People endure many types of abuse every day, but they don’t all occur within the confines of a romantic relationship. Verbal abuse is one of those sneaky types of maltreatment that isn’t always easy to detect. These words are used to manipulate, control, or hurt another person. It often accompanies other forms of abuse, such as physical or emotional.

Being abused verbally can come from prominent places like a spouse to the more not so obvious, like your boss. So many people pass off verbal abuse because it isn’t always so cut and dry. There are some evident examples, like a coworker shouting and calling you names, but some other forms, like gaslighting, aren’t always as easy to identify.

You must know that verbal abuse is about nothing more than taking control and gaining power over you. The abuser wants to keep you submissive, so they use these verbal tactics to manipulate you into doing what they want. If you don’t comply, they will turn up the heat to get you to be submissive.

Of course, you must distinguish between spouting things off in the heat of an argument from actual abuse. Many people say things they shouldn’t know when they’re mad. Though this behavior isn’t proper, it’s not the same as verbal abuse.

Actual verbal abuse happens in an unprovoked setting and can make someone change their behavior. Things said in the heat of the moment result from temper flares, though they too can be damaging.

Twelve Warning Signs of Verbal Abuse

Since verbal abuse isn’t always easy to identify, you should familiarize yourself with the red flags. Here are some easy ways to tell if you’re partner, friend, parent, coworker, or anyone else is verbally mistreating you.

verbal abuse

1. Backhanded Comments Are the Most Common Verbal Abuse

Verbally abusive people often use backhanded comments to destroy your self-esteem and make you feel less than you. Remember, this doesn’t happen during an argument, but this person is calm and acts like they’re trying to help you.

They may create a problem in trying to appear as offering constructive criticism, but often it’s an issue you didn’t know you had. You don’t need this person’s help as it’s not for your benefit.

2. Savior Complex

Many abusers use the “savior complex” to make them feel important. They want to appear necessary in your life, so they seem helpful and try to have all the answers. Their goal is to make you think that they can help, and you will start to believe them.

Be careful when taking advice from someone who seems to know everything, as their ill intentions will soon shine through. They only want you to see things through their eyes and push their agenda onto you.

3. Deflecting Guilt

Whether it’s abusive parents or a boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t matter, the blame game is something that people of all ages play. Someone who resorts to verbal mistreatment likes to deflect blame, so they always turn it around to make someone else responsible.

When a person cannot own what they’ve done and apologize, it shows narcissism and selfishness. They are never wrong, even when faced with hard evidence.

4. Threats

Making any threats toward someone is abusive. An abuser may threaten your safety, job, family, or anything they feel will influence you. They may threaten your relationship, demanding that they end things with you if you don’t do something particular.

Some narcissistic folks may go as far as to say they’re going to end their life if you don’t comply. It’s manipulation and abusive, and you don’t have to stand for it.

5. Isolation Is a Sneaky Form of Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can isolate you from your inner circle, and they know it’s easier to gain control. For instance, the abuser may start to object when you hang out with your family and friends because it takes you from the protective circle of manipulation they’ve built. They don’t want anyone to influence you or make you think that what they’re doing is wrong.

They want to isolate you from your discernment or the ability to see when you’re outside of their control. Even if you go out with friends or family members, they may call or text numerous times to ensure things are okay.

6. Screams, Rants, and Argues

Every couple has arguments, and they’re considered a part of a normal, healthy relationship. According to Robert W. Levenson, a psychology professor at Berkley University, you can argue with your partner healthily. He states that while couples will always have disagreements over some issues, they should never let it affect their health.

Arguments that include yelling, cursing, screaming, or name-calling cross the line. It’s very frightening to the other party, and it’s a tactic used to instill fear in them. They want to manipulate you by being louder and crasser in their speech, so their goal is for you to back down. However, abusive parents can also use these tactics to get their children into control, but it’s pretty counterproductive.

Take into consideration that there could be an anger issue under the surface too, and not every person is trying to manipulate you. You must decipher if it’s abuse or anger in these instances.

verbal abuse

7. Blatant Insults

Insults occur when you attack someone’s character or personal things about them. Perhaps, the abuser doesn’t like your makeup, hair, or the way you dress. They will use abrasive language that will cut you down in an instant. Be careful here because the verbally abusive person will use this to gain control.

8. Gaslighting Can Be Verbal Abuse

Gaslighting is another form of abuse that abusers employ to play mind games. It’s an attempt to make someone doubt themselves. Common phrases used by gaslighters are:

  • “You’re so dramatic.”
  • “You’re losing your mind.”
  • “That never happened.”
  • “I guess I’ll repeat myself since you can’t remember.”
  • “Why do you take everything I say so seriously.”
  • “You’re being irrational.”

A gaslighter is verbally abusive and wants to question you to the point where you doubt your sanity. When they use these phrases to make you submissive, they slowly gain control. If they make you think your mental health is at risk, you internalize it and don’t accuse them.

9. Allegations Are Verbally Abusive

Accusations are also abusive, especially when you haven’t done anything that warrants such suspicions. How often have you heard of a cheater accusing their spouse of cheating, as it helps ease their guilty conscience?

They need to create a rationale in their mind that allows them to cheat without feeling guilty. So, if they can put the blame over on you and try to catch you in something, then they don’t feel nearly as bad.

10. Passive-Aggressive Behaviors

You’ve probably heard the term passive-aggressive, but do you know it? According to Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin of The Mayo Clinic, these people do not want to deal with things bothering them, so they express them indirectly. Often, there’s a disconnect between two people, but the other person will use passive tactics to get their point across rather than addressing the situation.

Passive-aggressive tendencies are another way to manipulate you. They will insist that everything is fine even though their body language and speech show otherwise. They like to use things like the silent treatment to show they’re upset, but the manipulative undertone in this behavior makes it verbal abuse.

11. Gut Feeling Something is Off

You have an innate sense inside you that lets you know when something is off. It’s a feeling that you can’t shake that makes you unsettled. Often, someone is abusing you without realizing what’s going on, but your intuitive side is there to protect you. When something doesn’t feel right, always trust your gut.

12. Finding Fault with Everything

No matter what you do, it’s never good enough for your abusive partner. Even when you try your hardest, they still have something negative to say. This can be a common scenario when dealing with abusive parents or romantic relationships.

The abuser expects perfectionism, and there’s no way you can measure up. They’re destroying your self-esteem one insult at a time, and you need to get out before things escalate. Since verbal abuse often accompanies other forms, things only worsen.

verbal abuse

Final Thoughts on the Signs of Verbal Abuse

Many people don’t think they’re in a verbally abusive situation because the classic signs of name-calling and violent outbursts aren’t there. However, many types of verbal mistreatment can’t be ignored. It may be discreet in the initial phases, but it only escalates with time.

Remember that abusive relationships do nothing but cause pain, and they’re never worth it. When you have that intuition on the inside that’s telling you that something isn’t quite right, you need to trust in your feelings. These little feelings can save you from a lot of misery.