Words CAN Hurt You

Susan has been with the Seattle-based marketing firm for 15 years. Her natural friendliness and interest in others make clients gravitate to her. Her ability to pinpoint exactly what will grow their businesses leads them to depend on her. Co-workers describe her as bright and hard-working, but also fun and kind. It’s time for the annual Owners Trip, and they’re all glad that Susan has been invited. She has become invaluable to to the company, and the yearly extravaganza celebrating its successes just wouldn’t feel right without her.

With Howard, the man she has loved for the past two years, and nearly 70 co-workers and their families, she boards a flight to Hawaii. She has worked with many of her fellow employees for so long, she considers them family. So she’s excited about spending the next few days just relaxing with them and Howard.

On their first full day at the resort, the group splits up, some luxuriating on the beach, others taking tours. A few treat themselves to a massage.That evening, they all come together again, filling an entire restaurant by themselves. Savoring drinks out on the pier, they watch the sun set over the water and toast to the good things in life. After a wonderful dinner, they dance the night away.

Ending this perfect day in paradise, Susan and Howard peel off from the others and head back to their room. Things between them have been a bit rocky off and on, but this trip could really help iron things out. A few days to rest and relax, to be together and have fun… it could be just what they need to get back on track.

Except that, a short while later, police and hotel security, responding to calls about a disturbance, burst into their room to find Susan lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood. Howard is kneeling over her, bashing her head in with a 1-inch thick slab of granite table-top. One hour later, she is dead.

Crazy! Horrifying. And, unfortunately, true. On a beautiful island holiday, 44-year-old Susan Brockert was murdered by her boyfriend, Howard Phillip Zimmerman.*

How could such a terrible crime happen? Susan knew Zimmerman well; she had never worried for her safety in his presence. Sure, he had a temper. He was frequently quite verbally abusive to her. But it always stopped there. If he had ever lifted a hand against her, she would have recognized the danger and ended their relationship immediately.

What she didn’t realize was that red danger flags were flying every time he belittled her, every time he mocked her, threatened her or raised his voice to intimidate her. She didn’t realize that there is a continuum of abuse, and that an abuser can change his location on that continuum–along with that of his victim–in the blink of an eye.

Physical abuse may start with pushing or slapping, or it may go right to punching and kicking. It may be preceded by threats and raised fists, or, as in Susan’s case, there may be no warning other than a history of  verbal abuse. But make no mistake: intimidating, insulting, and other forms of spoken abuse nearly always co-exist with the potential for physical violence.

If you ever find yourself in a relationship in which you’re being verbally or otherwise abused, don’t kid yourself that “it’s really not that bad.” Don’t let the abuser drag you down that deadly continuum from name-calling to screaming… to destroying your self-esteem… until you wind up shot, stabbed, beaten… or bashed over the head with a solid granite slab.


*Not to be confused with George Zimmerman, accused in the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.



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