14 Signs of Verbal Abuse

Don't be a victim! Learn the signs of verbal abuse and how to protect yourself.

Verbal abuse in a marriage or a committed relationship is common! The verbally abusive person is found everywhere. And so too are their victims!

Any family member can become an abuser, including children. Family relationships should all be healthy, whether between adults and adults, or adults and children.

If you are in a relationship where there is name-calling, threats of physical harm, harsh criticisms, curses, and unrelenting put-downs, you need to protect yourself so you don’t become a victim.

Victims of verbal abuse have low self-esteem, feel guilty when they have done nothing wrong, have chronic stress, and are depressed, lonely, and anxious.

Healthy relationships are built upon respect, care, equality, compassion, and understanding. This is the type of relationship you should have. A healthy and positive relationship is always expressed with kind and respectful words. The opposite is also true. A bad relationship typically includes a heavy dose of verbal abuse.

couples experiencing verbal abuse

Domestic violence, physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and other types of abuse can also be present when verbal abuse is part of a marriage or committed relationship.

Knowing the signs of verbal abuse is your first step to stopping this relationship poison, which if allowed to continue, will eventually kill your natural emotional health and may eventually lead to physical harm.

What Is Verbal Abuse?

Every person is entitled to respect and freedom—this is an unconditional human right!

Verbal abuse, psychological abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic violence all deny a person’s natural human right to freedom, security, respect, and dignity. Verbal abuse is the deliberate use of ‘words’ to degrade, humiliate, silence, and subjugate another person.

Verbal abuse can occur in the home or the workplace. Most often, it occurs in the home between two intimate partners. However, it is not uncommon for a teenager to verbally abuse a parent.  Verbal abuse—as well as every other form of abuse—cannot be justified and should not be accepted!

Nobody’s behavior or situation can excuse another person’s abusive behavior. The victim of abuse is NEVER to blame for the abuse they are suffering from! Say NO to verbal abuse and every other form of abuse.

Not all ‘bad’ relationship behavior is emotional and verbal abuse

Not all relationship conflicts, arguments, and disagreements are signs of verbal abuse.

Expressions of anger or unreasonableness are not necessarily abusive behavior. Only when an individual intends to control his or her partner is he or she categorized as an abuser.

Abuse is more than simply ‘bad behavior.’ Abuse is the use of words, physical assault, sexual humiliation, and confiscating items such as car keys and money with the intent to dominate (control) the victim.

When you challenge your partner to be more respectful, kind, and accepting, and he or she acknowledges his or her faults and makes a sincere effort to be better, this is a strong indicator that he or she is not an abuser.

On the other hand, if your partner refuses to acknowledge his or her bad relationship behavior, blames you for all the relationship problems, continues to insult you, threaten you, or promises to be better but does not follow through—you then know your partner is an abuser!

14 Definitive Signs of Verbal Abuse

After being presented with the 14 signs of verbal abuse, you can take a Verbal Abuse Test.

The following are signs of verbal abuse:

1. Verbal Assault

As domestic violence injures the physical body, verbal abuse injures your emotions, reducing your self-esteem, self-worth, confidence, security, and happiness.

Examples of verbal assault:

Your partner says to you…

  • You are stupid.
  • You are fat.
  • Insults you—You are the only one who doesn’t know how to do this.
  • Put you down along with the people that you love—Didn’t your mother teach you anything? Don’t you have a brain?
  • Nobody likes you; you have no friends.
  • You cause all our problems.
  • You are worthless.
  • Won’t talk to you—It is your fault that I ignore you.
  • Blames you for everything—It’s your fault that I am angry!
  • Calls you derogatory names—You are a piece of…
  • Curses you—you deserve to die in your sleep.

2. Always Disagreeing

Arguing, always believing he or she is right, and never agreeing with what you say or want are strong verbal abuse symptoms.

Examples of always disagreeing:

  • You have no idea what the best flowers are to plant in our garden. You make me ashamed of our home.
  • I know you have your own ideas about how to discipline our son. However, I have told you many times that the way you are doing it is wrong! You should only do it the way I have told you.
  • You pay too much for orange juice. If you shopped at the store where I go, you wouldn’t overpay!

