Verbal abuse and its connection to anxiety.

In my last post I’ve talked about what verbal abuse is and how to recognize it. My conclusion was that it is based on the effect that you notice in yourself. You may be left dazed, confused, angry, sad, doubting yourself or in a total panic. That is the clue to notice that what you’ve been experiencing is wrong.

Afbeelding van prettysleepy1 via Pixabay

Now let’s have a closer look at how tension builds up with verbal abuse and how it can tie itself into anxiety. Verbal abuse, like other abuse comes in three distinct phases.

Image from TheMindsJournal.com

The 3 phases of verbal abuse.

Phase I – Tension building phase

This is the phase where something is ‘in the air’. You can feel it building up. I could hear it from the moment my mum opened the door coming home from work. The exact manner in which she puts the key in the door was telling to me. I knew that I needed to flee to my room and be quiet. Then she came into my room, unannounced and started to ask questions. Not waiting for an answer (it weren’t logical questions at all), she became agitated with me. As I was a stubborn girl, I sometimes refused to answer. The questions were: ‘What have you been up to all day?’ If you can imagine an angry yelling tone to go with that, please do. If you want to know more about the different categories of verbal abuse, please read my post about it here.

The abuser becomes moody, controlling, angry while the victim is often baffled, caught on guard as the attack is typically unpredictable[1].

Phase II – The Violence Phase.

In this stage the rage of the abuser reaches a height and the response of the victim can’t change the situation. The abuser may become violent and can start to hit, destroy things, manipulate the victim and so on. Usually, with me, I got hit, the door got slammed and sometimes things were thrown at me. The effect was all the same, things came at me, that I wasn’t able to shield myself from.

The victim here fails to comprehend the entire situation and why it blew up. As the violent phase occurs as a result of the emotional state of the abuser or other external triggers, the victim here has nothing to do other than plead the abuser to “get it over with.”

Phase III – The Honeymoon phase.

In this phase things do calm down. Some abusers may be apologetic or shower the victim with love, promising to never do that again. In my case, I was the one going up to my mum to plead for a truce. What I truly wanted is for her to say ‘sorry’ so we could make up again. She never did. So I didn’t experience the honeymoon phase myself but to be complete for the post, I’ll copy what is understood about that phase from the article.

The honeymoon phase brings about a sudden change in the behavior of the abuser, as he/she starts to be more considerate, apologetic and remorseful of the entire situation. Some abusers will feel extremely miserable for their actions, beg for forgiveness and shower the victim with love, affection, and sympathy. They will even end up blaming, harming or punishing themselves to gain back the victim’s attention, promising to “never repeat it” again in the future.

Other abusers will simply walk out of the mess and ignore it as nothing happened. The victim is readily convinced and forgives the abuser to “bring the situation under control” and ‘restore harmony between the two’. That is what happened with me. And this can be considered to be a bad thing as it puts the victim up for more abuse in the future [1]. I agree with that statement from a logical point of view. Everyone reading this can be thinking; ‘oh the hell no, not with me, there will be no next time’. What I’ve experienced was that my truth lied in the effect of the abuse. I didn’t want to happen it over and over again. I wanted to make up. How can that be that a mother, who needs to care for you or accept you at least, would say such horrible things about her offspring? Isn’t that a logical way of thinking as well?

Words are just words … or aren’t they?

It seems to be that, when met with such damaging interactions, the body responds with a fight, flight, freeze or appease response. The brain sends signals to the body that the situation is indeed threatening. As a child, there are not so many options to choose from. After a while you’ll choose a strategy, freeze in my case and you ‘sit through it’ or when I was really small I hide under the table when I got chased around. But I digress. Your mind and body become used to this situation and become very aware of your surroundings. When I heard that key in the door in that specific manner, I froze, abandoned everything I was doing and went waiting in my room for what was to come …. And what did came? Another one-sided argument.

Over time, your body is getting accustomed to this kind of anxiety triggering stimuli.

