Verbal abuse may not appear to be as serious as physical abuse, but it can cause long-term harm and trauma to its victims. While it does not have physical consequences, it is no less serious. Anyone in your life, from a parent to a coworker to a friend, can engage in verbal abuse. Learn what verbal abuse is, how to recognize it, and the steps you can take to stop it.
What Is Verbal Abuse?
A verbal abuse interaction occurs when one person is harmed by the words of another. It can be overt or subtle, making it difficult to detect. The following are some examples of verbal abuse:
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- Insults and put-downs, such as name-calling
- Criticism that is purposefully unhelpful
- Verbal threats
Warning Signs That You’re Being Verbally Abused
If any of the above is happening in one of your relationships, you are most likely being verbally abused. The easiest way to tell if you’re being verbally abused is to pay attention to how you feel after interacting with someone. If you interact with another person in a healthy, affirming way, chances are your relationship with them is healthy as well.
If you leave a situation (occasionally or frequently) feeling put down, sad, ashamed, guilty, or otherwise distressed, it’s a good indication that they aren’t being very kind to you and may even be verbally abusive towards you.
It’s important to remember that verbal abuse can happen unintentionally. Someone who is abusive does not need to make a conscious decision to harm others. A person, for example, may believe that their words and insults are toughening you up or making you stronger.
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They may like you but are unsure how to stop their feelings, or they may be envious of you. Or it could be completely unrelated to you, and they happen to be a verbally abusive person. However, in this case, the intent is irrelevant to the outcome.
How to Stop Verbal Abuse
Let’s look at how to stop verbal abuse, whether a person is attempting to harm you intentionally or it is the result of their actions despite their lack of intent. Stopping verbal abuse can be accomplished in a variety of ways. It’s best to start with the first step and work your way through the rest as needed.
#1. Declare Abusive Behavior
When you are being verbally abused, the first and most important step is to name it out loud. If it is safe to do so, this should be done directly with the person. If the person verbally abusing you has power over you, such as your boss, it may not be safe to confront them directly.
In that case, you should discuss it with a safe, neutral party, such as a supervisor or other superior who is not your boss. When it is safe to do so, the simplest way to directly call out abusive behavior is to calmly inform the person that something they said has backfired on them.
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You can say things like:
- “It hurts my feelings when you say xx.”
- “That xx statement is hurtful.”
- “Your recent remark does not sit well with me.”
- “When you say xx, I feel unnecessarily criticized.”
- “Comments like xx make me feel bad about myself,”
- “That remark makes me feel ashamed.”
- “I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.”
When reporting verbal abuse, you should be very clear with the person who has harmed you—informing them of what they said, how it made you feel, and why the exchange was unacceptable.
#2. Use Clear Language to Demand that the Behavior Stop
It may be tempting to ask for abuse to stop in a gentle manner, especially if you are afraid of the consequences. Your best bet is to be specific and firm in your request.
“I need you to stop saying xx because it makes me feel yy,” for example, is an effective way to communicate that you want the verbally abusive behavior to stop.
The more specific your request, the more difficult it is for someone else to deny that they are acting abusively. Remember that someone who is verbally abusive may have no idea they are doing so, and it may not be intentional.
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Calling it out may be an emotional or upsetting experience for them, making it even more important that you are in a safe situation and are not in danger of bodily harm, losing your job, or anything else.
#3. Don’t Participate in the Abuse
It’s natural to want to be mean back when someone is mean to us. This will only serve to escalate verbal abuse and give your abuser an excuse to accuse you of being abusive. Because you don’t want that, try not to engage in direct abuse.
#4. If possible, maintain your cool.
It’s difficult to remain calm when someone is provoking us. However, because being upset (or even emotional) can escalate the situation, this is the best way to stop an abusive person. If you’re not sure how to stay calm, you can take deep breaths before speaking with this person to calm yourself down.
#5. Establish Firm Boundaries
Boundaries are more than just telling someone they can’t act in a certain way toward you. Boundaries must be accompanied by consequences in order to be effective at changing behavior, whether yours or someone else’s.
