Signs of Verbal Abuse
It’s not always easy to recognize verbal abuse. Many verbally abusive behaviors, such as shouting or name-calling, have historically been downplayed or normalized. Even if a victim of verbal abuse is in pain, they may be told they’re overreacting to the point that they believe it.
If a relationship with someone in your life is consistently making you feel anxious or bad about yourself and the words being used are tearing you down, it’s possible that you’re being verbally abused.
Common verbal abuse signs may include any of the below.
Excessively using insults or calling someone names is an example of abusive behavior. If you’ve asked someone to stop calling you a name and they’ve ignored your request, they’re being verbally abusive.
Example: While an abuser might scream out harsh words like “worthless” or “idiot” during an argument, even supposedly playful nicknames and insults can be abusive if they’re hurtful.
Criticizing and judging
Criticism can be constructive, but it can also be a way for an abuser to damage your self-esteem. It’s common for abusive people to use excessive, harsh criticism toward their target.
Example: An abuser might say that they’re just being honest or blunt or claim that their hurtful remarks are just a joke, but if you’re repeatedly being judged or critiqued, that’s not constructive or kind — it’s abuse.
It’s common for verbal abusers to use demeaning, degrading language to chip away at a victim’s self-esteem. When you feel worthless or ashamed of yourself, it can make you feel like you need your abuser, which is exactly what their goal is.
Example: They might publicly rebuke you for a mistake, embarrass you in private, or spread rumors to intentionally damage your reputation.
Even if an abuser doesn’t hurt you physically, they can use words to make you fear physical harm. Other types of threats, including threats to fire you, leave you, or embarrass you publicly, are also abuses.
Example: An abuser may use threats as a way to manipulate you into behaving a certain way.
Nearly all parents are guilty of yelling at their children at one point or another. While screaming and yelling may be common, when used in excess, it can be a form of abusive behavior, especially if it happens regularly.
Example: Not only can screaming be a form of intimidation, but it can also create a chaotic environment that leaves you feeling constant anxiety.
Abusers may misrepresent or lie about past events to make you question your own memory. This form of abuse is called gaslighting. Over time, it can make you feel as though you’re losing your mind or like you can’t trust your own judgment.
Example: When verbal abuse includes claims that you’re lying, wrong, misunderstanding, or remembering things incorrectly, you might be the victim of gaslighting.
A verbal abuser may use manipulative language to pressure a target into doing things they’re not comfortable with.
Example: Guilt-tripping is a common form of manipulation, and so is the silent treatment. Someone who’s manipulative may also try to blame you for their own hurtful actions.
“Verbal abuse chips away at how you feel about yourself and has a significant impact on your life. In my work with clients over many years, I’ve seen the pain of being criticized, put down, yelled at, subtly manipulated, or threatened take a toll on functioning, mental health, and relationships with family and friends. It’s incredibly confusing and leaves invisible scars. Therapy can help work towards healing from verbal abuse.”