How to Recognize Emotional and Verbal Abuse

Recognize signs of emotional and verbal abuse

There are many who will be reading this title and thinking that it is impossible not to recognize any form of abuse, including emotional and verbal abuse. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? Yet, although it might seem improbable to those who are lucky to be in healthy relationships, emotional and verbal abuse tend to go unnoticed even by the victims and the abusers themselves.

What Is emotional and verbal abuse?

There are many characteristics of these “subtle” forms of abusive behavior that need to be assessed before we label a behavior abusive. Not every negative emotion or unkind statement can be named as abuse. On the other side, even the subtlest words and sentences can be used as weapons and are an abuse if used intentionally to assert power and control over the victim, to make them feel unworthy and to cause their self-confidence to erode.

Emotional abuse involves interactions that deteriorate the victim’s self-worth

Emotional abuse is an intricate web of actions and interactions that have a way of deteriorating the victim’s feeling of self-worth, their confidence and psychological well-being. It is a behavior intended to result in a complete dominance of the abuser over the victim through demeaning and emotional draining. It is any form of repetitive and persistent emotional blackmail, of belittling and mind games.

Emotional abuse deteriorates the victim’s self-worth

Verbal abuse is an attack on the victim using words or silence

Verbal abuse is very close to emotional abuse, it can be considered a subcategory of emotional abuse. Verbal abuse can be broadly described as an attack on the victim using words or silence. As any other form of abuse, if such behavior happens occasionally and is not performed with a direct desire to dominate over the victim and establish control through their humiliating, it should not be labelled an abuse, rather a normal, although unhealthy and sometimes immature reaction.

Verbal abuse usually happens behind closed doors and is rarely witnessed by anyone other than the victim and the abuser themselves. It usually occurs either out of blue, with no visible cause, or when the victim is notably cheerful and happy. And the abuser almost never or never asks for forgiveness or provides an apology to the victim.

Furthermore, the abuser uses words (or lack thereof) to demonstrate how much he or she disdains the victim’s interests, gradually depriving the victim of all sources of joy confidence and happiness. Similar goes on with the victim’s friends and family, which gradually leads to the victim starting to feel isolated and alone in the world, with the abuser being the only one by her or his side.

The abuser is the one who gets to define the relationship, and who both partners are. The abuser interprets the victim’s personality, experiences, character, likes and dislikes, aspirations and capabilities. This, in combination with periods of seemingly normal interaction, gives the abuser almost exclusive control over the victim and results in a very unhealthy living environment for both.

Verbal abuse is an attack on the victim using words or silence

How is it possible that it can go on unrecognized?

The dynamics in an abuser-victim relationship of any sort, including verbal abuse, is such that these partners, in a sense, fit together perfectly. Although the interaction itself is entirely damaging to the partners’ well-being and personal growth, the partners tend to feel at home within such relationships.

The reason lies in the reason why they got together in the first place. Usually, the partners both learned how one ought to or is expected to interact with someone close to them. The victim learned that they are supposed to put up with insults and degradation, while the abuser learned that it is desirable to talk down to their partner. And none of them is entirely aware of such cognitive and emotional pattern.

So, when verbal abuse starts, to an outsider it might seem like an agony. And it usually is. Yet, the victim is so accustomed to feeling unworthy, and to being obliged to listen to derogatory statements, that they might not necessarily notice how wrong such conduct really is. Both suffer in their own way, and both are held in place by the abuse, unable to thrive, unable to learn new forms of interaction.

How to put an end to it?

There are, unfortunately, few things you can try to put the stop to the verbal abuse, as it is usually only one aspect of a generally rather unhealthy relationship. Yet, as this is a potentially very harmful environment to be in if you’re suffering emotional and verbal abuse, there are certain steps you should take to protect yourself.

First, remember, you can’t reasonably discuss anything with a verbal abuser. There will be no end to such argument. Rather, try implementing one of the following two. First, calmly and assertively demand that they stop name-calling or blaming you for different things. Simply say: “Stop labeling me”. Yet, if that doesn’t work, the only remaining action is to withdraw from such toxic situation and take a time-out or leave entirely.


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