Signs Of Verbal Abuse -
Facts, Myths And
What You Can Do

The signs of verbal abuse are many and varied and can be difficult to spot, especially if you are on the receiving end of them. But first, let's set the scene. Verbal abuse is difficult to define and it can be anything from 'harsh and insulting language used to cause upset to the person being spoken to', up to 'language and behavior which is designed to undermine the listener's self-concept and bring them under the influence and control of the speaker.'

The first definition is quite broad and covers many situations including such things as a one off event where someone shouts insults at another in the street for having thrown litter on the ground. In fact, by this definition anyone may exhibit verbally abusive behavior if they are say, in a high stress situation or in physical pain.

The second definition is somewhat more specific and suggests that there are repeated episodes over time of a wide range of language patterns and behaviors that profoundly affect the listener in such a way that they are changed at a deep level so that they become submissive to the speaker. It also suggests some sort of intention on the part of the speaker to dominate others. This article will look at this latter setup.


The signs of verbal abuse in a marriage

The following are a list, in no particular order, of the signs of verbal abuse in a marriage but you can just as easily use it for any relationship in a social setting, at work or at school.

  • Are you called names that make you feel bad?
  • Does you partner swear at you?
  • Do they say things that make you feel bad on a regular basis?
  • Do you hear the same insults over and over again, even if it's the same idea but different words?
  • Does your partner shout and yell frequently?
  • Do they have a nasty temper?
  • Do they 'lose it' for seemingly small or unreasonable things?
  • Do they make derogatory comments about your work, your hobbies or your accomplishments?
  • Do they criticize your friends and family in such a way that you begin to spend less time with them?
  • Do you have arguments about the same issues over and over again?
  • Do they seem not to understand your point of view?
  • Do you ever get confused in discussions with them and find yourself agreeing with them or giving in to whatever they want in the end?
  • Do they criticize your body, your hair or your looks?
  • Do they make you feel that if only you could change or were different in some way that the relationship would be much better?
  • Do they mock or shame you, in private and/or in public in a way that makes you feel inferior?
  • Do they make themselves out to be better, smarter or more deserving than you or anyone else?
  • Do they belittle your ideas or beliefs?
  • Do they criticize you but you are not allowed to criticize them?
  • Is there one set of rules for them and another set for you? Are all the rules set out by your partner?
  • Does your partner 'forget' things they have done but have excellent recall about what you have said and done?
  • If you get upset by their remarks, do they have a second go at you for being too serious, too sensitive or not being able to take a joke?
  • Whenever they see you are happy do they say things to take the wind out of your sails?
  • Do they know exactly how to press your buttons? And they can do it in such a cold and cruel way?
  • Can they make you feel really happy sometimes? Have you noticed that the nice times are getting less and less frequent?
  • Even when they are criticizing something you did or said, do you feel like they are actually attacking you, who you are?
  • Does your partner provoke you and then criticize you for responding?
  • Does he or she say say horrible things and then say that you misunderstand them?
  • Can your partner manage to twist and distort any complaint that you may have to make themselves out to be the victim?
  • Are you told what to do and what you want instead of being asked?
  • Are you told by your partner that they know (better than you!) what you are thinking and feeling?
  • Are you given the cold treatment as punishment, even though you are not allowed to do that?
  • When they do give you the cold shoulder, is it really bad, as if they are not even thinking of you at all?
  • Does your partner seem to take pleasure in watching you suffering?
  • Are you frequently reminded of 'bad' things you did, but your partner has decided what constitutes 'bad'?
  • Are you rarely given credit for anything?
  • Have you realized that you are often put in damned if you do and damned if you don't situations?
  • Does your partner seem to enjoy arguing?
  • Does your partner tell you that they do things 'for your own good'?
  • Is your partner secretive about things but you have to reveal all, where you were, what you did, who you met, what your thoughts are, what you feel, etc?
  • Are you blamed for everything that goes wrong, even things that you consider are not your fault or things that are beyond your control?
  • Are you rarely if ever asked how you are?
  • Does your partner seem to not care about, or outright dismiss, your feelings?
  • Does your partner lie to you? A lot?
  • Do they try to convince you that things happened when you know they did not? Or convince you that things did not happen when you know that they did?
  • Do you sometimes or oftentimes doubt yourself?
  • Are there threats of punishment if you don't do what they want?
  • Do they threaten to leave the relationship?
  • Do they threaten to leave and take the children away from you?
  • Are you told that their bad behavior is only a response to what you did?
  • When they behave badly do the minimize it or even claim it was nothing?
  • Do they make decisions without consulting you but you need their permission to make any decisions?
  • Are you punished for breaking the rules even when you didn't even know there was a rule?
  • Does your partner get jealous and/or have tantrums if you spend time with, or even talk to others, and you think there is no need for it?
  • Do you have to account for the money you spend?
  • Do the children suffer the same things you do? Or are they ignored?
  • Do you watch your husband be this wonderful, marvelous person in public, complimenting others and making them feel good (about him!) but turn into an abusive tyrant behind closed doors?
  • Is the lion's share of the child rearing left to you?
  • Does your partner ask for lots of little things, which keeps you very busy?
  • Do they have a tone of voice or a 'look' that let's you know that you are in trouble and that you better just do as they want?
  • Do they tell you that you are a disappointment?
  • If you get angry does your partner get ten times as angry which means it's better for you to just stop and give in?
  • Does your partner not even have to tell you sometimes what they want, you 'just know'?