3. Sarcastic Jokes

Some verbal abusers are very skilled at embedding insults and embarrassing comments within humor and sarcasm. Twisted humor can be used as a way to camouflage the intent of the comment so that the verbal abuser cannot be held responsible for what they say to you.

Examples of twisted humor and sarcastic jokes:

  • If every time you made a mistake we earned a dollar, by now we would be millionaires!
  • I love you by the pound. Keep it up… gain more weight… you will be more loved than anyone else in this world!
  • With that new hat, I am sure you could easily get a job in the circus!
  • (After making an innocent mistake, your verbal abuser comments) I am the luckiest person in the world living with such a perfect person!

4. Controlling the Conversation

Like a traffic cop who directs and controls traffic, a verbal abuser will control and manipulate the conversation and decide what you can and cannot speak about.

Abusive language examples of controlling the conversation:

  • You have already asked me the same question a thousand times.
  • You never listen to me, so why should I listen to you?
  • You never learn, so why should I bother to talk with you?
  • I have to interrupt you because you say so many stupid things.
  • Ignoring you and what you have to say.

5. Blaming

The abuser consistently ‘blames’ you for any undesirable situation. Blame is not something that should be part of a healthy relationship. Thus, regardless of the cause of an unwanted event, blaming is always inappropriate, harmful, and one more example of verbal abuse.

Examples of blaming:

  • It is your fault that I lost my job. You never support me.
  • It is your fault that I cheated on you because you didn’t give me enough love.
  • It is your fault that I cannot find my keys. You never clean up around here.

6. Dismissing

Always minimizing your concerns and needs is a variant of verbal abuse.

Examples of dismissing:

  • So what if the windows were open last night? You are always paranoid. Stop thinking negatively, and everything will be okay.
  • I will not drive you to the doctor. You always make a mountain out of a molehill.
  • So what if he criticized you? You are too sensitive!
  • There is nothing wrong with me having lunch with an old boyfriend. Your jealousy proves you are sick!

7. Threatening

Threatening with harsh consequences is a form of verbal abuse.

Examples of threatening:

  • If we get divorced, I will take the children from you. I will prove to the judge you are ‘crazy.’
  • If you don’t stop your mother from sticking her nose into our business, I will never speak to her again.
  • If you don’t keep the house cleaner, I won’t give you any more money.

8. Character Assassination

Character assassination is when your words are used to lessen your partner’s value as a person.

Examples of character assassination:

  • You are stupid, just like your brother.
  • I regret that nobody told me how lazy you were before I married you.
  • If you had half a brain, you could figure it out on your own.
  • You have never achieved anything of value your entire life.
  • I feel I have to treat you like a child.
  • Any name-calling that targets you as an individual.

9. Criticism

Continually expressing negative opinions and judgments about you.

Examples of criticism:

  • You spend too much money.
  • You always drive too fast.
  • When you eat, you chew too loudly.
  • You are always thinking the worst of people. This is why you have no friends.
  • You dress like a slob.

10. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of fact manipulation and is a potent form of verbal abuse. Gaslighting and the like are examples of how abusive language can be used to make a person believe they are crazy.  When gaslighting, the abuser attempts to convince you that because you are ‘crazy or stupid,’ you don’t know the truth, and you don’t know what happened!

Examples of Gaslighting:

  • You gave me bad advice, and that’s why we lost money on the stock market. (This never happened.)
  • You always neglected our son Tom, and that is why he’s doing so poorly in university. (This never happened.)
  • You are abusive, and this is why we have such a bad marriage. (This is not true.)
  • I never called you a ‘bitch.’ (When in fact, the abuser did.)

11. Abusive Anger and Rage

The difference between normal relationship conflict and abuse is the intent. Not all anger is abusive. However, if a person uses anger with the intent to systematically control and manipulate you, then it is verbal abuse.

Examples of abusive anger and rage.

  • The abuser uses his or her anger to frighten you.
  • The abuser uses his or her anger to bully you.
  • The abuser uses his or her anger to force you to do what he or she wants.

12. Yelling

Raising their voice to intimidate and bully you is a variant of verbal abuse.

