Verbal Abuse and How to Recognize It

This article was pointed out by a reader and I thought it would be well worth posting here. It comes courtesy of And Then She Cried. This piece points out some elements of verbal abuse I had overlooked in my own relationship like forgetting/denial and trivializing/undermining. This is excellent.


This is from the book by Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond

Verbal abuse is a kind of battering which doesn’t leave evidence like physical abuse does. However, it can be just as painful, and recovery can take much longer. The victim of abuse lives in a gradually more confusing realm. In public she is with one man, in private he becomes another.

Often, for the verbally abused woman (man), there is no witness to her reality and no one to understand her experiences. Friends and family continue to see her ex, the abuser, as a really good guy and, certainly, he agrees with them. The verbal abuser, while maintaining his charm with others, always takes his abuse behind closed doors. It is a means of holding power over his wife/partner.

Many women and some men leave a marriage and come back into the singles’ world with the diminished self-esteem that comes from a verbally abusive relationship. The fact that many of these women (men) have never even realized that they were being abused, makes it easy for them to enter another abusive relationship.

A verbal abuser is an insecure person and immature person who is looking for power and control over another. In order to help you recognize abuse, remember that all forms of verbal abuse are methods of manipulating you for the purpose of establishing power over you. The following are some of the forms of verbal abuse the author helps you recognize.

  1. Withholding: a purposeful, silent treatment.
  2. Countering: a countering of your ideas, feelings, and perceptions, even going so far as to refute what he misconstrues you to have said.
  3. Discounting: a putdown of you or something you hold dear.
  4. Blocking and diverting: this is a sneaky, covert way of violating your dignity.
  5. Accusation and blame: generally involves lies about the partner’s intentions, attitudes, and motives. The author states that accusation and blame is present in all verbally abusive relationships.
  6. Judging and criticizing: lies about your personal qualities and performance.
  7. Trivializing and undermining: abusive behavior which makes light of your work, your efforts, your interests, or your concerns. The abuser attempts to dilute meaning and value in your life. Undermining might occur when your partner laughs at you, for example, when you burn yourself cooking. It is also jokes at your expense. Undermining is occurring when you feel a “so-called joke” is mean rather than funny.
  8. Name calling: no one has a right to call you degrading names. Name calling is verbal abuse.
  9. Ordering: Telling you to do something, rather than asking, or making decisions for you or for the two of you without your input.
  10. Forgetting and denial: the trickiest form of denial is forgetting. Become aware that forgetting is a form of denial that shifts all responsibility from the abuser to some “weakness of mind.”
  11. Abusive anger: this seems to be closely linked to the need to “blow up,” to dominate, to control, to go one up, and to put down. Any time you are snapped at or yelled at, you are being abused.
  12. Threatening: Physical threats and sexual threats aside, verbal threats are an effort at manipulation. For example, a threat to leave, stay out all night, or take you home immediately is a manipulation for power. The threat of “pending disaster” is designed to shatter the partner’s serenity as well as her boundaries.

If you counter the abuser or attempt to explain yourself, you will probably be met with such statements as, “I don’t want to hear it, get out of my face” or “Woman you don’t have the brains“, “B” You shouldn’t have said that to me“.

If you are in a brand-new relationship and see warning signs of verbal abuse, the author suggests you might be wise to let the relationship go. It is not likely that a man (woman) who needs to dominate and control will change easily, if at all. It is also likely that when the newness of the relationship wears off, he will become more abusive. Verbal abuse can become physical in time and physical abuse is always preceded by verbal abuse, according to Evans. If you are in a long-term relationship, you can respond to the abuser as the book suggests and soon discover for yourself whether or not your mate is willing to change and stop his abusive behavior.

“If you have been verbally abused in your relationship, you may have discovered that explaining and trying to understand have not improved your relationship. Therefore, I recommend that you respond in a new way–a way that will make an emotional, psychological, and intellectual impact upon your mate.”