If you recognize many of these signs of verbal abuse in your relationship then the chances are that you are suffering from the effects of this abuse as well. As strange as it may seem, one of the effects of this type of abuse is that the victim often cannot recognize the abuse. One of the reasons for this is that often the abuser has redefined what a behavior means. For example, when an abuser comes to pick his girlfriend up after she has been on a night out with the girls, she may not realize that this is very controlling behavior because the abuser has convinced her that he loves her and is worried about her safety. In her head, therefore, his collecting her is simply a way of taking care of her and there is no harm in it. Initially she may be literally unable to see it as a controlling, abusive act on his part.

Learn more about living with a controlling person.

If you are not sure about the above list, it would be a good idea to go through it with a trusted friend (not the person you suspect to be an abuser!) because very often it's easier for people outside the relationship to see the abusive nature of what is going on than it is for the victim to recognize the signs of verbal abuse. This is not a criticism of the victim at all, it's simply a result of the distortion in the thinking that happens to anyone who is subjected to psychological abuse.

So let's have a closer look at the effects of verbal abuse.


Effects of verbal abuse

First of all, an environment with lots of the signs of verbal abuse is a high stress environment. The victim in constantly under stress, even when the abuser is not present. The victim is always on the lookout to make sure that they do not do or say anything to upset the abuser. This hypervigilance means that the victim is constantly on edge, 'walking on eggshells', with their every moment organized around the abuser and making sure his or her life is comfortable.

The recipient of all this verbal abuse is usually on a roller-coaster of emotions. In the initial part of the relationship, the victim can be elated, in love, thrilled, even euphoric. But then when the bad behavior kicks in, there are terrible lows as well. As the relationship progresses, the highs of the roller coaster get less frequent and less 'high' and the lows get more frequent and even deeper. When the victim is feeling low, they typically wish and hope for more good times as were had previously. Because the victim is often led to believe that the lows are the victim's responsibility, the victim often tries harder and harder to please the abuser in order to put them in a good mood so that things can be nice between them again. But no matter how hard the victim tries, it never seems to be enough to satisfy the abuser, because they manage to find fault with whatever is going on.

These emotional ups and downs are deliberately caused by the abuser. The result is that the victim is kept off balance and unable to think well. When the emotions are running strong, it's very difficult to think logically and rationally. That's why the abusers make people feel so good at the start of a relationship (as well as to hide their true nature, of course). If someone is ecstatic and head over heels in love, they have no sense of problems or difficulties and will even ignore warnings from family and friends about the new partner.

As humans we tend to move away from pain and towards pleasure. I know there are exceptions, there are people who get pleasure from pain. However, in such situations there is often a code for the submissive person to use to let the dominant person know that they have had enough and use of the code brings things to a stop. In situations where there are lots of signs of verbal abuse as we are talking about here, there are no such safety measures and no way for the victim to stop the torrent of abuse.

