Verbal and Emotional Abuse: Can You Recognize It?

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What is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse, also known as emotional abuse, is a range of words or behaviors used to manipulate and intimidate another person. In addition, these behaviors are used to maintain power and control over that person. It can occur in the home, at work or in a religious institution. Furthermore, verbal and emotional abuse may not begin as physical abuse, but it often progresses to physical abuse.

Regardless, it causes serious emotional and psychological harm,

Verbal abuse creates emotional pain and mental anguish. It is a lie told to you or about you. Generally, verbal abuse defines people, telling them what they are, what they think, their motives, and so forth.

Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship (

Not all verbal and emotional abusers become violent, but they all create pain and fear in their homes. The atmosphere they create impacts their children to such a degree that they do not know what is normal and what is not.

Children from abusive homes may learn not to feel, may learn to become perpetrators or victims, and may try to perfect themselves through eating disorders and compulsive behaviors to escape in drugs and alcohol. Bottom line: Defining people and their inner world is a very irrational behavior. It is mind numbing and very scary to the recipient, especially when the person who is behaving irrationally says, “I love you.”

Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change? (

The Violence of Verbal Abuse

Verbal and emotional abuse includes violence. However, initially, the violence is not directed specifically at their partner. The violence used is to intimidate or frighten. (Remember, the behavior is about control.) For example, slamming doors, punching walls, throwing things, destroying property, or harming pets are tools to threaten and bully.

Sadly, these combined behaviors are just as damaging to the victim as other forms of abuse.

Emotional abuse may start out innocuously, but grows as the abuser becomes more assured that you won’t leave the relationship… If you look back, you may recall tell-tale signs of control or jealousy. Eventually, you and the entire family “walk on eggshells” and adapt so as not to upset the abuser. Being subjected to emotional abuse over time can lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, inhibited sexual desire, chronic pain, or other physical symptoms.

Why Don’t We See Verbal Abuse?

Verbal/emotional abuse is more difficult to recognize than other forms of abuse.

It doesn’t leave physical marks.

In many cases, perpetrators of verbal abuse will raise or recondition the other person. This may lead to the person on the receiving end believing that these behaviors are normal, which may also make it difficult to recognize.

Types of Verbal/Emotional Abuse

Here are some things to look for if you suspect that you are in an abusive relationship. It could be with a friend, parent, boss, or romantic partner.

  • Humiliation, Threatening, Intimidation
    • Cruelty can create fear and coercion. This allows the abuser to maintain the desired power and control he/she desires. For example:
      • Belittling or humiliating you, especially before others
      • name-calling or constantly criticizing – “You’re so stupid,” “You’re an idiot”
      • threatening to leave you or harm themselves if you leave
      • driving erratically to frighten you or force compliance
      • threatening to take your child or pets away from you

3. Emotional Manipulation

    • Abusers create chaos. An abuser may:
      • accuse you of cheating
      • blame you if they are cheating
      • blame you for their abusive behavior
      • give you the silent treatment
      • constantly argue
      • tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about
      • make confusing and contradictory statements

3. Gaslighting and Discounting

        • Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that causes you to question your sanity, judgments, and memory. Discounting involves repeatedly discounting and dismissing another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The abuser may often say you’re:
          • too sensitive
          • are childish
          • don’t have a good sense of humor (after he has said something cruel and then claims he was “only kidding”
          • are being too dramatic
          • The abuser may also:
          • insist you said or did something you didn’t
          • deny an event happened
          • question your memory of facts and events
          • deny their earlier promises and statements

4. Judging

    • This involves repeated negative critical, judging statements. They usually begin with “you” or “you’re”:
      • never happy
      • always mad for no reason
      • are so negative
      • wear that to get attention

Dealing With Verbal Abuse

The first step in dealing with any abuse is to recognize it. You can begin to discover the support that is available to you by naming your experience. Next, there must be a plan for emotional and physical safety.

Patricia Evans said, Domestic violence begins with verbal abuse…(The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change?) Not all verbal abusers become physical abusers, but the majority of physical abusers were verbal abusers first.

Create a Support Network

This step is vital. The abuse has likely isolated you to an extent. However, now you need a trustworthy friend, therapist, or mental health advocate with whom you can confide. It may be difficult to be vulnerable. Moreover, you could find it embarrassing or even humiliating to realize that the abuse has gotten this far before you realized it.

After being demeaned and criticized constantly, it may be hard to wrap your mind around treating yourself well.

But, this, my friend, is a huge part of the healing process. You are taking back your self-worth, even for just a few minutes a day. As much as you can, take a stress-free break each day. Do something you love for 5 to 30 minutes.

Remind yourself of your value and that you deserve to be respected and cared for.

Make a Safety Exit Plan

Unfortunately, it may be necessary to leave a relationship in order to be safe. That is a big decision which requires planning. Therefore, reach out to your network of friends/helpers and local resources to assist you. There are people who are equipped with the tools to help you develop an exit plan and thereby give you a sense of control.

Be cautious using your phone and personal computer.

Photo by Jill Wellington

You Are Valued

In Isaiah 49 (ESV), Israel had accused God of not caring about them. God spoke these words to His people. He revealed that His love was greater than a mother’s love for her child.

They apply to us today through the new covenant, made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.

Furthermore, God knew and loved us before we were formed in the womb! Don’t let anyone take that knowledge from you…or if they have, be assured that you have been lied to. Psalm 139 (ESV):

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

God believed we that we are such a treasure that He gave His only Son to die for us. Decide today that no one is going to convince you otherwise.

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

National Dating Abuse Abuse Hotline: 866-331-9474; 866-331-8453 or text: loveis to 22522

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