Many overlook the severity and impact of verbal abuse because it doesn’t leave physical marks. But the truth is that psychological and emotional abuse is just as severe and dangerous as verbal abuse.
If you are in a verbally abusive situation, you need to either wait for the abuser to change their ways or learn to handle it until you can walk away. Still, that’s much easier said than done. Here’s how experts reveal five ways to deal with verbal abuse.
1. Learn To Detect Verbal Abuse
Many victims of abuse find themselves second-guessing the occurrence of abuse. They may feel unsure if something they’re experiencing truly is abuse or if they’re sensitive. That’s why learning to detect critical features of verbal abuse is so important. Here are some kinds of verbal abuse to look out for:
There is little excuse for calling someone else names or insulting them with derogatory terms to their face. Name-calling may include using insults, swear words, or even slurs to put you down.
· Sudden Outbursts of Anger
These outbursts are often extreme, involving yelling, shouting, and threatening body language. Although they don’t escalate to physical violence, they can still be very frightening, and verbal violence is a serious issue, too.
· Invalidating Separateness
In a relationship, you retain your identity, including your emotions, beliefs, thoughts, and opinions, says Patricia Evans, a consultant, speaker, author, and expert on verbal abuse. A verbal abuser may respond negatively to these forms of your separateness, failing to see their positive sides instead of taking them as an irritant or an attack on them.
A verbal abuser may try to make you question your perception of the world by warping reality to fit their narrative. They may be unpredictable or present situations to you in such a way that suggests you are crazy, overly sensitive, or misremembering real-life events. This can cause you a lot of confusion and psychological pain, says Evans.
Many forms of verbal abuse aren’t easily categorizable. If you find yourself questioning if someone is verbally abusive, you might be in trouble. Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research Director and Professor Berit Brogaard, D.M.Sci., Ph.D., suggests carefully examining your relationship if you aren’t sure if you’re experiencing verbal abuse. Types of verbal abuse, you should also look out for that are commonly overlooked, according to studies, are:
- Arguing or countering anything and everything
- Blame games and accusations
- Criticism in excess or that crosses into judgment.
- Diverging or blocking topics of discussion
- Insults, especially ones you’ve already expressed disliking
- Issuing commands or orders to stay in control
- Issuing threats on themselves, you, or your loved ones
- Outbursts of anger or aggression
- Refusing to admit to any abusive or angry behavior
- Trivializing, invalidating, or minimizing you and your experiences
- Undermining your speech
- Withholding communication or vulnerability, especially as “punishment.”
2. Stand Your Ground
Verbal abuse can be a deliberate act of malice. It can also be something done accidentally, focusing on using it as a defense mechanism without any awareness of the damage it does to you.
As such, what you want to do now is make the person in question aware that their actions are verbally abusive. However, it is essential to be realistic about holding such a conversation. Consider:
- It is sporadic for verbal abuse to come from a place of complete and utter ignorance that can be solved in a single conversation.
- Patterns of verbal abuse that recur over time are widespread, and they are not ones that you can break quickly.
- After the first conversation, you will have to point out instances of repeated verbal abuse to the person until they can detect it themselves.
If you and the other person plan to work through their tendencies towards verbal abuse, you will have to learn to stand your ground to deal with it, says Brogaard. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are the target of this person’s verbal abuse:
· Be Clear, Concise, And Firm
Simply telling the person in question to stop what they are doing with a stern voice is more than enough. If you can detect the exact kind of verbal abuse, you can be more specific; for example, you can say, “Stop insulting me!” or “Stop undermining me!”
· Never Engage With Abusive Content
When something is being said to you in the form of verbal abuse, do not listen to it or engage with it.
· Do Not Reason With The Abuser
A verbal abuser cannot be reasoned with, ever. Do not waste your time attempting to explain to them what is wrong with what they are saying or why it is wrong – at least, not yet.
· Know When To Walk Away
If nothing you’re doing is working, turn and leave the room. Let the person stew in their emotions until they have calmed down enough to see rationally. Remember, you are under no obligation to come back and/or forgive them.