The abuser in your relationship may change when he finds that you do know when you are being abused, that you have set limits, that you mean what you say, and that you will not take behavior you don’t like.

If the man in your relationship remains abusive, it is not only not your fault, it is not even your responsibility

7 Responses

  1. This was really a good article! Thank you so much. I am currently in relationship with verbally abusive man. I am struggling to leave. This article gave me new strength 🙂

  2. 1-7, and 10 are 100% spot on in describing behaviors of my wife. 8, and 9 often enough.

    11 not at all as far as “blowing up” is concerned. She is more like a “steady medium heat”. But the intent as described does apply, ie, to manipulate and control.

    12 applies because, “If I do this, she must do that.”, I leave her little recourse. It’s all me why she does what she “must”.

    I am struggling to promote our marriage and without those behaviors. This article supports the insight I have had.

  3. In the interest of honesty and transparency, I apply this article to my own behaviors.

    1, not at all.

    2, on a scale of ten, probably a 3-5.

    3, not at all. In fact, I try to be very encouraging in preserving/maintaining these things which are so valuable.

    4, not at all. I don’t beat around the bush, I am direct but try to be sensitive to other’s feelings, where they are, and where they want to go emotionally/mentally. I try to be “readable” and very open.

    5, I don’t know, I guess maybe I’m all over the board on this one. I try to consider the motivations (intrinsic and extrinsic) of others. Of myself I try to be open and honest to my utmost but I think I’m perceived as less than that. It is that perception by others which I need to recognize and address. It’s not a question of me thinking they are right or wrong, but that I need to be relatable to them, to their level at the place they are. Based on feedback from others, I think I achieve my goals in this. I know I have been accused of placing blame, and not only by my wife, but I believe to blame is a dead end and a detriment to acheiving the goal. I try to avoid getting caught up in blaming.

    6. I generally have the idea I’m not good enough although evaluation of me, based upon my performance, by others say otherwise. The problem here is my self-concept presents a detriment to me being fully capable to lead or help another person. I second guess myself a lot. And this I think causes confusion in others.

    7, not at all. I try very hard to uplift and be supportive to others. I know what it feels like to feel puny. I have a varied sense of humor and sometimes I come off sounding mean although I am horrified to realize that when it sometimes occurs. I feel crushed when I am percieved as being mean spirited because my joke wasn’t funny. I guess it’s unusual to think we should be able to laugh at ourselves. Surely, I think, God must have a great sense of humor. Just look at us, thinking all high and mighty.

    8. Yeah, that’s me. No excuse. It’s not often but even once is one too many times.

    9. not at all. In fact, I am probably aggravating as I try to consider the other person too much. I am capable of making unilateral decisions–and do when it occurs to me everyone else is frozen and won’t make a decision–but I am loathe to decide without being inclusive of the other person(s). I don’t like “decisions by committee” but I wish to avoid anyone feeling left out. They too are no less valuable.

    10. I don’t know. I am so sensitive to my wife’s “selective memory” that I am not sure how this may apply to me. I have a memory like an elephant, I don’t forget details. Otherwise, I own up to my doings. I take responsibility for my actions.

    11. Yes, this is me. I have “blown up” maybe five times in 18 yrs. It is in response to my frustration. And that frustration is equal parts me not being able to communicate effectively in a relatable way and of being accused of some intent which I didn’t have. I stand opposed to being labled as having bad intent. Nonetheless, that is not a reason nor excuse. But there is a righteous anger. I have yet to figure out where that balance lies.

    12. A long time ago I told my wife I would kill her if I ever found out she was cheating. The context was a very heightened emotional atate of both of us. We have since discussed and, I thought. reached an understanding of that time. I was coming out of my fear of abandonment. She was coming out of her fear of physical abuse (gotten from experiences prior to me coming into her life). Only after talking it out did I (I would like to say “we”) realize how hurtful my statement was. It seems obvious now but emotions can distort things.

