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Are You In a Verbally Abusive Relationship? (And What to Do About It)

Are You In a Verbally Abusive Relationship? (And What to Do About It)

“Shut up!!”“Don’t be so lazy!!”“What’s wrong with you?”

These types of phrases frequently come out of people’s mouths every day. So, is there really anything wrong with saying them? I mean, we have all said some of these things ourselves – or at very least had these thoughts.

But is it verbal abuse?

It depends.

You might think it’s obvious if you’re being a victim of a verbally abusive relationship. It may be to some people, but others may not recognize it.

For example, if you grew up with parents who talked to you (and each other) respectfully, then you will probably be able to spot verbal abuse a mile away. I’m like that. I don’t even like if someone slightly raises their voice to me. I will politely call them out on it and ask them to calm down.

However, if you grew up in a family where there was a lot of yelling, fighting, and screaming, then you might not be able to recognize verbal abuse when you see it.

Why would that be? It’s because that pattern of communication is “normal” to you. It’s your comfort zone. It’s what you grew up with, so it’s all you know.

But just because it’s familiar to you, that doesn’t make it right. Verbal abuse is NEVER justified in any situation.

Let’s start off by looking at some general characteristics of verbal abuse.

What is a verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse can basically be described as any communication event that causes emotional damage to at least one person. If this pattern continues, it has the power to seriously damage the victim’s self-esteem and self-worth. They may even begin to believe that what the abuser says about them is true.

While verbal abuse is always hurtful, it’s not always overt – like angry outbursts. Sometimes it is covert such as making very subtle negative comments here and there.

Above all else, verbal abuse is meant to manipulate and control the victim.

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Now that you know the definition of verbal abuse, let’s take a look at some examples so you can recognize it if it happens to you or someone else you know.

Examples of verbal abuse

Verbal abuse comes in many forms, and these are just a few examples.

1. “Teasing” and “joking”

This is one of the more covert tactics used by verbal abusers. It’s meant to confuse the victim.

For example, a man might call his wife his “big butterball” and say it with a smile on his face and a somewhat endearing tone – or perhaps even chuckling. What he’s really saying is that he thinks she’s fat. It’s a criticism disguised as a joke or teasing… but it’s not funny.

2. Trivializing

Let’s say you come home from work and tell the abuser that you had a bad day, and that your boss is being mean to you. They would tell you to get over it or call you a cry baby. They don’t take your feelings into account because they don’t find them important.

3. Diverting

Let’s say that you want to talk to someone about how to improve your relationship.

Normal people would sit and hear you out and respond appropriately. But a verbal abuser will divert the conversation to a topic that they want to talk about – not what you want to talk about. They are avoiding giving you the power to talk about what you want.

4. Judging and criticizing

If someone is always saying what you say or do is wrong, then that’s verbal abuse.

For example, maybe you just cleaned the whole house and you’re proud of yourself. An abuser would come home and find something you missed, like dusting or a spot on the floor. Or perhaps they criticize how you look or how you act. This is meant to tear down your self-esteem so they can control you.

5. Degrading

If you hear things like, “You should be grateful you found me, because you’re unlovable. No one would ever put up with your crap but me!” then that is degrading.

It’s making you think that you are lower than low – and that they are better than you.

6. Accusing

An abuser will accuse others of anything and everything. Maybe they are constantly suspecting you of cheating on them. Or that you told a lie. Or anything else for that matter.

They’re always finding ways to accuse other people of doing things that they might not even have done.

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7. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a purposeful tactic that is done to manipulate and brainwash someone into doubting their own sanity. When this occurs over time, it affects their self-identity and perception.

For example, they might say things like, “Why are you making this up?” or “It’s all in your head” or “You never said that.” They make you question yourself so they can gain the power and the upper hand.

8. Name-calling

If you hear someone call you bad names such as “loser,” “lazy,” “sloppy,” or even the “b” or “c” word, then that’s not okay.

Even if someone is lazy, that doesn’t mean you have to call them lazy. Calling someone bad names is NEVER acceptable.

9. Disregards your opinions and ideas

When you share an idea or an opinion, a verbal abuser will just shoot it down and disregard it.

Even if it’s something like “Hey I’d like to go to McDonald’s for lunch because I’ve been craving a Big Mac.” An abuser would tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t go there and have it. They’ll make your ideas seem ludicrous and make you second-guess yourself.

10. Swearing at you

Sure, most people use swear words. But normal people don’t make a habit out of slewing a ton of profanities your way on a regular basis.

If someone is constantly using swear words with you, especially when combined with anger, then that is verbal abuse.

11. Pointing out your flaws and mistakes constantly

Maybe they say you’re too fat, or too skinny, or too dumb or too… well, anything.

If someone is constantly pointing out what is wrong with you, or what mistakes you have made in your life, then that is verbal abuse.

We all have flaws and have made mistakes, but no one needs to point them out on a regular basis.

12. Threats

Threats can come in all shapes and forms. It could be a threat to harm or hurt you – or even kill you. Or it could be a threat that they might harm or hurt themselves in order to manipulate you.

Threatening some undesirable action is an attempt to guilt, manipulate, and scare you into behaving how they want you to behave.

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13. Blaming

An abuser NEVER takes personal responsibility for anything. Instead, he or she places the blame on everyone and anyone other than themselves.

Even when it’s obvious that the abuser did something wrong, they will fight to the death to “prove” someone else it to blame, not themselves.

14. Ordering you around

Abusers need to have total control. Therefore, they typically are bossy and order their victims around.

They might limit how often you leave the house, or how many showers you can take per week. Or even something simple like what they want to have for dinner that night. If they are acting more like a parent to you, then this is verbal abuse.

What you can do if you’re being verbally abused

Your first instinct is probably to get the abuser to reason with you or to calm down. Unfortunately, this rarely works, so eventually you will have to stop trying to reason with them because they are just incapable of rational thought when they are abusing you.

Instead, you need to do the following things:

1. Call them out on their abusive behavior

For example, if they call you a “loser,” you need to respond with something like, “Calling me negative names is not helping this situation, so please stop. Besides I know I’m not a loser, so you can never convince me that I am.”

Here’s another example:

If you’re late getting home because of traffic, they might yell at you and call you names. In a situation like that, you should say, “Stop blaming me for something that I had no control over.”

Calling them out on their bad behavior takes away their power. Suddenly, they know you are on to them and recognize their manipulative tactics.

You see, verbal abusers like easy targets. So, if you just sit there and take the abuse, it will continue.

But if you tell them to stop, they won’t like it and will either have to try to change their behavior or go find someone else that they can verbally abuse – because you will no longer allow it.

2. Remove yourself from the situation

If you can leave, then leave. Go into your bedroom. Go for a drive. Go for a walk.

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Just get out of the situation and tell them that you won’t talk to them until they can talk calmly and respectfully to you.

3. Remove yourself from the relationship if at all possible

If all else fails, you might have to do this.

You know it’s time to really let to and move on when you experience these 21 things.

I know that’s not possible with certain relationships (such as a parent/child scenario), but it is with some. Sometimes that’s the only thing left to do. And then get help.

Final thoughts

As Dr. Phil always says:

“We teach people how to treat us.”

In other words, what we allow from other people will continue. If we allow them to treat us with disrespect, they will continue to do so.

But if we only tolerate respectful and peaceful treatment, then you won’t settle for anything less.

It all starts with self-love. You have to love and respect yourself enough to now allow abuse from another person. Here you can learn what to do to love yourself.

So, take a good look in the mirror, and promise yourself that you are better than this. You deserve to be happy.

Featured photo credit: Aliyah Jamous via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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