8 Common Signs of Verbal Abuse (and How to Stay Healthy and Sane)
There are different forms of abuse that you may experience. Some are easily evident like in the case of physical abuse while others are not.
One of the hardest to recognize is verbal abuse. You may suffer for a long time before realizing that something is wrong. Due to this, you may end up staying in an abusive environment despite the dangers involved.
It is important to realize that abuse can happen to both genders. Although it is more common for women to be victims, men also suffer abuse.
Verbal abuse is like a calculated evil. Although physical abuse may harm your body, verbal abuse goes after your mind. Ultimately, if not stopped, it may cause anxiety.
In targeting your mind, verbal abuse erodes your self-image. This makes you lose faith in your own natural abilities and sense of self-worth. As a result, your self-esteem and self-confidence get damaged.
Without self-worth, you easily believe what the abuser says about you. This makes you more vulnerable as he now controls your thoughts and consequently, your life.
The overall goal of every abuser is to have control. Generally, people who are obsessed with controlling others have insecurities which they seek to cover up.
The reasoning behind their actions? As long as they are in control of the situation, everything would be just fine.
WORDS AND PHRASES ASSOCIATED WITH VERBAL ABUSE
Since verbal abuse involves the use of words, it will be good to look at some of the words used by abusers.
- “You’re behaving like a child.” – This is one of the most common. It can also come in the form of “You’re so childish,” or “You’re so immature,” or anything similar. The intention is to stop you from expressing your opinion. This way, you won’t have any influence over the decision about to be made.
- “That’s a stupid idea.” – A common way of putting you down is by simply disapproving your opinions. Whenever your opinions don’t count, you have little input in whatever happens. This gives the abuser the upper hand. It also enables him make the decisions which are right for him.
- “I never said that.” – When an abuser says something and you later confront him, he is very likely to deny it. This is a very natural response for him and you may even wonder why he never admits any wrong. What is happening is that he is playing mind games with you. He is seeking to confuse you. If successful, he will later propose to you that you do not have a stable mind.
- “I was just joking.” – This comes when you show that what he said hurt you. This will most likely come if you confront him immediately he says something hurtful. Since he cannot deny this because it is fresh in the memory, he will quickly turn it around and claim it was just a joke. Another way he may respond to you is by claiming that you don’t have a sense of humor.
- “You’re too sensitive.” – If you make it known often enough that your abuser’s words or actions are hurting you, this is the response you may get. He is indirectly acknowledging hurting you but doesn’t commit to changing his behavior. He is not even remorseful.
At this point, he is becoming impatient with you as he notices that you are picking on his wrong habits too much. In a desperate effort to silence you, he tells you that you are too sensitive. In other words, he is telling you that you are worrying too much over nothing.
Remember that throughout this time, you are slowly losing your sense of self-worth. Because of that, you are trying to earn it by pleasing him. For you to do so, your abuser is telling you that you should reduce your sensitivity and stop pointing out his wrongs.
Verbal abuse is always growing and the ultimate goal is complete control. Since it is not physically forceful, it works through manipulation. It often hides under the guise of correcting you so as to make you better.
It is necessary to note that victims of verbal abuse are usually those whose self-esteem and self-confidence are low. As such, they tend to look for approval from others.So, if you want to understand how you became a victim of verbal abuse, check on your confidence levels.
Whenever you’re seeking approval, you have to abide by the rules set by the one to approve of you. Since the abuser knows you’re willing to make changes, he pushes you until he has complete control over you.
COMMON SIGNS OF VERBAL ABUSE
There are some common signs you can look out for. Below are eight which you can use to recognize an abuser. This will help you avoid becoming a victim if you’re not one.
If you’re not sure whether what you are experiencing is abuse, then these will help you confirm. If you are being verbally abused, you will identify with all or most of the below signs. We will later look at how to stay safe if experiencing abuse.
