Verbal abuse – What’s the deal with words?

Verbal abuse is a form of interpersonal violence. It is a specific type of psychological abuse.

Verbal abuse is the use of derogatory or negative language as a means to humiliate, belittle, criticize and demean a person. Verbal abuse is always meant to manipulate, threaten, harass, embarrass, insult and exercise control on the victim.

Anne McCrea
Illustration from agitatus via Pixabay

Common patterns of verbal abuse are[2]:

Demeaning comments are specifically meant to attack you. ‘You’ includes your  race, gender, background, community, lifestyle, personality, etc. It could be any statement meant to make you feel insufficient, insignificant or worthless about yourself.

‘You look so sick today. Can’t you take care of yourself?’

Criticism can be meant to be uplifting, to help you to improve. It can be something like ‘I know you’re doing this your way but have you ever considered to approach it like that?’ I mean to say that not all criticism is bad. But when you find yourself critiqued all the time, for every small thing, it can be too much. When criticisms get consistently irrelevant and gradually lowers your self-esteem, it is no more healthy.

‘Oh my, look at your teeth, they are soo ugly.’

Threats can be easy to identify ‘You’re so difficult, I can’t with you anymore, I’m going to hang myself.’ But they can be also very subtle and can make you think:

‘Was I really at fault here?’ or ‘I must be deserving this.’

Blame. Even when you have nothing to do with another person’s choices or outcomes in life, you can be held accountable.

‘When you’re grown up, I will start my life.’

‘I feel like throwing up because of the tension you bring.’

Accusations. Almost similar to blaming, accusation is often the result of the projection of one’s own infidelities or insecurities on to the victim.

‘I can’t relax properly because you’re in the way of everything I want to do.’

‘I’ve done everything what I can to raise you properly and I’m still ashamed of you.’

Name Calling. Verbal abusers often make use of special ‘names’ to yell at the victim and frighten them, belittle them and lower their self-respect. For me this one was really difficult to bear because my mum speaks Polish to me. She could insult me wherever we used to be, no-one had a clue. Often the most ugliest things aren’t even translatable because of the hostile undertone or choosing of specific words.

‘You stupid whore, you’ll do anything for attention.’

Spiraling arguments. Is there always an opportunity for a fight? Having a fight is normal, it can happen but it should actually lead to something better, to another outcome, be trans formative in a way. If these arguments make you feel drained and tired leaving no space for you to hold your opinion, as the abuser mostly denies, ignores, interrupts and isolates your views when arguing. Often there is shouting over the top of your head, making it difficult or impossible to participate in the ‘conversation.’ There is no fruitful outcome out of these arguments and they leave you feeling drained, dizzy, out of this world or in a panic.

Condescension. Neutral words can become weapons when the tone or facial expression reveals sarcasm and these words are meant to put you down.

‘Oh poor you, you’re all upset now.’

Mood killers, do I need to say more? Imagine you’ve arranged to go to the beach together but as you arrive …

‘We can’t leave now, it’s way too late. Don’t you know about traffic?’

Attack interests.

‘It’s all good how you recite the poem for class tomorrow. It’s not that important.’

As you will have noticed, verbal abuse has everything to do with the effect it has on you. Words are spoken with an intention. Even when the phrasing is bad or just awful, you can feel the undertone that is used. When the person is maybe clumsy with wording or they are not speaking their native tongue, misunderstandings can happen. That is not a problem at all. It is the set intention to put you down, to project their own feelings onto you. When you notice that you are feeling unwell, sad or upset as an effect and this happens ‘every’ time; there is something going on. It is not the desired outcome to feel wounded when interacting with friends, your significant other or your parents. Sometimes things happen and you can let it slide but as it manifests as a reliable pattern throughout your interactions with them, it’s not ok.

What can happen is that you become very sensitive to words or opinions of others because of old wounds. They can make you act out or react in a manner that is actually a response from the past. In that regard, you need to monitor yourself too. It can be interesting to try to observe yourself and your surroundings.

What effects can verbal abuse have on you in the short term?