Setting firm boundaries with clear, simple consequences is an important next step in how to stop verbal abuse. “If you speak to me like that again, I will leave,” for example. Another example would be. “I don’t want to be labeled. If you call me a name again, I won’t speak to you.”
#6. Enforce Those Boundaries
When establishing boundaries, do not choose any consequences that you are not fully prepared to follow through on. Boundaries have no meaning unless they are enforced.
When your boundary is violated, try to remain calm while explaining the situation. Here’s an example of how to do it: “I told you I’d leave if you talked to me like that again. I have to leave now because you just did what I asked you not to do.” It is essential for your boundary to have meaning if you leave after saying that, even if the person asks or begs you not to.
What Should You Do If Verbal Abuse Doesn’t Stop?
In an ideal world, simply informing someone that their behavior is hurtful to you would be enough to stop an end to it. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Even if you call it out, remain calm, request that it not happen, and set and enforce boundaries, verbal abuse may continue. In that case, here are your options for what to do.
#1. Take a step back
If you have the option of physically leaving the situation if the verbal abuse continues despite your efforts to stop it, you should take it. You don’t have to drive away and go home if the circumstances don’t allow it, but you should, at the very least, take a short walk away from the other person.
You want to do everything you can to stay calm and avoid getting involved. When you return to the situation, however, try not to engage with the person again.
#2. If at all possible, end the relationship.
If setting boundaries and walking away have had no effect on verbal abuse, you can end the relationship if possible. It may be more difficult to put an end to this if the person who is verbally abusing you works for you or lives with you.
However, if it is a partner, friend, acquaintance, or anyone else on whom your life or livelihood does not depend, make it clear that you are unable to continue the relationship due to verbal abuse.
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#3. Seek Assistance
If you are unable to end a relationship with a verbal abuser due to circumstances beyond your control, or if the abuser refuses to leave you alone and continues to harass or stalk you after you end the relationship, you should seek outside assistance.
Because verbal abuse is a legitimate and real form of abuse, seeking help from an abuse organization can point you in the right direction. One provider of phone assistance for victims of verbal abuse is Day One Hotline. That’s Not Cool also has a 24-hour hotline and can refer you to other organizations if they aren’t a good fit for you. You deserve to be free of verbal abuse, so seek assistance if necessary.
The most important thing to remember about verbal abuse is that it is used to control others. The key to stopping verbal abuse is learning how to break free from control and reclaim your power. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of this task. It is critical to have the guidance and coaching of an experienced professional counselor in order to successfully stop verbal abuse. Don’t try to do it alone any longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you defend yourself against verbal abuse?
Please do not give the abuser lengthy explanations; they will not listen anyway. In your comments to an abuser, do not use ambiguous or hypothetical situations. Do not respond, allowing the abuser to continue their verbal assault. Avoid straying off-topic by using clear, concise, and straightforward language.
What makes someone verbally abusive?
calling someone a derogatory name or using put-downs or insults, sometimes based on gender, age, or education level, attempting to exert control over another person’s decisions, actions, or other aspects of their life, causing someone to doubt their own worth, thoughts, and beliefs
How do you respond to a verbal attack?
7 Reactions to Verbal Abuse
- Don’t worry about it. Ignoring verbal abuse may appear to be implausible advice.
- Don’t get too worked up. Once again, it’s easier said than done.
- Define your boundaries.
- Give it some time.
- Don’t add to the conflagration.
- Predict and avoid.
- Take a stand for yourself.
Is telling someone to shut up abusive?
Telling you to shut up is the third sign of verbal abuse.
D. Describes “abusive anger” as a sign of verbal abuse in Psychology Today’s “15 Signs of Verbal Abuse.” When your partner screams and yells at you or tells you to “shut up,” this is what it means. Being told to shut up is more than just impolite.
What is it called when someone verbally attacks you?
Verbal abuse (also spelled verbal aggression, verbal attack, verbal violence, verbal assault, psychic aggression, or psychic violence) is a type of psychological/mental abuse that involves the use of oral, gestured, and written language directed at a victim.