Yelling and name calling
Abusers will frequently yell at you when they get upset. They will blow things out of proportion to justify the yelling. If they don’t have a solid reason, they will justify it by claiming that you did something stupid.
Anytime yelling is used on you, you will naturally be silenced. This is what the abuser wants to see happen. When he adds his justification, you see the reason for the yelling and you are likely to accept it.
Abusers will also call you names as a means of reinforcing what they are saying about you. They may for example call you stupid, unworthy, good-for-nothing, slow, lazy etc.
In some cases, they may also attack you on the basis of your body or character. For example, an abuser may call you fat or skinny, in order to draw attention to your physical looks. The whole idea is to make you feel not attractive enough.
Whenever there is an opportunity, they will tell you that your body is not as it should be. If it happens that you have previously tried to have a “better-looking body,” such comments will quickly destroy your self-esteem.
With your self-esteem gradually getting destroyed, you will become more unsure about what should be done and the abuser will pick on these. The situation will therefore only get worse.
Blaming and playing victim
Abusers are very good at blame-shifting. It’s as though they’ve been gifted in it.
Whenever you raise an issue that shows they did something wrong, they will quickly shift the blame to you. They will show how their actions were necessitated by your own actions or words.
He does this to ensure he remains on top of things, otherwise he would not be in control.
Blaming you for his actions also helps the abuser look perfect. He strives to be seen as always being right. If he is right, then he can justify whatever actions he takes.
To go with this habit of blaming, an abuser will never show abusive tendencies to outsiders. He will always be known as someone who is good. Because he has many allies, it becomes difficult to win any argument you may raise against him.
Depending on the kind of conflict you may be having, he may even play victim so as to further show his innocence. Lies are also common during blaming and playing victim.
Shaming and criticizing
Verbal abuse always includes shaming and criticizing you. This is because your abuser does not really care much about you as he does about himself. If you have been keen, you may have noticed high levels of selfishness.
At the same time, shaming is used by the abuser to silence you and take you further down.
To make things worse, the shaming and criticizing can also happen in public. Since you cannot normally expect the abuser to do this, he will do it and watch you struggle to counter him.
As someone who is looking to have control over you and your life, it is a joy for him to see you experience pain. He knows that once you experience pain, you will want to avoid it next time. And the only way to avoid it is by agreeing with him on everything.
He will make harsh criticisms to further get you to recognize his perceived abilities. He will be looking for ways of using these abilities so that he controls everything.
For example, he may want to control your finances. To achieve this, he will criticize your spending habits and even insult you in the process. He will tell you that your priorities are wrong and you do not know how to budget.
Soon enough, you will not be sure of what to buy and what not to. Not because you don’t know what is best, but because you don’t want the abuser to become angry. You may as well start asking him for permission to buy what you need.
When you are criticized enough times, the psychological effects will start becoming evident. One clear effect is that you will become very fearful. With fear taking root, you become easy to control.
Use of abusive ‘jokes’
Abusers are usually insensitive towards their victims and demean them any time they have the opportunity. Although this happens throughout the duration of the relationship, the intensity increases when they think you are attempting to break free from their grip.
From his bag of tricks, he will use a tactic which will easily cover his abuse with what he knows can be taken as normal. One of the ways he does that is through telling hurtful jokes.
He will say something that hurts you but act as though it was nothing. If you showed him that his words hurt you, he would quickly respond by claiming it was a joke.
Of course you know it wasn’t, at least going by the pattern of insensitivity you have experienced from him. This is just a way of him covering a wrong without acknowledging it. It is also at this point that he might make a remark about your lack of a sense of humor.
These jokes are designed to make you feel less valuable. Although you may assume they don’t have a big impact, they really do. Whatever is said gets registered in your mind and you start processing it.
Your mind works on the information trying to compare it with known facts to find out whether there is any truth in it. As this goes on unchecked, your mind slowly starts seeing the possibility of truth in what has been said. Even pure lies, repeated often enough, get believed to be truth.
