15 Kinds of Verbal Abuse

The abuser feels more powerful when he puts down his victim.
Berit Brogarrd D.M.Sci, Ph.D
In general, if we look at verbal abuse as a means of maintaining control and Power Over, then in this context all of the categories of verbal abuse listed and explained below make some kind of sense because they are all ways of establishing Power Over. Does this mean that the abuser actually feels more powerful when he, for instance, subtly puts down his partner’s interests? As incomprehensible as this is, it is so. Does this mean that the partner feels put down? Not always. She may feel a twinge of sadness that they cannot share this interest. She may even feel a twinge of sadness that her mate cannot enjoy this pleasure in, say, a particular artist or composer. Does this mean that her mate cannot enjoy this pleasure? Not always. He may simply find greater pleasure in feeling Power Over. She may never really know. We will also see that verbal abuse prevents real relationships. This seems obvious. However, the partner of an abuser may live under the illusion that she has a real relationship. She may do so for a number of reasons, an important one being that, as a couple, she and the abuser may function adequately in their respective roles. Verbal abusers generally experience many of their feelings as anger. For instance, if the verbal abuser feels unsure and anxious he may simply feel angry—possibly angry that he is feeling unsure and anxious. Yet part of being human is the ability to feel. The ability to feel, like the ability to think, is universal to the nature of humanity. Unfortunately, the abuser is generally unwilling to accept his feelings and unwilling to reveal them to his partner. He builds a wall between himself and his partner. He maintains a distance.

Patricia Evans identifies a number of categories of verbal abuse. Some of these kinds of abuse are obvious, others are more subtle.

1. Withholding

Withholding is primarily manifested as a withholding of information and a failure to share thoughts and feelings. A person who withholds information refuses to engage with his partner in a healthy relationship. He does not share his feelings or thoughts. When he does share anything at all, it is purely factual or functional information of the sort his partner could have looked up on the Internet, read on his Facebook wall or figured out for herself by looking around. Examples of withholding communication that fails to engage the partner include “The car is almost out of gas,” “The keys are on the table,” and “The show is on now.”

2. Countering

Countering is a tendency to be very argumentative but not merely in political, philosophical or scientific contexts but in ordinary contexts as well. The victim of the abuse may share her positive feelings about a movie she just saw, and the abuser may then attempt to convince her that her feelings are wrong. This is an example of countering. Countering is a way of dismissing the victim’s feelings, thoughts and experiences on a regular basis.

3. Discounting

Discounting is an attempt to deny that the victim of the abuse has any right to her thoughts or feelings. It may come out as criticism but criticism of a particular kind. The abuser may tell the victim on a regular basis that she is too sensitive, too childish, has no sense of humor or tends to make a big deal out of nothing. The abuser thereby denies the victim’s inner reality, indirectly telling her that how she feels and what she experiences is wrong.

4. Verbal abuse disguised as jokes

Verbal abuse is often disguised as jokes. The abuser may say something very upsetting to the victim of the abuse and then after seeing her reaction add “It was just a joke.” Abuse is not okay in any form. Jokes that hurt are abusive.

5. Blocking and diverting

Blocking and diverting is a form of withholding but one where the abuser decides which topics are good conversation topics. An abuser practicing this form of abuse may tell the victim that she is talking out of turn or is complaining too much.

6. Accusing and blaming

Accusing and blaming are forms of abuse in which the abuser will accuse the victim of the abuse for things that are outside of her control. He might accuse her of preventing him from getting a promotion because she is overweight or ruining his reputation because she dropped out of college.

7. Judging and criticizing

Judging and criticizing is similar to accusing and blaming but also involves a negative evaluation of the partner. As Evans points out, “Most ‘you’ statements are judgmental, critical, and abusive.” Some abusive judging and criticizing “you” statements are: “You are never satisfied”, “You always find something to be upset about”, “The reason no one likes you is that you are so negative”.

8. Trivializing

Trivializing is a form of verbal abuse that makes most things the victim of the abuse does or wants to do seem insignificant. The abuser might undermine her work, her way of dressing or her choice of food.

9. Undermining

Undermining is similar to trivializing but further consists in undermining everything the victim says or suggests, making her question herself and her own opinions and interests.

10. Threatening

Threatening is a common form of verbal abuse and can be very explicit, as in “If you don’t start doing what I say, I will leave you” or more subtle, as in “If you don’t follow my advice, others will find out that you are a very unreliable person.”

11. Name calling

Name calling, too, can be explicit or subtle. Explicit name calling can consist in calling the victim of the abuse a “cunt” a “whore” or a “bitch”. But it can also be more subtle, calling the other person things that are implicitly hurtful, for instance, “You are such a victim” or “You think you are so precious, don’t you?”

12. Forgetting

The category of forgetting covers a range of issues ranging from forgetting to keep a promise to forgetting a date or an appointment. Even if the abuser really forgot, it is still abuse, because he ought to have made an effort to remember.

13. Ordering

Any form of ordering or demanding is a form of verbal abuse. It falls under the general issue of control. I have written another post about controlling people. The link is here.

14. Denial

Denial is abusive when it consists in denying bad behavior and failing to realize the consequences of one’s behavior. An abuser will find a way to justify and rationalize his behavior. This is a way of denying that he has done anything wrong.

15. Abusive anger

Abusive anger consists in any form of yelling and screaming, particularly out of context. Even yelling “shut up!” is abusive. There are other ways to deal with people who need to “shut up”. No one deserves to be yelled at.

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