Breaking the Silence About Verbal Abuse


Written by Camille Langston

There is an epidemic spreading throughout the world in families and society in general. It is that of abuse. There are many forms of abuse which affects many people of different genders, ages, race, and situations. However, the most subtle, most common, yet unfamiliar to most is that of verbal abuse. Most commonly exhibited through marital relationships, this exposure is happening mostly because survivors have escaped the clutches and are telling their stories. Breaking their silence, so to speak.

Physical abuse is easier to detect because of the obvious marks and bruises left on the victim. However, verbal abuse is a sneaky, conniving beast that is harder to detect because the damage is taking place on the inside, destroying the self-esteem, self-confidence, and eventually the soul of the victim. In fact, a master of verbal abuse can appear to others that he cares about you deeply, covering any tracks of inappropriate behavior taking place behind closed doors. Now, I recognize that either the husband or wife has been known to be the verbal abuser, but because the woman is generally the victim in the majority of verbal abuse scenarios, I'll refer to "her" as the victim for the benefit of this article. And the information shared is through careful research and personal experiences. If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, or you know of someone who you suspect to be suffering from abuse, hopefully this will help bring understanding, comfort, and awareness to the reality of the situation.

First, verbal abuse needs to be identified. It has been defined as an ongoing emotional environment organized by the abuser for the purposes of control. It rears its ugly head in many forms, starting with some of the obvious:

  • Name-calling—or using any other derogatory or expletive choice of words to describe their partner
  • Threatening—He manipulates his partner by playing on her biggest fears, which could be threatening divorce or taking her kids away from her. Often, it may include threats of physical pain or damage, or threats of suicide, and blaming her for it.
  • Forgetting—after the victim collects herself from an "outburst" of rage against her, she may confront her mate, only to find that he has "forgotten" about the incident or denies it ever happened.
  • Outbursts or rage exhibited towards you - sporadic, with no reasoning, sometimes includes throwing or breaking items.
  • Blame—accusing her of being "overly sensitive" or "blowing things out of proportion" or simply blaming her for his behavior or anything gone wrong. "I promised myself I would be nice to you today, but then you go and make me do this!"
  • Denial—the abuser will not take responsibility for their actions. It's always someone else's fault and often believes the "world is against them". They feel that THEY are the victims, which contributes to a gradual confusion for the victim.
  • Isolation—controlling the comings and goings of their partner, (i.e. visits, phone calls, emails, any form of communication with others) in order to isolate her from any support group that would consist of family or friends.
  • Jealousy—typically includes insisting on detailed explanations for absences or tardies, relentless probing of workplace relationships or motives for activities without the abuser. He may even question why you're wearing jewelry, or putting on make-up, or any other step you took to enhance your self-esteem.
  • Ignoring, ridiculing, criticizing or humiliating their partner.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you are in a verbally abusive relationship. The first thing you need to know is, despite what your partner may tell you, this is NOT a normal marriage/relationship! Verbal abuse is WRONG and if you are left in this environment, it will eventually destroy your self-esteem, confidence, identity and any will to progress. In addition, it could escalate to physical abuse. Getting help is a difficult and careful step, which will require a lot of caution. Since the abuser's purpose is to control, he will do anything to prevent you from trying to escape.

Another thing to consider is the potential effect the abuser’s behavior may take on your children. First of all, did you know that DCFS considers it child abuse if they are in the presence of, and witness domestic violence between their parents? Besides, your relationship is modeling to them what is the “norm” for acceptable behavior between a husband/wife or man/woman in general. Sons will be conditioned to believe that this is how women should be treated. Daughters will expect to be treated the same from their husbands, or any male in their life. If the abuser’s behavior isn’t directed towards the children right now, over time it will eventually, and they will suffer the same individual effects you will as the victim, complicating their adolescent lives and long-term relationships.

If you suspect someone may be in a verbally abusive situation, don't expect them to tell you. 99.9% of the time, they will lie and tell you that everything is fine. They know that any involvement from the "outside world" would anger the abuser even more, which would accelerate the level and severity of the abuse. Instead, watch for some of these red flags:

  • Withdrawal—they start to make excuses as to why they can't attend friendly and/or family functions; or they just stop attending altogether.
  • Self-critical—it's difficult for them to accept a compliment, or is repeatedly putting themselves down.
  • A change in personality/mood/self-care
  • An "empty shell"—the victim eventually loses self-esteem because she has been beaten down so much emotionally that she blames herself for the abuse. She becomes so convinced that she's worthless that she believes that no one else could want her. They stay in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go.

There is a way out! The first step is recognizing that you are being abused and that it is not your fault and you can't change your partner's treatment towards you. In order for him to change, he needs to recognize his behavior and that it is wrong. If they are unwilling to seek help or acknowledge the abuse, you need to remove yourself from the situation. I know it's easier said than done so "proceed with caution". Find a shelter or move in with safe friends or family. Remaining in contact with the abuser will throw you back into the shame spiral and keep you from moving forward to recovery.


Finding healing after abuse:,5232,23-1-851-15,00.html

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


7 responses to “Breaking the Silence About Verbal Abuse”

  1. Cindy says:

    You’re joking, right? When you say that women are the majority of victims? Because I sincerely doubt that. It’s not the male of the species who has the most harmful tongue. I’m certain of that.

  2. vanessa says:

    Thank you for this post and bringing awareness to this huge problem. I would love to see a follow up post on how you can build yourself up again after something like this.

  3. Connie says:

    There are far too many people who are in this type of relationship. Thanks for bringing it to our awareness. It would be good to know what we can do for victims of this type of abuse- both during and after.

  4. Darla says:

    Very well written Camille! I have met several women who are vitims of this and it breaks my heart to see them going through it.

    For Cindy, actually women are the majority of the victims with verbal abuse. As Camille said it can be inflicted by both genders but many studies on this find that men more often than not are the abusers in these types of relationships. And in the cases where men are the abusers they have a tendancy to expand into physical abuse over time. I worked at our county court house and saw far too many cases that prove this fact.

    Here are a couple of sites which expound on it more.

  5. Amy says:

    excellent post Camille. It is so sad how few people recognize verbal abuse as abuse. If we could help make people more aware of it, we could significantly affect the numbers of victims. One of the things to point out as well is that abuse can start very early in a relationship. When a couple is just friends or dating, there can still be real abuse. A young woman dating may just see it has her boyfriend teasing her or “helping” her be a better person. But if it is frequent, if she feels sadness about what he’s telling her to change and if it continues it can escalate into so much more.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I agree with Vanessa, I’d love a follow up.

  6. Victoria says:

    I have known MANY people in this kind of relationship. (I was there more than once). I knew two ‘abusees’ who were male. But my experience is that most abusers are male and most abusees are female. It is a mindset to control, not a tendancy to a sharp tongue that. Once the abused person gts out of this relationship, she/he has to do some ‘personal work’ to be sure that in a new relationship, they have enough self love to spot this early in relationship if it starts happening again, and leave it. Otherwise, it can happen again and again.

  7. beckie says:

    Cindy seems like a completely clueless type of person, not to mention judgmental. Hopefully, she will never find herself in this type of situation– where she might have to actually relate with other women who have been there and lived through that. This is an excellently written article. Absolutely impressive. Thank you.

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