose that?”

Cue Card #4:

SIDE A: (Language of Abuse) “That was a stupid thing to do.”

SIDE B: (Language of Kindness) “I care about you and when I saw you do that I got scared you might get hurt.”

I encourage you to create these cue cards for yourself (or for your partner) to support you in learning the Language of Kindness. These will empower you to create more loving, harmonious relationships and put an end to the Language of Abuse. Together, we are kicking abuse in the caboose and creating more possibilities!

Be You. Beyond Anything. Create Magic.

You can find more information from Dr. Lisa Cooney on her site or find her on Facebook or on Twitter @DrLisaCooney!

4 Ways To Stop The Language of Abuse

Dr. Lisa Cooney

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APA Reference
Cooney, D. (2019). 4 Ways To Stop The Language of Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2019
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