Medical News Today: What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse exists in several forms. However, it can be harder to spot than other types of abuse because it leaves no visible signs of damage and can be very subtle.

In many cases, perpetrators of verbal abuse will raise or recondition the other person. This may lead to the person on the receiving end believing that these behaviors are normal, which may also make it difficult to recognize.

Some common types of verbal abuse include:

Discounting and gaslighting

“Discounting” means denying someone else’s rights to their own thoughts, emotions, or experiences. This usually involves repetitively discounting and dismissing someone’s feelings.

This could mean telling someone that they:

  • are too sensitive
  • are childish
  • don’t have a good sense of humor
  • are being dramatic

Discounting can therefore cause someone to question their own version of reality and be unsure of whether what they feel is right or wrong.

It may also involve gaslighting, wherein the perpetrator denies events or describes them in a way so different to reality that the person on the receiving end starts to think that they are losing their memory or their mind.


This involves repetitive negative and judgmental evaluations that challenge someone’s sense of self-worth.

Typically, judging behavior involves the perpetrator using “you” statements such as:

  • “You’re never happy.”
  • “It’s never enough for you.”
  • “You’re always upset for no reason.”
  • “You’re so negative.”
  • “People don’t like you.”

The use of the word “you” in this context can isolate a person and be very emotionally damaging.


A person who uses this type of verbal abuse focuses on blaming someone for things they can’t reasonably control. Blaming as a form of abuse may manifest in one of several ways.

For example, a person might blame their partner for them:

  • not getting a raise
  • forgetting things
  • ruining their reputation
  • not finishing university


This type of verbal abuse involves someone calling someone else names that are negative, demeaning, or belittling, such as:

  • stupid
  • idiot
  • worthless
  • dumb

The perpetrator might try to disguise this abuse as “teasing” or “using pet names.”

A person might also use name-calling to negatively refer to someone’s ethnicity, gender, race, religion, or state of medical health.

For example, they may say, “Women are always so emotional,” or, “You’re old, who cares about you?”

Unhealthy arguments

Everyone disagrees or argues from time to time.

However, in verbally abuse relationships, arguments or disagreements usually progress toward shouting and involve aggressive comments. One person may also yell, threaten, or demean another until they get their own way or feel that they have “won.”


Withholding occurs when someone refuses to share their thoughts, feelings, or important or personal information with another, often in order to gain more attention.

It can also involve the “silent treatment,” wherein someone walks away from an argument or disagreement and refuses to answer calls or texts, ignoring someone over minor issues.


Condescension occurs when someone repeatedly makes hurtful statements that they claim are simply “jokes” or “sarcasm.” Sometimes, these “jokes” may even start out as funny but become demeaning as time goes on.

Examples include statements such as, “You’re always such a mess … I’m kidding!” or, “Oh wow, that looks great on you, it really accentuates your big hips.”


Manipulation occurs when a person repeatedly puts pressure onto someone else, often subtly. This, they may feel, allows them to order someone to do something without directly staying it.

Examples of manipulative statements include, “If you really cared about me you would do this,” and, “If you do that, everyone will think you’re a bad person.”


Threats are a more direct form of verbal abuse. Often, threats are a way of getting someone’s attention or controlling their behavior.

Some examples of threatening statements include:

  • “If you ever leave me, I will hurt myself or take the kids.”
  • “I will give your dog away if you do that.”
  • “You will be out of a job if you keep getting so emotional over nothing.”

False accusations

False accusations occur when a person repeatedly accuses someone of things they did not do. The perpetrator may also bring up situations that were resolved a long time ago.

For example, they may say:

  • “You’re probably staying late because you’re having an affair.”
  • “You’re always off having fun without me.”
  • “I bet you wore that just to get attention.”

Trivializing and undermining

This occurs when a person repeatedly makes statements or comments that trivialize and undermine someone else’s:

  • opinions
  • interests
  • occupation
  • style
  • personal preferences

This may also involve the perpetrator undermining or disagreeing with practically everything the other person says, suggests, does, or feels. For example, they may say things like, “Your job doesn’t really matter, so who cares if you’re late?” or, “You actually like that? You have such bad taste.”

Over time, statements such as these can cause someone to question their own ability to make good choices. This may cause them to feel as though they should resort to accepting the other person’s decisions.

Denial or justification

The perpetrator may also continuously deny, justify, or rationalize their abusive behavior. They may even refuse to acknowledge that their behavior is abusive, harmful, or within their own control.

For example, they may say, “I have a short temper, I can’t help getting so angry,” or, “I’m not being abusive, I just love you too much.”

Circular arguments

Sometimes, arguments can take a little while to resolve. However, in verbally abusive relationships, they can go round in seemingly endless circles, with no resolution in sight.

These arguments can be exhausting and cause a person to worry that any action or event could restart the whole process. This may change how they act or cause them to agree with everything the other person says or does in order to avoid further conflict.

Learn more about the signs of emotional abuse here.

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