why people hurt others

How to Recognize Verbal Abuse

The harmful effects of verbal abuse can be just as devastating as other forms of abuse. But sadly, it’s not always easy to recognize.

People of all ages can suffer from verbal abuse, and it can happen in any social setting, including among friends, family members, partners, peers, classmates, and work colleagues.

It can have short and long-term consequences, affecting people’s mental health, stress levels, confidence, mood, self-esteem, and more.

Fortunately, one of the best steps in dealing with verbal abuse is learning to recognize it. Taking the time to read this today will equip you with the knowledge needed to overcome verbal abuse and better avoid it in the future.

This article will look at the different patterns of verbal abuse, why it’s hard to spot, and how best to deal with it.

Why Verbal Abuse Can be Difficult to Recognize

You might assume you’d recognize verbal abuse when it occurs, but in actuality, many people don’t. It can be hard to identify, and people often live with it for long periods without even realizing it’s happening.

So, why is that? Well, here are some of the main reasons why verbal abuse can be tough to spot:

  • There is a lack of awareness around verbal abuse and what it is.
  • It doesn’t always happen right away; it can emerge gradually or start suddenly long after knowing someone.
  • Verbal abuse can be subtle, deceiving, and calculating.
  • It can happen in private where no one else can intervene.
  • People can get used to it. It’s normalized and becomes a regular form of communication.
  • Verbally abusive people can also be kind and gentle at times, making the victim forget or excuse the abusive behavior.

What are the Types of Verbal Abuse to Look Out For?

Here are twelve of the most common and harmful forms of verbal abuse. Recognizing these and understanding that they are not normal is a key part of learning to deal with verbal abuse.


Offering constructive criticism occasionally in a friendly manner can be helpful. But that’s a very different thing to constant, harsh criticism that only focuses on the negatives. This is a form of verbal abuse that will only make people feel upset and damage their self-esteem, which is the opposite of constructive.

  • Example of criticism: “Every time you get a good opportunity, you always mess it up. What’s wrong with you?”


Name-calling is the use of verbal insults that put demeaning labels on someone. It happens to people of all ages, not only on the school playground. Name-calling is a way to belittle someone, and it can cause low self-esteem and self-worth. It is sometimes easy to spot, but it can also be disguised as nick-names or banter.

  • Example of name-calling: “Wow, you got it wrong again? That’s why we call you stupid!”

Demeaning or Degrading Comments

Demeaning and degrading comments can be very harmful to one’s mental health; they can erode your confidence and eventually cause depression. This type of verbal abuse is all about using shame, humiliation, disrespect, and cruelty to put others down. The intention is to make you lose dignity and respect.

  • Example of a degrading comment: “Look at the state of you; you’re a mess.”


Condescension is when someone regularly talks to you in a patronizing and disdainful way. This form of verbal abuse belittles you and makes the abuser feel superior. When someone is condescending, they might talk to you sarcastically and make you the target of their jokes.

It’s often disguised as teasing, but don’t be fooled; it can affect your confidence and well-being over time.

  • Example of condescension: “See, you can do it if you try. Now let’s see if you can do it on your own next time like a normal adult.”


Manipulation is a method of controlling others in a deceptive, indirect way. The manipulator might twist a situation around to get you to do something you don’t want to do. Of course, they do it to benefit themselves at your expense. Because it’s very calculating, it can be hard to spot.

  • Example of manipulation: “If you want to do it like that, it shows that you only care about yourself.”


Gaslighting is an insidious, manipulative technique that makes the victim question their feelings and recollection of events. Gaslighting is an attempt to change how situations are perceived to benefit them at the victim’s expense.

Victims of gaslighting may even apologize for things that are not their fault. Gaslighting sows doubt in the victim’s mind, which can severely affect their confidence.

  • Example of gaslighting: “What are you talking about? That didn’t happen; I think you must be crazy.”


Threats are all about using fear and intimidation to gain power and control over you. Threats are not always easy to spot; they might be said in a way that makes them seem like a joke.

