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How to Recognize Verbal Abuse and Bullying

How to Recognize Verbal Abuse and Bullying

Most people assume that if they were being verbally abused they would know about it. After all, verbal abuse often involves yelling, put-downs, name-calling and belittling behaviors. But research has shown that there is so much more to verbal abuse than people realize. In fact, some people are verbally abused on a regular basis without even recognizing that it’s happening.

When someone is being verbally abused, the person attacking them may use a combination of both overt forms of abuse like engaging in name-calling and making threats but also more insidious methods like gaslighting, constantly correcting a person, interrupting her, putting down her ideas and demeaning her.

Even prolonged silent treatment is a form of verbal abuse. When this happens, the person is attempting to control and punish the victim by refusing to talk to her.

For some people, especially those who either experience verbal abuse in the home or experienced it as a child, it can often be overlooked because the verbal assaults feel like a normal way to communicate. But they are anything but normal and can have lasting consequences.

Defining Verbal Abuse and Bullying

Because verbal abuse isn’t as clear cut as other forms of abuse and bullying, like physical bullying and sexual bullying, it can be hard to identify. But that doesn’t make it any less real. Typically, verbal abuse involves some sort of verbal interaction that causes a person emotional harm. For instance, when someone is being downright critical, acting out in anger, and using words to try to control another person, this is verbal abuse.

This in turn leaves a victim questioning who they are. In fact, it is not uncommon for a victim of verbal abuse to feel inadequate, stupid, and worthless. After all, they are being defined by a verbally abusive person.

If verbal abuse occurs in a dating relationship, it can be particularly confusing because the partner is likely not abusive all the time.


As a result, when the abuser is loving and gentle the victim can forget all the about the negative behavior. Ultimately, the victim ends up ignoring the pattern of verbal abuse or makes excuses for the behavior saying things like he is just stressed out or he is going through a tough time right now.

The Effects of Verbal Abuse and Bullying

Just like any other form of abuse or bullying, verbal abuse has a lasting impact on victims. Consequently, they can experience a host of issues, including everything from anxiety and depression to even PTSD in severe cases. In fact, a number of studies have shown that children who are verbally abused either at home or by their peers at school are at a greater risk for depression and anxiety as adults.

Verbal abuse also can cause the victim to believe very negative things about themselves, which in turn impacts their self-esteem. It also can impact every element of their life, including their academic performance, their other relationships, and their success at work later in life. In fact, when verbal abuse is particularly severe it can impact whether or not a victim can see herself as being successful in any area of life. 

Recognizing Verbal Abuse in Your Life

When it comes to physical bullying, cyberbullying, and sexual assault, victims do not question whether or not they have been abused.


These types of abuse are obvious. But when it comes to verbal abuse, victims often question whether or not what they are experiencing is truly abusive. They also wonder whether or not it is a big deal. Here are some signs that a family member, friend, peer, or dating partner is verbally abusive.

Calls you names. Anytime someone engages in name-calling this is a form of verbal abuse. Even if the names are said in a neutral voice, this is not acceptable treatment of another person.

Uses words to shame you. Examples include critical, sarcastic, or mocking words that are meant to put you down. These may be comments about the way you dress, talk, or your intelligence.

Basically, shaming is any comment that makes you feel inferior or ashamed of who you are. 

Makes jokes at your expense. Typically, verbally abusive people will make you the butt of their jokes. This can be done in private or in person. But if you don't find it funny, then it is not harmless fun. What's more, verbally abusive people usually select jokes that attack an area where you feel vulnerable or weak.

Humiliates you in public. When you are insulted in public by a peer, a friend, a family member, or a dating partner, this can be particularly painful. The goal of the abuser is to control you by making you feel bad about who you are.

Criticizes you. Whether done in public or in private, criticism can be painful particularly if the person doing the criticizing is simply being mean and has no intention of being constructive. 

Yells, screams, or swears at you. Any time someone yells or curses at you, this is a display of power and the goal is to control and intimidate you into submission. As a result, it is abusive and should not be tolerated or excused. 

Makes threats. No threat should ever be taken lightly. When people make threats they are trying to control and manipulate you. Remember, there is no better way to control someone than to make them fearful in some way.

A Word From Verywell

Although the effects of verbal abuse can be significant, there is still hope for victims. In fact, once a person becomes able to recognize verbal abuse in their lives, they can start making informed decisions about which friendships and dating relationships are healthy and which are toxicfake, or abusive. They also can learn to stand up to verbal bullying. Remember, verbal abuse doesn't have to leave a lasting impact. With intervention, victims can overcome and cope with the bullying they have experienced. 

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