In these situations the victim often adopts an emotional reasoning method of making decisions. This means that they make choices and judgments based on how they feel. If it feels bad, they don't do it, and if it feels good, or there is a potential for it to feel good, they are motivated to do it. In this way the abuser uses a reward and punishment system to control the actions of their victim. What happens is something like this: the victim thinks about doing a particular thing. But they are reminded of the last 4 or 5 times when they did it because the abuser went crazy and it was very unpleasant. The victim then decides not to do it in order not to upset the abuser. Instead the victim chooses to do something that is neutral or something that will be pleasing to the abuser, hoping that life will be more pleasant.

There are some important things about this setup. The abuser may never actually say, "Don't do this behavior." However, the victim figures out that doing this behavior brings the wrath of the abuser down on them so they avoid it. These kinds of implicit rules, that is, unspoken rules, can be very powerful and manipulative, because the abuser can always say, "I never told you not to do that," and this aspect is true. They never uttered those particular words. However, their actions give a much more powerful and long lasting message.

The second aspect of this system is that the victim thinks that they are making their own decisions. The victim believes that it is his or her choice to do the particular thing or not. However, when you look at the bigger picture, it's obvious that the decision is very heavily influenced by the abuser. In other words, the abuser is actually training the victim how to make decisions and how to behave in respect to them.

Not only is the abuser manipulating the emotions of the victim, but they are also directly affecting the thinking and beliefs, too. All that ridiculing of the ideas, the scoffing at the opinions of the victim, the arguments about the same things over and over again, the criticism when the victim expresses a desire or want, not allowing the victim to criticize, all these things are designed to change and distort the thinking of the victim. The abuser may also be redefining words or not allowing the victim to use certain words. These tactics also limit the thinking of the victim.

Signs your mom is controlling

On top of all this, the manipulator is often exerting control over the behavior of the victim. The abuser is typically pressuring the victim to act in certain ways. They may be influencing the victim's clothing, hair style, diet, how they spend their money, how they spend their free time (if there is any!) and even how much sleep the victim is allowed. This last thing is very significant. When a person is tired, it is almost impossible to resist mentally which makes the victim much more vulnerable to being controlled and manipulated. It is actually quite common for abusers to limit the time available to victims for sleep and they have a whole variety of excuses for doing this.

So we see that the abuser is controlling the emotions, the thinking, the decision making and the behavior of the victim. This adds up to a lot of changes and, in effect, the abuser is changing the personality of the victim. Family and friends of the victim often comment that they do not recognize the victim anymore, that they have changed considerably. Many articles about verbal abuse talk about the victim losing themselves in the relationship, no longer recognizing themselves or having identity issues.

This is what they are referring to. The victim has basically had a false personality forced upon them. This pseudopersonality has been installed in the victim by the abuser so that the victim is the kind of person that the abuser wants to have around. The pseudopersonality is programmed to believe what the abuser says, it is programmed to put the needs and wants of the abuser first and to even ignore it's own wants and needs. The pseudopersonality is programmed to be very dependent on the abuser, needing to ask permission, needing to check everything with the abuser and in many cases, the personality is so blended with the personality of the abuser that the victim needs the abuser to know who they are.

All these things are in one sense symptoms of verbal abuse, or what the victim experiences while they are in an abusive environment. However, if you are outside the relationship looking in, for example, if you have a family member or friend you think may be in an abusive relationship, these things may be the only signs of verbal abuse that you can see because you don't witness what is going on behind closed doors. My point here is that if you see these signs of verbal abuse, don't ignore them! Thinking that your friend or family member will leave when they are ready is a mistake. The victim is unable to make the decision to leave. If they could do it, they would have done so a long time ago. Nobody wants to be abused. The victims have tremendous difficulty leaving an abusive situation and very often they need help to do so, so speak up... to the victim, and not to the abuser.