Examples of yelling:

  • Examples of yelling include all the above examples of verbal abuse in a loud and menacing voice.
  • Screaming in a demanding and rude way, such as; “Bring me a fork or move your car.”
  • Name-calling with a loud and threatening voice.

13. Male privilege

Some men are under the mistaken belief that their female partners must do whatever they want them to do. These men believe that their ‘gender’ makes them superior or entitled and that they have a right to control the relationship and in doing so create painful abusive relationships. The idea that men are from a ‘privileged gender’ is wrong — men and women ARE equal.

Examples of male privilege (men speaking to their female partners):

  • You need to do what I tell you to.
  • It is time to have sex.
  • Today, you must stay home and clean the house.
  • I don’t like your friend. Stop talking to her.

14. Racism

When a partner is shamed or put down because of his or her religion, culture, or skin color.

Examples of racism as a form of verbal abuse:

  • When I see where you and your family come from, it does not surprise me that you are so primitive.
  • If you want to get close to God, become a member of my faith.
  • I hope our children have my skin color and not your skin color.
  • I don’t want our children to be like your family. This is why they can’t see your parents.
  • Racially tainted name-calling.

4 Steps to Freeing Yourself From Emotional and Verbal Abuse

1. Learn more about verbal and emotional abuse

Learn More About Abuse

Reach out to qualified professionals.

Knowledge is power. The more you know about the signs of verbal abuse, the better protected you are.

Take the FREE Verbal Abuse Test to learn what is considered verbal abuse in your relationship with your partner.

2. Acknowledge that abuse is never your fault

Verbal abuse — and every other type of abuse — cannot be justified. Nobody has a right to hurt you — whether physically or emotionally. Nobody has a right to control you. Your freedom and dignity is a human right!

3. Take the position that you will not accept being abused

Unless you make it clear to your abuser that you will not tolerate abuse, the abuse will likely continue.

Don’t make idle threats. If you say you are going to separate if the verbal abuse doesn’t stop—then separate. If you say you were going to tell others about the abuse if it doesn’t stop—tell others. If you tell the abuser, you will no longer be intimate with them, if they don’t stop the verbal abuse—don’t be sexually intimate.

There are many ways to let your abuser know that verbal abuse will not be tolerated. For example, in person, through writing, or in the presence of another person. Whichever way you choose, make sure you are safe.

4. Make a practical plan on how to stop verbal assaults

Knowing that verbal abuse is wrong and harmful is never enough!

You must do whatever it takes—no matter how much effort is required—to ensure the verbally abusive person reforms himself or herself and always treats you with kindness and respect.

If the verbal abuse is to stop, your abusive partner must acknowledge that what he or she is doing is wrong and be willing to cooperate to change things around so you can have a healthy relationship.

Taking decisive action to stop abuse is your responsibility and your opportunity to be free and live a better life.

Consulting with an experienced and caring relationship professional can often help you devise a practical plan to end verbal abuse.

When possible, you should try to preserve your relationship. However, when this is not possible, there are other options that should be considered.

I suggest you now take the verbal abuse test to find out in a more personal way if your relationship with your partner is correctly characterized as verbally abusive or not.

Please note: There is a margin of error in any self-disclosing test like this. For a definitive answer about verbal abuse, you would need to see an experienced professional who can help you determine what is actually going on within your relationship.

Are You a Victim of Verbal Abuse?

If the Verbal Abuse Test determines that you are experiencing emotional and verbal abuse, you need to take action to stop being abused.

Know your verbal abuser CAN change for the better IF he or she wants to.

However, you must start the process to stop the abuse.

You do this when you take the position that you will no longer accept being verbally abused, that your relationship is conditional—that your partner speaks to you respectfully.

If you are in a verbally abusive relationship, you need to reclaim your human right to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality.

Are you a victim of domestic violence or physical abuse? If yes, learn more about physical abuse and assault.

National Domestic Violence Hotline and Other Abuse Resource Centers

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abe kass

Abe has helped thousands of individuals, couples, and families for twenty-five-plus years. When it comes to relationship expertise — Abe is the real deal and can be trusted!

abe kassProfessional Therapist Abe Kass MA RSW RMFT

Abe has helped thousands of individuals, couples, and families for twenty-five-plus years. When it comes to relationship expertise — Abe is the real deal and can be trusted!