Verbal abuse (also verbal attack or verbal assault) is the act of forcefully criticizing, insulting, or denouncing another person. Characterized by underlying anger and hostility, it is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotions. Verbal abuse is a maladaptive mechanism that anyone can display occasionally, such as during times of high stress or physical discomfort. For some people, it is a pattern of behaviors used intentionally to control or manipulate others or to get revenge.
In schools and in everyday life, a person may engage in verbal abuse—bullying (which often has a physical component)—to gain status as superior to the person targeted and to bond with others against the target. Usually, the bully knows no other way to connect emotionally with others.
In romantic relationships, the verbal abuser may be responding to the partner's "separateness", i.e., independent thoughts, views, desires, feelings, expressions (even of happiness) which the abuser views as a threat, irritant or attack. Some people believe the abuser has low self-esteem and then so, attempts to place their victim in a similar position, i.e., to believe negative things about themselves.
Because of the abuser's need for dominance and unwillingness to accept their partner as an equal, the verbal abuser is compelled to negate the perceptions of the partner, about the abuse, which causes more psychological pain to the victim. This is also known as gas-lighting or Jekyll and Hyde-like behavior, because the abuser keeps the target of abuse off-balance with their hot-and-cold unpredictable behavior. This confusion adds to the pain caused by psychological abuse and keeps the victim off-balance.
Anyone can experience verbal abuse. Typically, in romantic or family relationships, verbal abuse increases in intensity and frequency over time. After exposure to verbal abuse, victims may develop clinical depression. The person targeted by verbal abuse over time may succumb to any stress-related illness. Verbal abuse creates emotional pain and mental anguish in its target.
Despite the fact that verbal abuse does not leave bruising, verbal abuse can be as detrimental to a person's health as physical abuse.
Verbal abuse includes the following:
- blocking and diverting
- countering: disputing a “...partner's thoughts, feelings, perceptions and experiences” or arguing “any point or idea”.
- denial of anger or abuse
- judging and criticizing
- minimisation, discounting, trivializing
- name calling
- ordering: commanding to show control
- withholding: refusing “...to share ideas, feelings, intimacy, thoughts and dreams with the partner.”
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- Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You, Patricia Evans pg. 191. 2002 by Adams Media Corp
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- Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft. Berkley Books, 2003
- When Words Are Used As Weapons: Verbal Abuse, University of Nebraska, Lincoln Extension