Signs of verbal abuse - the pseudopersonality

It's not normal that someone's personality should change in a relationship, especially when it is done without their knowledge or consent. Of course, in normal healthy relationships a person may change some of their behaviors or come to believe some of the same things as their partner, but this is done willingly, either to compromise or because it benefits both. This is not the same as a situation where there is verbal abuse.

The idea of the pseudopersonality is very helpful in explaining and understanding what happens to the victim. The abuser basically unfreezes the victim's personality, makes changes and then freezes these changes in place as the pseudopersonality. This false personality represses and dominates the real personality so the person basically has two competing personalities. This is not the same as multiple personality disorder.

These two personalities explain the inner conflicts that victim's often describe in situations of verbal abuse. One part of them wants one thing, another part is unable to do it they are unable to resolve the conflict. For example, the person may want to get out of the relationship because they feel bad (the real personality), but the thought of leaving fills them with dread and fear (the pseudopersonality). The fear and anxiety they experience at the idea of not being with the abuser can be so strong that the person may end up staying in the relationship for years.

Or something lets the person know that there is something seriously wrong with their partner (real personality) and that things are not right, but the victim is unable to recognize the contradictions between what the partner says and what they do (pseudopersonality). The pseudopersonality is so programmed to believe that the partner loves them and is taking care of them that they cannot recognize the partner's behavior as abusive. This may seem unbelievable to someone who has not experienced verbal abuse or mind control, but this is what happens. It is also what happens to people in cults. Their thinking has been so twisted and distorted that the world in which they live has little to do with reality and everything to do with the world the leader has created for them. The cult leader and the verbal abuser are using the same mind control techniques to control and dominate those around them.

The pseudopersonality is also programmed to believe that it is responsible for anything that goes wrong. Being told a thousand times that this is so will have that effect! Nor is the victim allowed to take credit for anything that goes well. This is very destructive for the victim and this combination destroys a person's self esteem. In normal situations we praise ourselves for successes and point to outside reasons for our failures. This allows us feel good about ourselves even after failing at something and have another go at it later. In verbally abusive situation, this protective mechanism is not allowed and the victim is blamed for anything bad, including the abuser's faults and difficulties, hence the low self-esteem.

The pseudopersonality is also programmed to defend the abuser to outsiders.

Signs of a controlling friend and what you need to know


The abusers

Many abusers have a personality disorder such as antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. This means they may be psychopaths, sociopaths or narcissists. If you didn't already know this, it can be a shock!

It's worth learning something about this because it's very important. The key here is that these people have no conscience and a huge ego. They are not necessarily serial killers. They don’t have emotions, or they have very shallow emotions. There is no guilt, shame, remorse, embarrassment, fear, love or any consideration for others at all. They don't feel bad for anything they do. That means they can do anything and not be upset about it. They lie, cheat, abuse, hurt and destroy other people's lives and they don’t care. Their motivation is dominating and controlling others.

There are some important things to keep in mind if you are, in fact, in a relationship with a psychopath or a narcissist.

It can be very difficult to recognize that your partner is a psychopath or a narcissist, for all the same reasons outlined above about verbal abuse being hidden from the victim. Add to this the idea that most people don't know that there are people with no emotions, plus it may seem to you that your partner does indeed have emotions, and you have a situation that takes some time to come to terms with.

Psychopaths don't change. The only change you will notice is an improvement in their ability to manipulate you.

They are professional liars. You cannot trust a word out of their mouths.

A person in a relationship with a psychopath loses. Even if you think there is a benefit, this benefit does not outweigh the damage they are doing to you.

You are better off out of the relationship but leaving is not easy because of the dependency that they create in you. (You are NOT codependent!)

Leaving is not enough. You have to undo the pseudopersonality as well, because as long as you have the pseudopersonality you are an easy target for the next psychopath that you meet. The patterns of behavior of the pseudopersonality are instantly obvious to a manipulator. In fact, you may as well have it tattooed on your forehead that you were in a traumatic situation before.

Learn more about psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists as well as the signs of a toxic person.


The signs of verbal abuse - some myths

In articles about the signs of verbal abuse there are several myths or errors in thinking that I would like to mention.

