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Defining Verbal Abuse: Recognizing Whether it Affects You

Verbal abuse is psychological violence. The harm it causes is increased because it often takes place behind closed doors, leaving no sign of injury, yet it is just as painful as any other type of abuse. Verbal abuse is a way for the abuser to maintain control over the victim. Victims of verbal abuse have often been told that what they believe is wrong, including their feelings, and may begin to doubt their own reality, ignoring the abuse which is taking place. This blog lays out the characteristics and types of verbal abuse. If you recognize signs of verbal abuse in your marriage, please know that you are not alone, and that you have options.

Characteristics of Verbal Abuse

While there are many types of verbal abuse, they each share characteristics and are designed to attack or injure the victim and cause the victim to believe what is not true. Verbal abuse hurts, it causes confusion, pushes the victim to doubt his or her reality, and discounts the victim’s feelings. Verbal abuse is directed towards the victim’s nature and abilities, leading the victim to discount his or her self-worth. Verbal abuse can be obvious, such as name-calling or angry outbursts, or more hidden, such as brainwashing.

Verbal abuse does not always present itself as anger. An abuser may phrase harmful and disparaging comments in a sincere and thoughtful way. Verbal abuse is designed to manipulate and control the victim and can lead the victim to alter their behavior without ever noticing that they have done so. Verbal abuse disregards the victim’s feelings and is disrespectful, which leads to decreased self-esteem and self-confidence. It is also unpredictable, often catching the victim off guard. This is another form of control for the abuser, as the victim of verbal abuse is unable to prevent it no matter how much he or she changes their behavior.

During healthy relationships or a marriage, couples are faced with many challenges which ultimately are resolved leaving the couple feeling successful at having overcome a problem. But in a relationship with a partner who is verbally abusive, the abuse itself is the problem and there is never any closure which harms the victim. Verbal abuse is often hard to recognize because the abuse is masked by the way comments are made. For example, an abuser may say something condescending in a sincere and sweet tone. Last, while verbal abuse may be infrequent at first, it will continue to get worse throughout the relationship. And, verbal abuse always precedes physical abuse.

Categories of Verbal Abuse

Like characteristics, verbal abuse comes in many different forms. Knowing the different categories of verbal abuse can help a victim recognize that they are being abused. Laid out below are brief definitions of various categories of verbal abuse. These categories come from Patricia Evans’ book: The Verbally Abusive Relationship, which offers much more detailed descriptions and is full of useful and practical advice for recognizing and responding to verbal abuse.

  • Withholding: the abuser refuses to listen, denies the other’s feelings, and refuses to share their own feelings.
  • Countering: the abuser always voices a view opposite from their partner, preventing real discussion.
  • Discounting: the abuser discounts their partners feelings, denying them their reality and experience.
  • Jokes: the abuser uses jokes which belittle their partner, often related to intelligence, personality, or appearance.
  • Blocking and Diverting: the abuser refuses to communicate with their partner, either by changing the subject, withholding information, or ending the conversation.
  • Accusing and Blaming: the abuser blames their partner for their negative feelings.
  • Judging and Criticizing: the abuser makes statements which indicate a lack of acceptance.
  • Trivializing: the abuser makes comments which makes their partner feel insignificant.
  • Undermining: the abuser makes comments which take the air out of something their partner is feeling or interested in. Undermining is also done when the abuser interrupts their partner, or implies they are inadequate.
  • Threatening: the abuser uses the victim’s fears or threatens loss or pain.
  • Name Calling: an easier category to recognize, the abuser openly calls their partner names or uses terms of endearment masked in sarcasm.
  • Forgetting: the abuser manipulates their partner by denying something that occurred, for example, a promise.
  • Ordering: the abuser does not ask, and instead commands their partner to do something.
  • Denial: the abuser refuses to recognize that they are verbally abusive.
  • Abusive Anger: the abuser expresses anger which makes the victim feel bad and the abuser feel good.

You have Options

Victims of verbal abuse come from all backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. One thing remains common: all victims of verbal abuse have the right to be in a safe and healthy relationship filled with love, respect, and emotional support. No person deserves to be in a relationship where they are belittled, undermined, or made to feel less than. If you recognize the signs of verbal abuse in your relationship, you should reach out to a counselor who you can talk to one-on-one. You can also tell your partner that you want them to attend counseling with you. If they refuse to engage in bettering the relationship, you may need to separate.

Please feel free to contact us if you would like more information or would like a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys: 943-5647 or online here

*We relied on the book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship,” written by Patricia Evans, for the information contained in this blog.

Contact Us

If you are considering a separation or divorce, it is likely that the abuser will continue with their abusive behavior. Having an attorney who understands these issues is important and we can ask the court to recognize the problem and put in place orders which help minimize the opportunities for abuse. If you or someone you know could benefit from this information, please share it! If you would like to meet with one of our experienced divorce attorneys, please give us a call at 603-943-5647. We are in downtown Nashua, NH and have flexible hours. We are here to help you and are happy to talk through your individual situation and what your options are moving forward.

Penina McMahon