Recognizing Verbal Abuse

excerpts from: Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

Verbal abuse is a kind of battery which doesn’t leave evidence comparable to the bruises a physical battery. It can be just as painful, and recovery can take much longer. The victim of abuse lives in a gradually more confusing realm. In public she is with one man, in private he may become another. Often, for the verbally abused women, there is no other witness to her reality, and no one can understand her experience. Friends and family may see the abuser has a really nice guy and, certainly, he sees himself as one.

Here we briefly outline the various forms of verbal abuse.  And how to recognize patterns of verbal abuse.

Categories of verbal abuse

1. Withholding
2. Countering
3. Discounting
4. Verbal abuse disguised as jokes
5. Blocking and diverting
6. Accusing and blaming
7. Judging and criticizing
8. Trivializing
9. Undermining
10. Threatening
11. Name-calling
12. Forgetting
13. Ordering
14. Denial
15. Abusive anger


Simply put, withholding is a choice to keep virtually all one’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams to oneself and to remain silent and aloof toward one’s partner, to reveal as little as possible, and to maintain an attitude of cool indifference. The abuser who refuses to listen to his partner, denies her experience, and refuses to share himself with her is violating the primary agreements of a relationship.

Verbal abuser chooses to withhold will respond to requests for communication with:
“There’s nothing to talk about.” “What do you want me to say?” “What are you complaining about; I do talk to you.”
“You never let me talk.” “Why should I tell you if I don’t like it; you’ll do what you want anyway.” “You won’t be interested.”

These responses, of course, add to the partner’s confusion. The relationship is dysfunctional because there is no intimacy. Functional information is of course important but it cannot be the only form of communication if there is to be a real relationship.


The abuser sees his partner as an adversary. How dare she have a different view from his? If she sees things differently, he may feel he is losing control and dominance of her. Consequently, he may choose to argue against her thoughts, her perceptions, or her experience of life itself.

Countering is one of the most destructive to a relationship because it prevents all possibility of discussion, it consistently denies the victim’s reality and it prevents the partner from knowing what her mate thinks about anything. An abuser who constantly counters seems only to think the opposite of his partner. She cannot know what he really thinks about anything. Therefore she cannot not know him.


One way to understand discounting is to imagine an item in the store worth $100 discounted to $0.01. In this example, the item is discounted to the extent that is deemed valueless, worth nearly nothing. In reality, the verbal abuser discounts his partner’s experience and feelings as if they were worth nothing.

This is a list of common discounting statements: “You’re too sensitive.” “You’re jumping to conclusions.” “You can’t take a joke.” “You blow everything out of proportion.” “You’re making a big deal out of nothing.” ” You don’t know what you’re talking about.” ” You’re not happy unless you’re complaining.” “You take everything wrong.” “You’re looking for a fight.”
“You read things into my words.”

Verbal abuse disguised as jokes

This kind of abuse cuts to the quick, touches the most sensitive areas and leaves the abuser with a look of triumph. Disparaging comments disguised as jokes often refer to the feminine nature of the partner, her intellectual abilities or her competency.

Blocking and diverting

The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, or withholds information. Blocking may be by direct demand or by switching the topic. Blocking may also be accusatory; however, its primary purpose is to prevent discussion and communication, or withhold information.

Examples of blocking are: “You just trying to have the last word.” “You think you know it all!” “You heard me; I shouldn’t have to repeat myself!” “Will you get off my back!” “You always have to be right!” “Did anyone ask you?” “Who asked for your opinion?”

The following are examples of blocking by diversion, that is often the partner does not notice that the original topic is no longer the topic; she has been diverted. “I’ve explained it to you before and I’m not going to go through it again!” “Do I have to account for every penny!” “I’m sick of your complaints!” “It’s too complicated for you to understand!”

Accusing and blaming

A verbal abuser will the accuse his partner of some wrongdoing, or of some breach of the basic agreement of the relationship, blaming his partner for his anger,irritation, or insecurity. The verbal abuser accuses his partner of attacking him. In this way, he avoids all intimacy and all possibility of exploring his partner’s feelings.

Some accusing and blaming statements: “You are just trying to pick a fight.” “You’re attacking me.” “You can’t leave well enough alone.” “I’ve had it with your attacks and complaining.”

Judging and criticizing

The verbal abuser may judge his partner and then express his judgment in a critical way. If she objects, he may tell her that he is just pointing something out to be helpful, but in reality he may be expressing his lack of acceptance of her. Most verbal abuse carries a judgmental tone. For example, comments which negate the partner’s feelings, such as “You’re too sensitive”, are judgmental.

Statements which which begin with “The trouble with you is… “, “Your problem is…” are judgmental, critical and abusive.

Criticism disguised as help or advice is abusive. Some examples are: “Wouldn’t it have been better to…?” “If you’d have thought about it, it would have turned out better.” “I wouldn’t do it that way if I were you.” “Look what you missed.”


Trivializing says, in so many words, that what you have done or expressed as insignificant. Trivializing can be very subtle so that the partner is left feeling depressed and frustrated but isn’t quite sure why.


Undermining not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination. Comments which dampen interest and enthusiasm are examples of undermining: “Why bother?” “I don’t see that that will get you anywhere.” “Who asked you?” “You wouldn’t understand.” “You’ll never make it.” “What makes you think you’re so smart?”

Sabotaging is also a way of undermining. One form of sabotage is disruption and interruption such as breaking into uproarious laughter or pounding on the piano. He may also simply interrupt her by finishing her story, opposing her, or negating her.


The partner manipulates her by bringing up her greatest fears. Verbally abusive threats usually involve the threat of loss or pain.

Some examples: “Do what I want or I’ll leave.” “Do what I want or I’ll get a divorce.” “Do what I want or I’ll really be angry.” “Do what I want or I’ll hit you.” “If you …. I will …”


Name-calling one of the most overt categories of verbal abuse.


Forgetting involves both denial and covert manipulation. The declaration by the abuser that what occurred didn’t occur is abusive. Everyone forgets what happened now and then. However consistently forgetting interactions which have a great impact on another person is verbally abusive denial.

Open, after the partner collects herself after being yelled at or put down she may try to talk to her mate about it. He will have conveniently “forgotten” the incident, saying, for example, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not going to listen to this.”

Some abusers seem to consistently “forget” the promises which are most important to their partners. Often the partner is truly counting on a very important agreement made by her mate. He will have “forgotten” the agreement. “I don’t know where you got that.” “I never agreed to anything” are common forms of denial.


Ordering denies the equality and autonomy of the partner. When the abuser gives orders instead of asking respectfully for what he wants he is treating his partner as if she were the glove and his hand automatically available to fill his wishes.

Following are some examples: “Get rid of this.” “You’re not going out now.” “We won’t discuss it.” “Shut that off.”


Denial is one of the most insidious categories of verbal abuse because it denies the reality of the partner.

Some examples: “I never said that.” “You’re making that all up.” “We never had that conversation.” “I don’t know where you got that.” “You’ve got to be crazy.”

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