3. Be Calm and Know How To De-Escalate
De-escalation is a handy and valuable skill to learn, whether you’re learning it for a job in customer service or to better handle conflict in your everyday life in a more positive way. When you’re face-to-face with an abuser, it becomes even more crucial. Here are some tips for staying calm and de-escalating a situation according to Licensed Professional Counselor Trudi Griffin, LPC, MS:
· Understand The Risks of Violence
Just because a verbal abuser has never escalated to physical abuse doesn’t mean that they can’t and won’t. It’s highly recommended that you learn to recognize warning signs that physical escalation may occur. Agitation is the main factor you should keep an eye out for fast speech. A raised voice or vocal tone, aggressive shaking or pacing, erratic gestures, cursing, or intense verbal abuse are all warning signs that mean you need to start de-escalating for your safety.
· Use Positive Body Language
It’s natural to become tense when on the receiving end of abuse. Begin by breathing deeply to relax your posture and maintain a neutral expression slightly. Maintain non-threatening eye-contact and keep a reasonable distance between you. Then, move slowly, relax your muscles, stand at an angle to them, and do not approach them suddenly in any way. The goal is to avoid sending threatening nonverbal cues to the person in question.
· Speak Calmly
Maintain a reasonable volume and neutral tone when speaking to this person. It’s a good idea to speak slowly and continue a gentle volume even when the other person is shouting. Speak when the person stops to breathe. If you notice your voice speeding up or getting louder, stop, and let yourself breathe. However, do note that you should still speak firmly, so project your voice from your diaphragm when you talk.
· Respond To Positive Communication
If the abuser slips healthy questions or statements into their rants or raves, latch onto them and respond to them. Maintaining the calmness, engage with the more beneficial talking points that this person brings up. This shows them that you are willing to work out problems with them if they treat you with the respect you deserve.
4. Separate Yourself
If things don’t get better, it’s time to leave your abuser. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, especially not immediately. Here are some tips for separating yourself, whether or not you can do so long-term at the moment from Brogaard and Griffin:
· Set Boundaries
As mentioned previously, you need to be able to firmly demand a stop to verbal abuse and refuse to engage in arguments that center around this abuse. Be clear about what you will and won’t tolerate and what will happen if your boundaries are crossed. Make sure the consequences you cite are ones you can follow through on if you need to. Remembering, setting boundaries is important even in positive relationships, so they’re even more crucial in negative ones.
· Reduce Time Spent With Them
If you have to be in close quarters with them, find ways to reduce the time you do spend with them. Walk your dog for an extra amount of time, join classes or clubs that take you away from home, visit friends, busy yourself with errands, or even work overtime.
· Set Plans In Motion
You need to be independent of your abuser in order to escape them. If possible, start planning to get what you need to lose that dependency. Search all avenues, talk to people you can trust about favors, and begin working behind the scenes with the goal of leaving.
· When It’s Time, Cut Them Off Clearly
It can take a lot of courage and positive thinking to follow through on a decision to cut an abuser off, especially if things are complicated by living situations or dependency. But when it’s time to leave, you have to. Burn the bridge, and don’t look back.
5. Make Sure Others Know About The Abuse
The biggest mistake you can make in dealing with verbal abuse is keeping it to yourself. Verbal abuse is difficult for outsiders to detect and typically only happens in private settings, so making others aware of your situation is essential, says Brogaard.
You might feel anxious or lack positive thinking, prompting you to keep the problem to yourself. You might wonder if anyone will believe you. But you have to tell someone, or you risk putting yourself in more danger. According to Griffin, you can:
· Tell Trusted Friends, Family, or Loved Ones
The people in your life may be able to offer you support or a way out of an abusive situation. People who matter and are worth your energy will believe you and want to help.
· Call A Hotline
Your country is likely to have relevant hotlines that can provide guidance and aid for you if you are a victim of verbal abuse. Look up the ones where you live and give them a call if you’re in need of help.
· See A Therapist
Speaking to a mental health professional about what you experience can help you to stay healthy and understand your emotions in this difficult time. Don’t be afraid to avail of counseling, even when you’re still in the abusive environment if it allows.
You should never have to put up with verbal abuse. If you are a victim of verbal abuse that doesn’t look like it will end, it’s time to leave. Stay strong, and remember that you deserve better treatment than this.