The abuser’s comment on your apparent lack of a sense of humor also has another effect.
Since “normal” people have a sense of humor, the abuser is actually implying that you are not normal. This is part of the psychological abuse intended to weigh you down for him to gain control over you.
Dismissing or trivializing your feelings
If any time you voice your feelings they get dismissed or trivialized, then you can be sure that you’re dealing with an abuser. Someone who is abusing you doesn’t care about your feelings.
This happens because the abuser does not want to consider your feelings. He knows if he does, he will be opening a door for you to have influence. According to him, he is the one to have all the influence.
When it comes to dismissing your feelings, the abuser will start small then progress gradually. For example, if you tell him that he did something which hurt you, he may respond with “How can you feel hurt by such a small comment?”
In some instances, he may not really focus on your feelings but respond with the focus being on his own feelings. For example, in responding to your feeling hurt, he may say “I was just expressing what I feel.” This is in complete disregard of the feelings you have expressed.
Doing this is a way of him telling you that he expects you to understand and respechis feelings. However, your own feelings are not much of a consideration because they don’t have much weight.
No control and manipulation tactic will be used in isolation. At the same time, your abuser will be progressing from “light” comments to harsh ones. From bad to worse.
As a result, by the time he is dismissing your feelings, he has probably shamed and criticized you in public. Together with blaming and name calling, you will very likely be starting to believe that you are raising trivial matters.
Use of threats to intimidate
Threats are just one of the arrows in the quiver of every abuser. These will especially be used by the abuser when he starts noticing or sensing rebellion from you.
When using threats, the abuser will not go for the biggest. He will start by using the fears he knows you have. A common threat is to make public some of the things he knows about your personal life.
Abusers are normally good at digging for information. And although they also give you information about themselves, it is usually to get you hooked. Just to cause you to believe that everything is normal.
The abuser will be very keen on capturing details of your personal life. They know there will come a time to use it and so they get as much information as possible.
When they mention that they will expose what you did, you will first of all be shocked. You may express the shock and maybe even ask them why they would do that. On their side, they may only give a response that implies you are not treating them well.
What he will be telling you is that you have wronged him and because he is defenseless, that is what he will use against you. Remember that abusers are good at playing victim. Having fallen for many of his tricks, you probably have been silenced using this one too.
The result is that you will unwillingly agree to do what he wants. And just to prove that he is not a bad person, he may show you a kind gesture and tell you something like “You are the one who makes me get angry yet I never want to,” or “If only you can stop doing what you do.”
As with all other tactics, manipulation lies behind every word and action that comes from an abuser.
Another threat he may use is that of breaking the relationship or ending the marriage. Since your self-esteem is badly wounded and you know that you will be the one to be blamed, you will want to avoid such a situation.
Avoiding discussion on how he treats you
As much as he may deny any knowledge of hurting you and blame you for what he does, deep within, the abuser knows that he is not treating you well. The problem is that he can never admit it.
One way however which he covers for this is by justifying it with your conduct. He is convinced, or convinces himself, that you deserve to be treated that way.
This is the mindset of an abuser: He should be treated exceptionally well, then he can decide how well to treat you. He will show you that he is capable of treating you well but will only do it after you treat him as he deserves.
Since he knows there is a possibility of being discovered, one way he saves his skin is by avoiding any discussion about how he’s treating you.
You may have noticed that having a rational discussion with an abuser is very difficult. Actually impossible. Well, it may help you to know that it’s not because he is not good with communication. Or lacks the capacity to reason.
Partly to blame is their use of warped logic to understand and explain things. Underlying this however, and also the bigger reason, is the abuser’s fear of being exposed.
Since the abuser needs to be perfect, he will do all things possible to maintain the necessary facade. Since he knows a discussion about his conduct is a potential danger, he will avoid it.
In case he can’t, then he will utilize warped logic so as to confuse you. In fact, if you engaged a third party who is not experienced with abusers, he will also fall for this trick. This will be used together with other tactics to prove that you are the one on the wrong.
