Here are several examples of verbal abuse – some surprising – to help you recognize unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship. Verbal abuse isn’t always direct or obvious, and it’s not always easy to recognize when you are being treated badly by your partner.
First, it’s important to remember that many women who are verbally abused and who are in counseling don’t talk about their relationship with their counselor. “Many abused women in individual therapy withhold important details about their relationships,” says Steven Stosny in Emotional Abuse: Why Your Individual Therapy Didn’t Help and Your Partner’s Made it Worse. “Most say they’re embarrassed to be completely honest with their therapists.”
If you’re in therapy, you won’t get healthy if you hide the worst parts of your relationship! In Dealing With Shame in Counseling, I describe how shame affects people. It’s normal to feel ashamed if you’re in a bad or unhealthy relationship because you love your partner. You might feel ashamed because it seems wrong to stay with a man who is verbally abusing you…yet you can’t walk away.
What is Verbal Abuse?
Verbal abuse is when your partner belittles you, calls you names, criticizes who you are, yells at you, or makes passive aggressive comments. There is a huge difference between valid feedback (eg, “I felt frustrated when I realized you were running late again, but you didn’t call to let me know”) and verbal abuse “What’s wrong with you – can’t you tell time? You are always late, you’re disorganized, and you never call to tell me you’re behind schedule as usual.”
Examples of Verbal Abuse
The wall of silence. This is my fallback position in my marriage when I feel hurt, angry, frustrated, or scared. I withdraw. I stop talking to my husband. I didn’t even know this was a type of verbal abuse until I read The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. Verbal abuse doesn’t have to be direct yelling and criticisms! It can be nonverbal. Nonverbal abuse is what I struggle with in my own personality and marriage.
Trivialising. Yesterday my husband lost our dog in the forest. She is teeny tiny – only seven pounds! – and she was wearing her leash. My husband had dropped her leash for a few minutes, and she just took off after a squirrel. He had to come back home and ask me to help him look for her. For a few minutes, I panicked because I envisioned her leash getting caught on a log or shrub and trapping her there, somewhere in the forest where I couldn’t find her! I started to panic, and told Bruce my fears. There are coyotes in this forest, and she’ll be an easy meal! He trivialized my worries, saying, “Oh, don’t be silly, that won’t happen. She’ll be fine.” That’s similar to telling me to relax and calm down – except it was worse because it was very possible that her long leash would trap her somewhere in the forest. And we see coyotes all the time – we’ve even had an owl swoop down in an attempt to take her. Thank God, we found our little dog…but I’m still thinking about how he trivialized my concerns. I don’t feel like I’m being verbally abused in our marriage, but I didn’t like the way he spoke to me — even though he was just trying to help me.
Direct criticisms. Calling you stupid, ugly, fat, lazy, etc are the most obvious examples of verbal abuse. In my definition above, I offered an example of direct verbal abuse. However, just because they’re obvious to me doesn’t mean they’r e obvious to you. If you grew up in a verbally abusive household, then you may be so used to it that you don’t even notice it.
Passive aggressive comments. This is tricky! Passive aggressive comments don’t seem like they’re verbally abusive, but they are. An example of this type of verbal abuse is, “You’re so disorganized, you could start your own blog on how to be the most disorganized person on the planet! You’re always late and I’m the only person on the planet who could ever love you.”
There are more examples of verbal abuse in The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond. I highly recommend you read this book, even if you don’t think you’re in a verbally abusive relationship! As you can see, verbal abuse isn’t just the obvious criticisms and attacks. It’s about unhealthy communication patterns, and how to make them healthy again.
If you are being verbally abused (or you’re dealing with other types of abuse), read How to Cope With Abuse in Your Relationship.
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.