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Signs of Verbal Abuse (Emotional and Verbal Abuse)

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 24, 2020

What Is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse, also known as emotional abuse, is a range of words or behaviors used to manipulate, intimidate, and maintain power and control over someone.

These include insults, humiliation and ridicule, the silent treatment, and attempts to scare, isolate, and control. 

Emotional and verbal abuse also includes violence that isn’t directed specifically at people but is used to intimidate, like slamming doors, throwing things, destroying belongings, or harming pets.

These behaviors are just as serious as other forms of abuse and may damage self-worth and well-being. Every relationship is different, and signs of emotional and verbal abuse may not be obvious from the start of a relationship. Verbally abusive people often seem to be ideal partners, and behaviors may emerge slowly or begin suddenly. 

It may be difficult to recognize abuse if you’re not being physically hurt, but emotional and verbal abuse may be a sign that physical abuse will follow. 

Signs of Verbal Abuse

Emotional and verbal abuse can take many forms and can come from partners, caregivers, coworkers, parents, and others. If it’s happening to you, it’s important to remember it’s not your fault. 

Common signs of emotional and verbal abuse may include:

Isolation and Control

Removing contact with others is one way to exert control. Some examples include:

  • Preventing you from visiting friends and family 
  • Trying to stop you from going to work or school
  • Controlling who you spend time with
  • Being jealous of other relationships
  • Monitoring your messages
  • Tracking your phone or car
  • Demanding passwords to your phone, email, or social media
  • Controlling your finances
  • Taking or hiding your keys and wallet
  • Controlling what you eat and wear
  • Stopping you from seeing a doctor

Humiliation, Threatening, and Intimidation

Cruelty can create fear and coercion, which allows an abuser to maintain power and control. Some examples include:

  • Belittling or humiliating you, especially in front of others
  • Name-calling or constantly criticizing
  • Threatening to leave you
  • Threatening to take your children or pets away from you
  • Threatening to harm your child
  • Harming a pet in front of you to punish you
  • Slamming doors or punching walls to frighten you
  • Breaking your belongings
  • Driving erratically to scare you or force obedience

Emotional Manipulation

Emotionally abusive people create chaos. An abuser may:

  • Accuse you of cheating
  • Blame you for their actions if they are cheating
  • Blame you for their abusive behavior
  • Use your fears and beliefs to control you or the situation
  • Give you the silent treatment
  • Constantly argue
  • Make confusing and contradictory statements
  • Have sudden outbursts and drastic moods

Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that makes you question your sanity, judgments, and memory. You may begin to mistrust yourself and feel as if you’re losing your mind. 

An abuser may:

  • Insist you said or did something you didn’t 
  • Deny an event happened
  • Question your memory of facts and events
  • Pretend not to understand you or refuse to listen to you
  • Deny their earlier promises and statements

Dealing With Verbal Abuse

The first step to dealing with abuse is to recognize it. By putting a name to your experience, you can begin to find help and support. Remember that emotional and verbal abuse may be a precursor to physical harm. Planning for both emotional safety and physical safety is important.

Create a Supportive Network

It may be difficult to share with someone about your experience, but having a trustworthy friend or therapist can be calming and helpful while dealing with verbal abuse. They might be able to help you make a plan.

Practice Self-Care

Take time every day to practice self-care, even if it’s only for a few minutes. To the extent that you can, give yourself relief from the stress. Remind yourself of your value and worth and that you deserve care. Being abused is never your fault.

Make a Safety Exit Plan

You may need to leave a relationship to maintain your safety, but you may not be ready to take big steps. Instead, make small goals to reach out and talk to someone about your decisions or to find help so you can develop safety and a sense of control. Try calling a local resource. Use caution with your phone and computer. 

Support and Resources

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

If you aren’t in immediate danger, reach out to a friend, therapist, abuse shelter, or domestic violence hotline.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 in the U.S. and Canada

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: “Emotional Safety Planning.”

National Domestic Violence Hotline: “Types of Abuse.”

National Domestic Violence Hotline: “Warning Signs of Abuse.”

National Network to End Domestic Violence: “Forms of Abuse.”

Office on Women’s Health: “Emotional and verbal abuse.”

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