You doubt your judgment
This is one of the worst things that can happen and comes in at the intermediate or advanced level of abuse.
All the words the abuser speaks to you are intended to show you how they are the right person to offer you guidance and direction in life. They will show you how beneficial they will be to you. This however naturally happens in insidious ways because the real intentions are not for good.
Starting with the name calling, shaming and blaming, the process flows towards proving to you that you need their help. And this is the help they are giving you yet you are not cooperating with them.
It is not uncommon for the abuser to tell you that he is doing you a favor by being in a relationship with you. Having “proven” to you severally that you don’t make good decisions, you now get to doubt your own abilities to make the right choices.
This can be as bad as making you doubt your own reality. Since they never admit any wrong, they may have denied saying something you know they said. But the gradual assault can make you start believing that they never said it. This is what is referred to as gaslighting.
This happens because their manipulative ways have worked on your mind and emotions and now you’ve been left confused. You may start thinking that you’re crazy. And considering that the abuser knows exactly what is going on, he may even tell you that indeed you are.
Your mind will not be able to even remember things very well. This is because it has been consistently attacked and doubts have been cast upon it’s ability to function well.
This literally renders you completely unproductive and if you’re working or running a business, this is the time you will likely lose the job or close down the business.
STAYING HEALTHY AND SANE
Like any other form of abuse, verbal abuse can have very negative effects on you as a victim. Primarily, you will be affected in three main ways:
1. Psychologically – this is the main target of the abuse. Your sense of worth as a person is what enables you to live confidently. You know that you are valuable, not necessarily because of any material wealth but who you are as a person.
When the psychological attack starts, your own identity is targeted for destruction. With an identity crisis, you seek to have approval from the abuser. But since he does not have your interests at heart, he instead sends you down a path of destruction.
Although everyone desires a good life, an abuser’s definition of a good life is whereby he is in control of everything. Since controlling you eventually destroys you, he will never have much to gain from you. This means he will never get satisfaction from being with you.
2. Emotionally – emotions are a normal part of all humans. In a relationship setup, emotions need to be handled well so that both parties feel valued.
When dealing with an abuser however, your emotions get trampled upon. They are never valued and when you express them, you get disapproving responses. According to the abuser, you should simply have no emotions or feelings which contradict what he feels.
When you don’t express your emotions, they pile inside you and become a ticking time bomb. Since a relationship with an abuser ends up separating you from people, you will have no way of relieving the emotional pressure.
3. Bodily – effects on your body will mainly come as a result of stress. Your health will suffer and diseases will become more common. Unfortunately, you might experience neglect at the hand of an abuser at this point as they accuse you of not taking care of yourself.
With a decline in health, you may soon become unattractive and experience more negative treatment from him.
So, what can you do to stay healthy and safe? If you are a victim of verbal abuse, follow the below steps and you will have a better life.
Remember that your life is worth more than anything else.
And when you are attached to someone who does not value you as you are, then you should consider what it could lead to.
Below are the steps you can take to maintain your health and sanity.
Let the abuser know you’re hurting
This is very important, especially because abusers seek to silence you. An abuser will want to control you without you opposing his moves. He wants to turn you into a puppet.
When you start speaking up, the abuser will try to silence you through various means. It is common for an abuser to deny you the opportunity to raise your concerns. He will do this by interjecting when you are speaking to him about his behavior.
Despite this, you need to speak. As the below video shows, bottling up your emotions is not advisable.
He may also use blame-shifting so as to avoid taking any responsibility. If not that, he can also attempt yelling and name calling so as to stop you from talking. The sole intention is to silence you. As long as he is the one talking, he has control and so he’ll find a way of talking while you do the listening.
When talking to an abuser, ensure you stay on point and be direct. Have very clear examples of wrong behavior and tell him that his actions or words are unacceptable. Also, do not use accusing words like “You always…” Instead, say “Whenever you do this, I feel…”
This shows him that you are not accusing him of wrong doing and therefore avoids extreme arguments.
