Verbal abuse doesn’t just tend to happen out of nowhere in a relationship. It’s a lot more calculating and insidious, causing people on the receiving end to question themselves, wondering if they are overreacting, or even to blame. Verbal abuse comes in all sorts of different forms, following a pattern that isn’t always easy to discern when you are in the thick of things. People often don’t even realize that what they are going through is considered abuse, and verbal abuse is mentally just as damaging as any other form of abuse.
Verbal abuse usually happens in private where no one else can witness it, and becomes a regular form of communication within a relationship, which then normalizes it. Survivors tend to feel isolated and often question what they need to change in order to “do better”, as this form of abuse chips away at one’s self-esteem. Verbal abuse can include being subjected to name-calling on a regular basis, constantly feeling demeaned or belittled, and also being subjected to the silent treatment by a partner.
Here are the 11 most common verbal abuse patterns to look out for in a relationship.
· Anger and/or name-calling: this type of verbal abuse is probably the easiest one to recognize. Forms of abuse include being called names and/or being shouted at on a regular basis, arguments that always resort in yelling, and the use of verbally violent phrases in a conversation. In a healthy relationship partners will step away during an argument, or try to talk through the issue. In a verbally abusive relationship, the abuser will yell until they get what they want.
Example: “You idiot, now you have made me angry!”
· Condescension: sarcasm, even light sarcasm, and a sarcastic tone of voice should not be a constant part of interactions with a partner. While we all use sarcasm now and again, if someone uses it as a regular form of communication with their partner it is most likely abusive behavior. It can start off as slightly funny, which is why it often goes undetected, but over time becomes belittling and abusive. This also includes being the constant butt of your partner’s jokes and mockery.
Example: “no wonder you are always moaning about your weight, look how clean your plate is!”
· Manipulation: sometimes it can be easy to spot a controlling personality, especially when someone continuously pushes their partner to do and say things they are not always comfortable with, but not all forms of manipulation are that easy to detect. Manipulation can be subtle, turning situations around, and putting the blame on the abused partner.
Example: “If you really loved me you wouldn’t say or do that”.
· Criticism: it’s OK to provide constructive criticism when requested on occasion; being honest with your partner is healthy. However, constant criticism and belittling of a significant other is NOT healthy, and over time can lead to a significant loss of self-worth.
Example: “Why are you so disorganized? I can always count on you to ruin our nights out!”
· Demeaning comments/bigotry: if a partner puts you down using demeaning comments that refer to your race/ethnic background, gender, religion, background in general, it is abusive. This doesn’t even need to be consistent, if it happens once, it is no doubt going to happen again, and should not be normalized. A partner who loves and respects you will not use something that is an inherent part of you to put you down.
Examples: “I’m not surprised, you are Asian, you all do that” or “you women, always crying stupid tears over nothing”.
· Threats: while this may seem like an easy one to recognize, it isn’t always the case. Threats can be dressed up in a way that makes them appear as if they “aren’t so bad”, or in a way that makes you question if you really heard right. But a threat is a threat and a loving partner does not resort to them to get their way.
Examples:”I will hurt myself if you leave me tonight” or “If you don’t do that you might find that your cat spends the night outdoors!”
· Blame: this is one of the most common forms of verbal abuse, consistently putting the blame for everything on the partner and never taking responsibility for anything. This can go from blaming a partner for something they had nothing to do with, to blaming the partner for the abuser’s emotions.
Examples: “you are the reason why we are never on time for anything!” or “look what you made me do now!”
· Accusations: often stemming from severe jealousy, repeated accusations are a form of verbal abuse. Being constantly accused of something often leads a partner to start questioning themselves on whether they are doing something wrong/dressing inappropriately/talking too much, etc.
Examples: “I bet you are cheating on me!” or “I saw you had fun flirting with your boss again, while I was stuck chatting to your boring coworkers”.
· Withholding: sometimes a partner may walk away from an argument, preferring to let the dust settle so as to engage in a more constructive conversation without flaring emotions. This can be a sign of a healthy relationship. The silent treatment, often called withholding, is not. If your partner regularly walks away from a conversation, refuses to answer your calls when they don’t get what they want, or downright ignores you over nothing, and this has become normal for you, then this is abusive.
Example: you are discussing restaurant options and don’t want to go with your partner’s preference again. They leave the room and refuse to talk to you until you apologize for being “mean”.
· Gaslighting: discounting a partner’s feelings and emotions on a regular basis is an abusive pattern, making one wonder if their feelings are meaningless and/or wrong. This is very common form of verbal abuse, and often goes undetected, as it can be discreet and severely manipulative. The abused partner may feel alienated and isolated, and fearful of not being able to express their feelings correctly, resorting to apologizing for behavior that they never committed.
Examples: “why are you always so sensitive about everything?” or “not another one of your silly ideas!” or “stop listening to the idiocies you hear on the news!”.
· Circular arguments: if your partner constantly disagrees with you, and starts an argument whenever they see an opportunity, or if conversations and arguments seem to go round in circles, leaving you tired and drained, then these are signs of an unhealthy relationship. People in these types of situations tend to walk around their partners on eggshells in order to avoid going back to the same argument again and again. We do not need to always agree on everything in a relationship, but there should be a mutual acceptance of this, rather than an atmosphere of one-upping the other that you can never win.
If you feel like you are constantly on edge, walking on eggshells around your partner, and one or some of these patterns feel familiar to you, you may be in a verbally abusive relationship. Also, if your trusted friends and/or family are telling you that something is wrong, hear them out. They may be seeing, or hearing, something that you cannot.