Trolling in a Digital World: The Reality of Virtual Abuse

Shruti Shekar

Words are stronger than actions.

Isn’t that what they say?

Then why do we tend to overlook verbal abuse over physical abuse?

Is it because when there is physical abuse you can see the aftermath? Or is it because we don’t walk around with our head cut open so everyone can see our thoughts and what we think when we get verbally abused?

I do not want to delve into what happened the past few weeks in regards to the serious allegations of physical abuse made towards women by CBC’s former “Q” host Jian Gomeshi, as there are many articles on the topic, but I do want to talk about something that happened to me recently and why I think discussions on verbal abuse should be given as much importance as physical abuse.

To cut a long story short, and to preface to you that I consider Tinder to be a complete joke, I decided to give a guy who started talking to me a chance. I normally do not like to give out too much information about myself when I start talking to someone, but after many conversations I came to the conclusion that he seemed fairly normal. So I decided to give him my number.

After he called me, I noticed through our conversation that I wasn’t as into him as he seemed to be in me.  I also noticed, that the more he spoke to me, whether it was on the phone or WhatsApp, he would continuously pressurize me to meet him. At this point I saw red flags and I chose to appease him by saying I would meet him, but later would completely ignore him. I thought maybe he would get the hint.

I was then bombarded with not one text, but several texts which you can see images of here:



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At first glance I was shocked.

Emotions were flared. I was angry, I was upset; I was humiliated, I even laughed for taking any of this verbal abuse seriously.

The next day I thought about what happened. Why didn’t I take being verbally abused as seriously as I should have?

According to SafeVoices, an organization determined to end domestic violence and abuse, 26% of teenage girls in a relationship report enduring repeated verbal abuse and that most domestic violence is not reported.

I thought about our culture and how we don’t necessarily talk about anyone being verbally abused as much as we talk about being physically abused.

Dr. Karen Abrams, staff psychiatrist at the Women’s Mental Health Program at Toronto General Hospital says one of the reasons we tend to ignore verbal abuse is because it is much harder to recognize compared to physical abuse. The unfortunate circumstance is that verbal abuse can sometimes be even more damaging than physical abuse in the long run when it is unrecognized.

“There can be lots of reasons as to why we tend to ignore it and it depends on the context…they may feel ashamed about it or they may feel humiliated from what is going on and they don’t want to share it with anyone or even face it,” Abrams says. “In general verbal abuse is taking affect on the person’s self-esteem. They start doubting themselves so they even stop feeling like they have the right to question that or that they don’t deserve anything better…it becomes a vicious cycle and it can get worse.”

I recognized that while what this guy texted me was stupid because none of it was true, it affected how I felt. Just as Abrams mentioned, I was ashamed, I felt like I didn’t deserve anything good, and I didn’t know how to address how I felt.

I wanted to dig deeper, so I posted on my Facebook to know how others have reacted when and if they were verbally abused.

In half an hour of posting my status asking for help I instantaneously received messages from my female friends telling me their experiences, how they felt and what they went through.

I was shocked. I sat reading messages and I asked myself, how have so many smart, ambitious, beautiful and strong-minded women been verbally abused and made to feel the way they did?

My next question was, how does one deal with being verbally abused?

The best advice I got was from a dear friend. It was a concept she created. (I decided to leave her unnamed because I want to protect her identity)

She called it ‘Truth or You’.

“I broke down each statement and asked the question, is this a truth about me or is this comment actually about you?” she said. “It has helped me a lot to figure out the difference between when people are giving you legitimate but poorly phrased criticism, and when people are projecting their own fears and insecurities on you…of course, when someone bullies you, or disparages you, it cuts like a knife. This trick doesn’t fix that, but it does offer some much needed perspective.”

Perspective. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

You are the only person who knows yourself best.

If you are being verbally abused recognize it, don’t ignore it. You may not realize it now but the repercussions will affect you at a later stage in your life.