Be firm with your words but remember to speak respectfully to avoid giving him grounds for counter-accusations.
This will usually be helpful at the early stages of the relationship before things have gone very far. Before any long-term commitments, there should be free discussions on anything that affects either party.
If already committed, maybe in a marriage and with kids, speaking up is still an option. More than that, it is the first step that you should take in addressing the issue.
If you are unable to resolve issues after several attempts, then you can proceed to the next step.
Seeking external help is an important part of solving conflicts if the involved parties are unable to do it themselves. Counseling also helps you with recovery from abuse. As an outsider, the counselor will be able to have an objective view of the whole situation and help in pointing out issues.
He may also assist in implementing solutions.
All the same, when it comes to seeking counseling services as an abuse victim, be wary of some tricks the abuser may try to play. Remember that he does not take responsibility and seeks to be seen as the one who is right.
To achieve that, the abuser may try to influence the counselor to see. Though counselors are professionals, the abuser may prefer talking with one who knows him to be a good person. This is just an attempt to influence the counseling outcome.
If the counselor however takes an independent approach and is honest, he will be able to detect the wrongs in the relationship and assist accordingly. The amount of experience the counselor has with abuse cases should also play a role in determining his suitability.
The best thing to do is ensure that you see an experienced counselor who is unknown to both of you. The counseling session should also be attended by both of you at the same time.
This will ensure that you are both on the same page. Another trick abusers employ when appealing to the public is rushing to give information before you get the opportunity to speak. They do this so as to influence those who will be listening and prevent them from believing you.
Since you may have suffered much emotional and psychological effects due to the verbal abuse, you may also not be able to really prove his wrongdoing. Only experienced counselors may be able to know the signs to look out for.
Surround yourself with a support system
One of the effects of persistent abuse is separation from friends. This happens naturally though for the abuser, it is just part of the plan. Being in a relationship with an abusive partner makes you unable to go out with friends or even socialize.
He may have used any method to keep you from friends. Maybe just saying that he doesn’t like your friends for several reasons. Maybe accusing you of cheating. All this is designed to keep you indoors and cut you off from the public.
You need to get in touch with some of your trusted friends. Talk to them about your situation and ask them for help. You can plan a visit to their place and just have them encourage you to become stronger.
While seeking to re-connect with your friends, keep in mind that the abuser will fight those attempts. You need to prepare for any drama he may cause as he tries to stop you from visiting or talking to anyone.
Depending on your exact situation, you will have to exercise some wisdom to get this done relatively smoothly. Since he may deny you the opportunity to visit, you may need to keep it from him at first.
This is to prevent him from using tricks like becoming sick the day before your visit, something that could force you to stay.
WHAT IF THINGS GET WORSE?
It is not rare for a verbally abusive relationship to degenerate into a physically abusive one. Actually, verbal abuse is usually a sign of potential physical danger that may occur later.
It is important to consider your stand and beliefs as far as relationships are concerned. But at the end of the day, your safety matters most. You should always prioritize your life over everything else, including property.
Any kind of abuse is unacceptable and you deserve to be treated well. Your life is invaluable. If someone does not recognize that and instead works on devaluing and controlling you, then you are better off leaving the relationship.
As hard a decision as that may be, you need to look at the long term-effects of staying in the relationship. Look at the time you have been together and reflect on the damage you have suffered. Then think of what could happen if you continued staying.
If you have children, you will also have to put that into consideration. You definitely understand the threat they face in the hands and presence of the abuser. Leaving can therefore be the best option for the sake of you and your kids.
Here is a list of agencies you can contact for help.
Verbal abuse is dangerous. Just because it is not physically evident does not mean it should be tolerated. If anything, its effects might prove to be worse than those of some form of physical abuse.
Get the help that you need and live a free and productive life.
“If a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment, not the flower" – this is my favorite quote …