“Shut up!!” “Don’t be so lazy!!” “What’s wrong with you?” These types of phrases frequently come out of people’s mouths every day. So, is there really anything wrong with saying them? I mean, we have all said some of these things ourselves – or at very least had these thoughts. But is it verbal abuse? It depends. You might think it’s obvious if you’re being a victim of a verbally abusive relationship. It may be to some people, but others may not recognize it. For example, if you grew up with parents who talked to you (and each other) respectfully, then you will probably be able to spot verbal abuse a mile away. I’m like that. I don’t even like if someone slightly raises their voice to me. I will politely call them out on it and ask them to calm down. However, if you grew up in a family where there was a lot of yelling, fighting, and screaming, then you might not be able to recognize verbal abuse when you see it. Why would that be? It’s because that pattern of communication is “normal” to you. It’s your comfort zone. It’s what you grew up with, so it’s all you know. But just because it’s familiar to you, that doesn’t make it right. Verbal abuse is NEVER justified in any situation. Let’s start off by looking at some general characteristics of verbal abuse.
What is a verbal abuse?
Verbal abuse can basically be described as any communication event that causes emotional damage to at least one person. If this pattern continues, it has the power to seriously damage the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth. They may even begin to believe that what the abuser says about them is true. While verbal abuse is always hurtful, it’s not always overt – like angry outbursts. Sometimes it is covert such as making very subtle negative comments here and there. Above all else, verbal abuse is meant to manipulate and control the victim. Now that you know the definition of verbal abuse, let’s take a look at some examples so you can recognize it if it happens to you or someone else you know.
Examples of verbal abuse
Verbal abuse comes in many forms, and these are just a few examples.
1. “Teasing” and “joking”
This is one of the more covert tactics used by verbal abusers. It’s meant to confuse the victim. For example, a man might call his wife his “big butterball” and say it with a smile on his face and a somewhat endearing tone – or perhaps even chuckling. What he’s really saying is that he thinks she’s fat. It’s a criticism disguised as a joke or teasing… but it’s not funny.
Let’s say you come home from work and tell the abuser that you had a bad day, and that your boss is being mean to you. They would tell you to get over it or call you a cry baby. They don’t take your feelings into account because they don’t find them important.
Let’s say that you want to talk to someone about how to improve your relationship. Normal people would sit and hear you out and respond appropriately. But a verbal abuser will divert the conversation to a topic that they want to talk about – not what you want to talk about. They are avoiding giving you the power to talk about what you want.
4. Judging and criticizing
If someone is always saying what you say or do is wrong, then that’s verbal abuse. For example, maybe you just cleaned the whole house and you’re proud of yourself. An abuser would come home and find something you missed, like dusting or a spot on the floor. Or perhaps they criticize how you look or how you act. This is meant to tear down your self-esteem so they can control you.
If you hear things like, “You should be grateful you found me, because you’re unlovable. No one would ever put up with your crap but me!” then that is degrading. It’s making you think that you are lower than low – and that they are better than you.
An abuser will accuse others of anything and everything. Maybe they are constantly suspecting you of cheating on them. Or that you told a lie. Or anything else for that matter. They’re always finding ways to accuse other people of doing things that they might not even have done.
Gaslighting is a purposeful tactic that is done to manipulate and brainwash someone into doubting their own sanity. When this occurs over time, it affects their self-identity and perception. For example, they might say things like, “Why are you making this up?” or “It’s all in your head” or “You never said that.” They make you question yourself so they can gain the power and the upper hand.
If you hear someone call you bad names such as “loser,” “lazy,” “sloppy,” or even the “b” or “c” word, then that’s not okay. Even if someone is lazy, that doesn’t mean you have to call them lazy. Calling someone bad names is NEVER acceptable.
9. Disregards your opinions and ideas
When you share an idea or an opinion, a verbal abuser will just shoot it down and disregard it. Even if it’s something like “Hey I’d like to go to McDonald’s for lunch because I’ve been craving a Big Mac.” An abuser would tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t go there and have it. They’ll make your ideas seem ludicrous and make you second-guess yourself.
10. Swearing at you
Sure, most people use swear words. But normal people don’t make a habit out of slewing a ton of profanities your way on a regular basis. If someone is constantly using swear words with you, especially when combined with anger, then that is verbal abuse.
11. Pointing out your flaws and mistakes constantly
Maybe they say you’re too fat, or too skinny, or too dumb or too… well, anything. If someone is constantly pointing out what is wrong with you, or what mistakes you have made in your life, then that is verbal abuse. We all have flaws and have made mistakes, but no one needs to point them out on a regular basis.
Threats can come in all shapes and forms. It could be a threat to harm or hurt you – or even kill you. Or it could be a threat that they might harm or hurt themselves in order to manipulate you. Threatening some undesirable action is an attempt to guilt, manipulate, and scare you into behaving how they want you to behave.
An abuser NEVER takes personal responsibility for anything. Instead, he or she places the blame on everyone and anyone other than themselves. Even when it’s obvious that the abuser did something wrong, they will fight to the death to “prove” someone else it to blame, not themselves.
14. Ordering you around
Abusers need to have total control. Therefore, they typically are bossy and order their victims around. They might limit how often you leave the house, or how many showers you can take per week. Or even something simple like what they want to have for dinner that night. If they are acting more like a parent to you, then this is verbal abuse.
What you can do if you're being verbally abused
Your first instinct is probably to get the abuser to reason with you or to calm down. Unfortunately, this rarely works, so eventually you will have to stop trying to reason with them because they are just incapable of rational thought when they are abusing you. Instead, you need to do the following things:
1. Call them out on their abusive behavior
For example, if they call you a “loser,” you need to respond with something like, “Calling me negative names is not helping this situation, so please stop. Besides I know I’m not a loser, so you can never convince me that I am.” Here’s another example: If you’re late getting home because of traffic, they might yell at you and call you names. In a situation like that, you should say, “Stop blaming me for something that I had no control over.” Calling them out on their bad behavior takes away their power. Suddenly, they know you are on to them and recognize their manipulative tactics. You see, verbal abusers like easy targets. So, if you just sit there and take the abuse, it will continue. But if you tell them to stop, they won’t like it and will either have to try to change their behavior or go find someone else that they can verbally abuse – because you will no longer allow it.
2. Remove yourself from the situation
If you can leave, then leave. Go into your bedroom. Go for a drive. Go for a walk. Just get out of the situation and tell them that you won’t talk to them until they can talk calmly and respectfully to you.
3. Remove yourself from the relationship if at all possible
If all else fails, you might have to do this. You know it's time to really let to and move on when you experience these 21 things. I know that’s not possible with certain relationships (such as a parent/child scenario), but it is with some. Sometimes that’s the only thing left to do. And then get help.
As Dr. Phil always says:
“We teach people how to treat us.”
In other words, what we allow from other people will continue. If we allow them to treat us with disrespect, they will continue to do so. But if we only tolerate respectful and peaceful treatment, then you won’t settle for anything less. It all starts with self-love. You have to love and respect yourself enough to now allow abuse from another person. Here you can learn what to do to love yourself. So, take a good look in the mirror, and promise yourself that you are better than this. You deserve to be happy.
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