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Published on October 11, 2018

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

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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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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

That’s where we all should be.

So, answer me this:

How are you, really?

And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

It’s taking control.

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2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

Change will happen.

Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

“Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

“If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

What would you do if you felt you were enough?

By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

Final Thoughts

By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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