– lack of motivation

– feeling drained, exhausted

– feelings of worthlessness

– overthinking

– indecisiveness

– lowered self-esteem

– diminished social interactions

– in extremes, self-harming behaviors

Next post I’ll talk about effects that can be observed in the long term such as anxiety. I hope to see you back then.


Notes, references, resources and inspiration.

[1] + 2 What is emotional abuse?

This post is heavily copied from the following article: The connection between verbal abuse and anxiety no-one talks about. I did copy the categories and the definition of verbal abuse. I added my own interpretation to it, examples from my own life and my own conclusion. I think emotional, psychological and verbal abuse must become more a topic to talk about and this article gave me the words. For me it has been helpful, I hope for you too. You can have a look on Ann McCrea’s blog about NARCISSISTIC AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE.

27 thoughts on “Verbal abuse – What’s the deal with words?

    1. Although studies have shown that when a child grows up in a hostile environment, the brain develops differently from a child who is raised in a more loving and accepting home.
      You’re right about it being easily swept under the rug but that is like adding salt to the injury.
      I hope in a tiny way my blog can help to spread awareness. So thanks for reading 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point and point made!
      My very personal believe is that he is a bully. But that is my reaction to him. Maybe I react through old wounds, maybe if I can heal those wounds, it wouldn’t affect me so much.
      I do believe he knows what he is saying very well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know which wounds I personally need to heal. I believe in social justice issues and in helping those who need it. He rejects all of that, under the guise that he is somehow helping make America great. America has always stepped on someone to get where we are… we are not nor ever have been great.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I didn’t mean to say you need to heal wounds to ‘tolerate’ Trump! Please don’t ever think that!
        It’s necessary to be able to stay true to your own values as a person and he steps on many values valued by a lot of people.
        It’s not that difficult to get a hate-train going but that are my views on politics at the moment and in my country.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Verbal abuse is terrible. In my household, growing up, it was often combined with a lot of tension and melodrama, like, the smallest thing that goes wrong is going to destroy our lives. My mom would say things like, if you leave a splinter in your hand, it’ll go to your heart and kill you. Now, there was no reason for her to say stuff like that, because I always removed splinters, ya know? Just extreme negativity and fear-mongering all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess, like most other people, I’ve been on the receiving end of verbal abuse, and it hurts. But I also know that I’ve given out verbal abuse too in the past, and I will never ever do that again.

    If I could, I’d apologise to the young personnel Officer, (my junior) for being rude to her more times than I care to admit. It was the beginning of the breakdown of my relationship and the downward spiral that followed, but that is no excuse, I know. I’ve never forgotten what I did and I like to think I’ve learned from it.

    So if you dish out verbal abuse, be aware, it hurts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, we should always be aware of what and how we say it.
      I remember that I wasn’t my friendliest self when I started to get ill. I know I was wrong and I trying to do better. I think when we acknowledge our wrong doings, there is room for growth. I’m also much more inclined to forgive when genuine remorse is shown. I mean, we all make mistakes.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Disha! I’ve written three posts about going no-contact between mother and daughter, and others on family estrangement as a result of abuse/toxic parenting.
      Do you mean a post specifically about the parents themselves? Because my experience is woven into the earlier mentioned posts.
      I can also only write from my perspective, being a child growing up in a toxic environment. If you like, I’ll look into the topic to see what I can find.
      Thanks for the input!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Type of behavior I can do but how to deal with them is something else as I’m still very upset when my mum tried to contact me. It’s very hard on me and I don’t have a magic answer for that. Maybe someone else will comment some tips.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yikes, using a shared language as a way to covertly insult someone is a cruel thing to do. It takes what could have been a tool of solidarity and warps it into an invisible weapon. I suppose that’s the way of all verbal abuse. Sometimes even those outside the relationship can see the barbs in the words, but other times what makes those words an attack is buried in the fabric of the relationship itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe it’s definitely woven into the fabric (what a great metaphor you used!! Love it!) of the relationship. Words spoken with kindness will not hurt even when the message is difficult to receive.
      Speaking and listening is a form of art.

      Liked by 1 person

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