The first one is that people who respect and honor themselves would not allow anyone to abuse them. Remember the idea that the manipulator masks who they really are at the start of a relationship to trick the victim into getting involved? This means anyone is vulnerable to being caught by a psychopath or a narcissist. It has nothing to do with whether you respect yourself or not. I don't believe anyone actually allows another to abuse them. When the abuse starts as described above, there is no stopping it, no matter how much respect you have for yourself.

The same thing applies to the idea that only naïve and gullible people or those with low self-esteem get caught. This is nonsense and it is simply blaming the victim. Again, anyone is vulnerable and the responsibility lies with the abuser, the person who is actually hiding and deceiving the victim, not the victim, who doesn't actually know what's going on.

'The person is making their own decisions and they will leave the abusive situation when they are ready, or they must like it if they are staying.' This idea indicates a complete lack of understanding of mind control and psychopathy. Anyone who believes this does not understand the amount of control the manipulator has nor the strength of dependency created in the victim by the abuser.

'In order to recover you have to be prepared to change and forgive yourself and the abuser.' The problem in verbal abuse situations is that the abuser changes the victim in very profound ways. Thinking that the victim has to adapt to these things is not useful. The trick as we have seen above is for the victim to stop changing according to the desires of the abuser and to actually undo the changes so that they can revert to having their own personality dominant. As regards to forgiving yourself, why would the victim have to forgive themselves when they have done nothing wrong? And forgiving the abuser is absolutely not a requirement for recovery. Some things are unforgivable and the damage psychopaths and narcissists do to their victims may be considered to be one of these things.

It is often said that the abusers have difficulty expressing their emotions or that their emotions show up as anger only, for example if they are nervous they get angry or if they are afraid they get angry. Or that the bullying or abusive behavior hides a deep seated sense of inferiority, shame or other such issue. While these things may be true in some cases, it is probably a very small percentage of cases. These explanations are common among victims of verbal abuse in order to explain and understand what is happening to them. (As humans we like to have reasons and justifications for why things happen.) However, when victims come up with these ideas to explain their situation, they are not considering psychopathy or personality disorders because they simply don't know about them.

It seems that people who write these things are not considering psychopathy either. Studies have shown a high percentage of abusers have personality disorders. By definition, these people have a "lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another" or "Incapacity for mutually intimate relationships, as exploitation is a primary means of relating to others, including by deceit and coercion ; use of dominance or intimidation to control others" as well as other issues! Needless to say, this changes the situation completely. Dealing with a psychopath is not the same as dealing with someone who has trouble showing their emotions. Not taking this into consideration as a possibility when you see the signs of verbal abuse is just asking for trouble.

It is also a myth that people who were abused in the past go looking for another abuser. This is also another way of blaming the victim. Nobody goes looking for an abusive relationship, especially someone who has already been abused. In fact, they actively seek out healthy relationships because they are consciously trying to avoid more abuse. The difficulty is that an abused person has a pseudopersonality, this pseudopersonality is recognized by the psychopaths and narcissists, as I have outlined above, and the abusers then deliberately target the person with a pseudopersonality because they are more vulnerable than others. The predators hunt down their prey. The abused person does not 'attract' abusers. This may seem like a very fine distinction but it's very significant in terms of being able to recover from psychological abuse. Of course, the ideal thing for an abused person is to undo the pseudopersonality and the damage done to them. During this process they also learn how to spot abusers very quickly so as not to get caught again.


I see the signs of verbal abuse, what do I do?

When people are in abusive situations and realize that there is something wrong, a common reaction is to hit the internet looking for information to make sense of what is going on. It dawns on them that they are in an abusive relationship. They start investigating that idea and begin to see the signs of verbal abuse. It can take some time to accept this, for the reasons I pointed out. Then it sinks in and the victim starts thinking about what to do about it all. Unfortunately there is a lot of misleading ideas and suggestions.

'Tell your abuser that what they are doing is upsetting you and they have to stop it. Set boundaries and don't let the abuser cross these.'

If you are reading this article you are unlikely to be in a relationship where your partner said some hurtful things, you discussed it with them and they made an effort to change, and after some trial and error you sorted it out between you.