After repeated abuse, you know how to look for the signs that another cycle is coming. You prepare, mentally and physically. The body starts displaying symptoms similar to that of an anxiety attack or you find yourself in a heightened state of alertness. This can happen when you think that abuse is going to happen. You prepare and stay in that state. It is meant to shield you from pain but the same response turns into a ‘second nature’. The abuse is not just messing with your mind but is making you anxious over time.

I’ll end this post with research that shows that perceived parental verbal abuse in childhood and peer-related verbal abuse in adolescence has been associated with a risk of depressive mood, anxiety, anger-hostility, suicidality, dissociation, or drug use in young adults: According to psychology Professor Natalie Sachs-Ericsson[2], people who were verbally abused had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused and were twice as likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder over their lifetime.


Further reads, notes and references.

[1] Online article. Themindsjournal. Verbal abuse and anxiety, the connection no one talks about.

[2] Online article. Sciencedaily. Invisible Scars: Verbal Abuse Triggers Adult Anxiety, Depression.

Post: Verbal abuse – What’s the deal with words?

26 thoughts on “Verbal abuse and its connection to anxiety.

  1. There’s a fine line though, here.
    Imagine the child does something, the parent blows their top. The parent is frustrated, perhaps they shout, perhaps throw some crockery against a wall, or something, you know, to let off steam.
    At what point do you we, as society, say that is abuse? One might say, clearly, that the parent is the parent, and should not lose their temper, but parents do.

    In your case, I wonder if your mother’s recollection of these incidents would be the same as yours?

    Please, I’m not saying you were at all responsible for your troubles, just that there are two sides.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There are always two sides and I know that. I’m not saying that I was a perfect child nor an super easy teenager (who was?) but the long-lasting effects point me in the direction of abuse.
      On the other hand, I do understand that parents are people and that they may lose their temper. That’s why it’s always the ideal of having two parents so they can at least correct each other.
      Thank you for your nice comment, I understand your point of view and your worded it very kindly towards me. Thanks for being that considerate.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. For me it is not fun to still being confronted with it in my emotional life. I have troubles because of it and I need to work through a lot of those issues. For me that is clear sign that something was not right. It’s when strange effects show themselves that you can notice it.
        Example being, Pierre being surprised that I always ask permission for everything. It can be funny for a while but it becomes annoying too. That is one tiny example. Very small but still I need to adapt and not ask everything …. 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you like my posts! I appreciate the encouragement. Sometimes I feel like I’m nagging, repeating myself over my mum over and over again. Still I hope to write it out of my head and system.
      Your kind words are very much appreciated, thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s very interesting isn’t it when people say “No, that wouldn’t be me, I’d be out of there and no second chances!” Or, “They would have left if it was that bad.” If it were that easy, what a perfect world it would be.

    I don’t think people understand the impact of abuse, particularly “just” verbal abuse, I mean it’s only words, right? Hhmmmm. But those words are designed to hurt, to belittle, to undermine, to upset, and to make you wrong!

    I’ve wondered so many times, why would adults hurt kids in this way, and even at my grand old age, I still don’t have the answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The fact that you still don’t have an answer makes you a decent and kind human being.
      People tend to repeat what they know, that is the only answer that I can come up with. Still as an adult we have the responsibility to stop the chain of abuse and to transform ourselves for the better. When there is a will, there is a way!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t seen the abuse cycle laid out in a diagram before, though I’d certainly gotten the feel of there being a cycle. I’ve known someone who got into a verbally abusive relationship, and I remember the frustration and bewilderment of watching it, suspecting but unsure because I didn’t have a clear window in. Your situation sounds even more painful because, as you say, this was a parent-child relationship. I’m so sorry you went through that terrible cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seeing it happen must have been awful. I don’t know what you can do in that situation besides being a good friend.
      It’s hard to be in that cycle but blogging and learning about it, helps a lot.
      I have two posts left about the subject and I’m hoping to be done with it, for now and for as far it is possible to be ‘done’ with it.
      Thank you for your continuous support!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. verbal abuse can be so tricky, because usually the abuser hides it well, or does it in such a way that they aren’t outwardly showing it, but when your alone with them they come on strong, and break your spirit or try to. X

    Liked by 1 person

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