What Counts As Verbal Abuse? These Are The Biggest Signs And Red Flags

Though verbal abuse doesn’t leave you with physical scars, it often leaves you with emotional ones. Victims of verbal abuse live in constant fear of ridicule, harassment, and manipulation. And often, verbal abuse can escalate into physical abuse. Read on for the signs of verbal abuse.

  1. Insults and name-calling. In the heat of the moment, you might find that an argument can result in name-calling. At points of rage, we can all say things we don’t really mean. The difference is when insults and name-calling are a pattern, not a once-off thing. Insulting your character and calling you names regularly is a way to belittle you and is a sign of verbal abuse.
  2. Yelling and screaming. If you’ve ever been yelled at or screamed at, you know it’s intimidating. Often, a person yells with the intention of intimidating or upsetting you. That’s why it’s a form of verbal abuse—it’s designed to hurt you emotionally. People might scream when they get angry, but they’ll usually recognize that they crossed the line and revert back to talking normally. It’s never okay to yell at someone continuously.
  3. Talking down and belittling. Abusers often aim to make their victims feel small. That’s because they don’t feel superior on their own, so they need tactics like these to create distance between themselves and their victims. Condescending words are another sign of verbal abuse. They might say, “You’re too stupid to understand what I’m talking about,” or “You’re too closed-minded to agree with me.” This tactic is also used to manipulate you into conforming to your abuser’s wishes.
  4. Aggressive body language. Aggressive body language typically backs up verbal abuse. They might not actually hit you, but they might point their finger in your face. Or they might bang their fist on the table as they talk to you. Or physically block you so you can’t walk away from them. These are all signs of them trying to control you.
  5. Making threats. Threats have no place in a healthy argument. But people who verbally abuse their partners and family members make them all the time. Their ultimate goal is to control your behavior. Rather than giving you a direct order, they manipulate you into doing what they want by threatening you: “If you go to see that friend, I can’t promise I’ll be here when you get back.”
  6. Implying that things could turn physical. The implication that they will hit you can be just as damaging as actually hitting you, at least from an emotional point of view. Threats can be even more powerful if they promise physical violence. They might take a step towards you, as if they are going to lunge at you while they’re talking. It’s not okay. And you should always treat threats of violence as serious an unacceptable.
  7. Dismissing your feelings. Often, verbal abusers will dismiss their victim’s feelings. If you say that you feel hurt, they’ll say you’re overreacting. If you start crying, they’ll say you’re playing the victim. This usually happens after they’ve actually caused your negative feelings in the first place. They might also gaslight you, acting like you’re the one with the problem for reacting so strongly to their abuse.
  8. Not allowing you to respond. A person who is verbally abusive might not allow you the right of reply. If you try to respond to them, they might talk over you, mimic you, or engage in other childish behavior to silence you. They don’t want to have a balanced, even conversation. Instead, they want you to listen as they talk at you.
  9. Arguments that continue to happen. According to Healthline, circular arguments are one of the red flags indicating verbal abuse. An abuser will continue to bring up the same old issues, even though you’ve already dealt with them. You’ll find yourself having to explain yourself over and over and over again.
  10. Punishing you when they don’t get their way. Part of verbal abuse is punishing the victim when the abuser doesn’t get their way. For example, if they try to manipulate you into doing something and you don’t do it, they might give you the silent treatment in response. Punishments like this are designed to make you feel uncomfortable and like you’ve done the wrong thing by going against them, even though you haven’t.
  11. Blaming you and acting like the victim. Almost always, a verbal abuser will blame their victim. “It’s your fault I get so angry!” or “You caused this conflict by refusing to do what I say.” Abusers act like the victim and try to get sympathy to try and justify their poor behavior.
  12. Acting differently around other people. Finally, verbal abusers often act differently when they’re around other people. They might treat you politely when around friends and family. It’s only when you’re at home and there’s no one there to witness it that they unleash their abusive tirades. This behavior is not acceptable and you should always explore your options if you’re on the receiving end of it.
Vanessa Locampo is an Aussie writer who’s equally obsessed with YA fiction and pasta. Her time is divided between writing all the things, reading all the things, listening to Queen, and bopping her cat on the nose. She has a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and has written for sites including Hotsprings.co and Discovering Montana, and currently works as an editor at Glam. You can keep up with her on Instagram @vanessaellewrites.