It's much more likely that you have been in an abusive situation for a period of time and you have probably spent months if not years telling your abuser that you don't like what they are doing. But they keep doing it anyway. The abuser has probably broken you down so much that you have realized that it's a waste of time speaking up, and besides, talking back brings more abuse your way. And you also realize that your abuser is much better at destroying your barriers and pushing you beyond your limits than you are at putting them in place.

Many of these articles giving such advice will also reference the idea that most abusers are psychopaths or narcissists. Negotiating with them is therefore a waste of time. Telling them exactly what upsets you is just giving them the kind of information that they will use directly against you at the first opportunity and the fact is, no matter what you do, they are not going to change, irrespective of how much they promise you...

If you recognize the signs of verbal abuse in your relationship the best thing you can do is get out. And as soon as possible.

But, I hear you ask, what if my partner is actually one of those who does have difficulty expressing emotions and may be able to change? Well even then, the break will do you good. You get a chance to settle down, free of abuse, reflect on your situation and decide what you are going to do about it.

While we are on this subject of the abuser, it's not actually necessary to have the abuser diagnosed as a psychopath in order to recover fully. If it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck and it acts like a duck then you don't need to test it's DNA to treat it as a duck. If the abuser talks like a psychopath, if he or she acts like a psychopath and if he or she uses manipulation techniques like a psychopath, then you can safely treat him or her as a psychopath. In fact, the safest thing you can do for yourself is to treat them as a psychopath!

"But there are children and I want to stay for their sake," is another reason often quoted for not leaving. If one partner in a relationship is suffering abuse, especially if the abuser is a psychopath, then the children will be suffering abuse as well and the best thing is to get out anyway. At the very least the children will have time away from the abuser when they are with the victim. In the best case, while the adult is recovering from the verbal abuse and undoing their pseudopersonality, they can teach the children about mind control to undo their pseudopersonalities as well. In this way the kids don't grow up being easy targets for psychopaths and narcissists later in life.

Leaving the relationship means that you are no longer subjected to 24 hour abuse from the manipulator. In many cases the abuser does try and continue to control and dominate and the abuse continues by email, phone and social media. However, it's much easier to block off these routes than it is to block out face to face conversations. The more contact the abuser has with you the easier it is for them to reinforce your pseudopersonality. Moving away is usually best although it obviously has it's own complications.

Being away from the manipulator also allows you to rest. It gives you time to breathe. It gives you time to reflect. It gives you time to learn, because there is a lot to learn...


Undoing the pseudopersonality

Undoing the pseudopersonality and the damage done by the abuser means learning about influence, manipulation, psychopaths and narcissists. It is a process of education where you learn about the techniques that were used against you and how these techniques affected your emotions, your thinking, your decision making and your behaviors. Being able to see the mind control techniques in various contexts and recognizing them in your own situation is very important.

Getting over an abusive relationship - important things to consider

Lots of your beliefs have to be unwound and replaced with beliefs that better serve you. Many behavior patterns that were imposed upon you have to be undone. Many people have to relearn that it's ok to make mistakes, how to make their own decisions once again and how to put themselves first, how to take care of their own physical and mental well being.

And as the pseudopersonality disappears the individual's own personality, their own identity, is once again allowed to develop and grow because the individual's development has been basically put on hold while they were in the verbally abusive situation. This is no small job and it takes about 12 to 18 months to do all this under the guidance of a specialist in this area. It takes much longer for people who decide to go it alone and for all intents and purposes, it is not possible to completely undo a pseudopersonality alone. Because of the nature of mind control, victims are often unable to question the things that they need to question.

From first seeing the signs of verbal abuse to fully recovering is not always an easy process. Realizing the extent to which another person was controlling you is not a pleasant thing, especially when you loved and trusted this person. Getting rid of the pseudopersonality and taking control of your own life again, however, is always worth the effort. Always.

The help of an expert in going through a recovery is invaluable. It will save you time, effort, money and heartache.


More information

You can read more here about how to recognize a psychopath, how to detect a sociopath, dealing with a sociopath, divorcing a narcissist and more about healing from emotional abuse as well as verbal abuse in the workplace.

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If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.

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