    Of course I wouldn’t kill her. I know this to be true. In fact, I caught my fiance in bed with a man (months before we were to be married) and I just walked away. So I know I didn’t mean that literally. But the damage was done. Even though my wife and I had discussed and resolved, I come to find out only recently she still harbors a fear begat from my statement. of a very long time ago Truly, the tongue is the most vile thing.

    • Richard,

      I think it is good to even-handedly self-evaluate. It is good for a couple things.

      First, it keeps us focused on our own standing with God and not focused primarily on our spouse – which, as we all know, is so easy to do in a situation where we feel injustice is occurring. So it helps protect us from falling prey to bitterness.

      Second, God is able to use an unjust situation to refine us as no other circumstance in life is able to accomplish. “Good enough,” which might work absolutely wonderfully in a “normal” marriage, isn’t working and we go to our faces, examine our hearts, and God uses the circumstances to hone us, scrub away the dross, to a particularity other people never think to expect.

      For instance, you say you’ve “blown up” about 5 times in 18 years. Yet, for you, you are very aware of this, have faced it for what it is – which is that it is not acceptable – and are now more aware of that in yourself and are extraordinarily unlikely to do so again – from a genuinely reformed heart. For most people, 5 “blow up’s” in 18 years would have been water long-forgotten under the bridge. Similarly, I “blew up” (out of control anger/rage) at my husband twice in 20 years, both times as a result of medication imbalance during chemo. Still, I immediately repented to him, told him what was happening, isolated myself until I knew I had stabilized, and got my medication adjusted — taking full personal responsibility for my actions even though they were “caused” by external forces. This being contrasted against the fact he flew into rages at me and/or our son on a nearly daily basis at the top of his cycles.

      Third, when others attempt to lay blame at your door, you can go back to God with the accusations and lay out the truth. This enables us to separate condemnation which has its ultimate source from Satan, from conviction which has its source from God and never includes condemnation. Condemnation we can then stand against and reject, considering its source.

      One of Satan’s biggest weapons is condemnation – and I see a lot of that at work here. The truth sets you free – from his condemnation. That lets you stand on the truth.

      The truth is that none of us are perfect. You will never be perfect. You haven’t been perfect in the past. All you can do is honestly seek to walk in truth – which appears to be what you are doing. You can’t undo the past, but you can seek to make all things right – which you seem to have done. What more is there to do? Only God knows; but once we have done all He has shown us to do, we can walk in the certainty that nothing lies between us and God on the matter. And what is there beyond that?

      — Danni

  4. I ask myself, what is my reason for taking up so much of your blog? Is it to vent? Is it to curry advice? Is it to right a perceived wrong? Why am I here like an intruder of your blog?

    I conclude the answer is that I want to say that we all, men and women, are in the same place. Our trials may be different from those of another but only in a matter of degree. You and me, we were known before we breathed our first breath. We are His creation.

    Even so, even though we have this commonality, it is our fears which guide us in our hurtful behaviors. Rather than being ashamed for what we have done we should instead look to our Lord and pray in supplication and petition to Him that we would be released from the binds that keep us from obtaining our true worth.

    My sisters and brothers in Christ, I do know pain. I know the pain perpetuated upon me by others and I know the pain that I feel that I have hurt another person.

    This is not to say we should not protect ourselves, that one should not act to remove themselves from that threatening place.

    Instead, what I am saying is because we all are faced with trials of many kinds, we need to hold to a compassion even for your perceived enemy. Let love abideth in your heart. Become that which your supreme creator wants of you. Become obedient to Him and harbor no grievances in your heart. Forgive me and forgive all others. As they should forgive.

    Pray for each other

  5. One of the thing that bothers me about allowing someone to walk over me, to verbally abuse me, is where do I draw the line next, put a stop to it.. soI tend to stop it as soon as I see it instead…not a door mat to walk over.. one of the best ways is to have nothing to do with the abuser anymore..

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