Nonetheless, the intention is the same, to plant an idea in your mind that causes fear and worry. You should always take threats seriously as they can lead to dangerous escalations.

  • Example of a threat: “Do you want me to tell your family about what you’ve done? They’d disown you!”


Verbally abusive people will often blame others, even when it’s not their fault. They can manipulate a situation to shift the blame on you, and they may even convince others to back them up. They might justify their abusive behavior towards you by blaming you.

  • Example of blame: “You always make me so angry, why can’t I ever have a relaxing evening?”


Repeated accusations and interrogations are a form of verbal abuse. They can make you question yourself, even when the accusations are not true. You might start changing your behavior, such as how you dress, to avoid further accusations. People who accuse others a lot are often jealous, insecure, or guilty of bad behavior themselves.

  • Accusation example: “I can tell you’re lying to me. Who did you really meet?”

Constant or Repetitive Arguments

People often argue about the same thing more than once, but it usually isn’t healthy if you find yourself constantly arguing with someone. They might reignite old arguments if they know you’re vulnerable to them as a form of intimidation.

Deliberately creating chaos like this can cause anxiety, making you moderate your behavior to avoid another argument.

  • Example of a circular argument: “Every day, you’re late home from work. I bet you’ve been hanging out with that guy from the office again while I’m stuck here with the kids.”

Negative Judgments

When you negatively judge others, you look down on them or vilify them. Being on the receiving end of someone’s harsh judgments can hurt your feelings, knock your self-esteem, and affect how others perceive you. You should recognize it as a form of verbal abuse if someone always tends to make judgments that show you in a bad light.

  • Example of judging: “Ugh, why do you always dress that way? You’re such a weirdo.”


Withholding, also known as silent treatment, is the refusal to give someone any attention. They might avoid talking, eye contact, answering calls or messages, or being near you physically. Walking away from a confrontation to avoid fueling it further is often wise, but that’s different from withholding which is a way to punish someone who doesn’t do what they want.

  • Example of withholding: Your partner avoids talking to you all day, makes dinner only for them, and stays in a different room to you because you didn’t do what they want.

How to Deal With Verbal Abuse

Being honest with yourself and acknowledging verbal abuse when it’s happening is the first critical step to dealing with it effectively.

A good piece of advice is to trust your instincts; if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You can also use the information above to help you identify the different types of verbal abuse.

Once you’ve acknowledged it’s happening, here’s some advice on what you can do next:

  • Don’t try to change them: It’s best to accept that you probably won’t change the abuser’s behavior, nor is it your responsibility to do so.
  • Set boundaries and enforce them: If safe to do so, let the abuser know you will no longer accept this kind of treatment. Refuse to engage with any abusive behavior and walk away if they try.
  • Minimize contact: Spend as little time with abusive people as possible. Instead, spend time with people who are kind and support you.
  • End contact entirely: It’s not always possible, such as if you have children together, but if you can, cut off contact entirely from verbally abusive people.
  • Don’t suffer alone: While verbally abusive people may try to isolate you, it’s important to spend time with people you trust, such as close friends and family, for support. Talk to them about your experiences and emotions.
  • See a therapist: Talking to a mental health professional is a great way to deal with verbal abuse. They can offer sound advice and help you heal from the trauma.
  • Create a safety plan: If you’re worried there might be consequences if you take significant steps to escape verbal abuse, then you should make a safety plan first. Make a list of who you can call, places you can go, and the steps you can take to ensure your safety.

A Final Word from Calmerry

Verbal abuse is quite common, but it should never be considered normal. Hopefully, the information in this article will help you recognize verbal abuse more effectively, so you can ensure that you’re always treated well in relationships and by others.

If you’d like to talk to someone about verbal abuse, our online therapists here at Calmerry are always ready to lend an ear. Talking to a trained professional about your experiences is one of the best ways to begin the healing process.

Kate Skurat

Kate Skurat

Licensed Mental Health Counselor | Washington, United States

Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has worked in healthcare since 2017. She primarily treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, and grief, as well as identity, relationship and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience has focused on individual and group counseling, emergency counseling and outreach. Read more