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Verbal abuse (also called reviling) is a form of abusive behavior involving the use of language. It is a form of profanity that can occur with or without the use of expletives. While oral communication is the most common form of verbal abuse, it includes abusive words in written form.

According to the University of Cincinnati, there is no universally accepted definition of emotional or verbal attack.

Verbal abuse is a pattern of behavior that can seriously interfere with one's positive emotional development and, over time, can lead to significant detriment to one's self-esteem, emotional well-being, and physical state. It has been further described as an ongoing emotional environment organized by the abuser for the purposes of control.

The underlying factor in the dynamic of abuse can be viewed as the abuser’s low regard for him- or herself. As the abuser may fear not being "good enough" and/or meeting other’s expectations, the abuser may attempt to place their victim in the position to feel or believe similar things about him or her self.

Reports of verbal and emotional abuse indicate that it frequently occurs in romantic relationships between men and women, with the behaviour typically being identified by the woman.[1][2] Verbal abuse can occur to one of any race, culture, age or gender.

Verbal abuse typically increases in intensity over time and often escalates to physical abuse as well.

With couples usually during intense verbal abuse, the target of the abuse usually suffers by having lower self-worth and low self-esteem. Because of this, victims may fall into clinical depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Verbal abuse, although not physically harmful and having no visible signs, is damaging nonetheless. Verbal abuse is arguably the most common type of abuse which is emotionally traumatic and not yet looked at or taken nearly as seriously as the many other forms of abuse. In reality, however, moderate to severe cases of verbal abuse in which the victim is under constant attack, especially a child, may be even more detrimental to a person or child's health than physical abuse or other forms of abuse.

Verbal abuse starting from a young age may contribute to inferiority complex, machismo attitudes, and many other negative behaviors that plague many people into adulthood. People who feel they are being attacked by a verbal abuser on a regular basis should seek professional counsel and remove themselves from the negative environment if possible. Staying around verbal abusers is damaging for a person's overall well-being and all steps to change the situation should be pursued. Children in school violence may be victims of verbal bullying.


Legal aspects

Signs of verbal abuse

The best way to recognize signs of verbal abuse in an unhealthy relationship is to simply know what a healthy relationship is and what it looks like. Consider the things people value in relationships and the things they want in a healthy and strong relationship. These could be respect, understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, love, affection, responsibility, hope, faith, trustworthiness with the ability to connect deeply with someone, and the freedom to be oneself within healthy boundaries. When we think about what constitutes a healthy relationship, it becomes easier to identify when we are in an unhealthy relationship.

Signs of verbal abuse exhibited by the abuser are:

  • Actions of ignoring, ridiculing, disrespecting, and criticizing others consistently.
  • A manipulation of words.
  • Purposeful humiliation of others.
  • Accusing others falsely for the purpose of manipulating a person's decision making.
  • Manipulating people to submit to undesirable behavior.
  • Making others feel unwanted and unloved.
  • Threatening to leave the family destitute.
  • Placing the blame and cause of the abuse onto others.
  • Isolating a person from some type of support system, consisting of friends or family.

Once the victim identifies and recognizes these signs of verbal abuse and realizes the signs, he or she can do better, the person can be proactive about finding help. If left too long in an abusive relationship, the person will start feeling hopeless.

Actions the victim or target can take include:

  • Find a trusted friend, a support group, or a counselor to discuss the situation. A network of supportive relationships can strengthen and uplift.
  • Learn about yourself and healthy relationships. It helps to make better choices.
  • Believe and remember that we are all valuable and deserve to be in relationships that enhance our worth, bring out the best in us, and where we feel safe.

Examples of verbal abuse

"Verbal abuse includes withholding, bullying, defaming, defining, trivializing, harassing, interrogating, accusing, blaming, blocking, insulting, countering, diverting, lying, berating, taunting, putting down, discounting, threatening, name-calling, yelling and raging."[3]

  • Words/phrases/actions to reject someone/make someone feel unimportant, e.g., ignoring, and saying things such as "Who wants to be with you?" or "No one would go out with you," not allowing someone to sit with you, not allowing someone to join in events, saying people with disabilities/learning difficulties are pests, telling someone of a different race/ethnicity to get 'back to where they came from', being curt and unfriendly with someone (daily, all the time or frequently), telling someone who has a facial/body disfigurement to leave the premises as they might be creating a 'health hazard/causing discomfort to other customers.'
  • Making unkind comments/saying unkind words about someone's clothes, appearance, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or what they drink and what they eat are forms of verbal abuse.
  • Focus on word definitions to derail a discussion. If one is trying to discuss an uncomfortable topic with a verbal abuser, the abuser will often focus on a particular word or set of words, disagree with how they were used in a sentence, usually assigning a new definition or intent to those words. The verbal abuser usually then claims a "knowledge" of the others intentions or motivation. The usual end result is that two to three sentences into an attempted discussion, the discussion is side-tracked into an argument as the other person attempts to explain and redefine what they meant. This can progress to the point the verbal abuser may insist that only they can determine the definition or intent of the other person's words. Once side-tracked the verbal abuser usually continues to reject any redefinition of words until the other person gets frustrated and gives up. The abuser has "won" the argument by avoiding discussion of the issue at hand.

See also


  1. ^ Miller (1996), No Visible Wounds: Identifying Nonphysical Abuse of Women by Their Men, Random House Publishing Group, ISBN 9780449910795  .
  2. ^ (Evans 1996, p. 211) Evans (1996), Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond (2 ed.), Adams Media Corporation, ISBN 9781558505827  .
  3. ^ What Verbal Abuse Is

External links

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