The 15 Characteristics of Verbal Abuse

via married2mrmean

“As defined by Patricia Evans, in her book The Verbally Abusive Relationship – How to recognise it and how to respond.

“I make reference to Patricia Evans often and decided I would write this entry, in case anyone needs it :) None of these words are my own, they are all taken from the book.”


Withholding is a choice to keep virtually all one’s thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams to oneself and to remain silent and aloof towards one’s partner, to reveal as little as possible and to maintain an attitude of cool indifference.

The verbal abuser who chooses to withhold can add a variety of flourishes and camouflages to his withholding, such as pretending not to hear, picking up something to look at while his partner is sharing or watching television while saying “Go ahead, I am listening” when it is clear that he is not.

As a category of verbal abuse, countering is one of the most destructive in a relationship because it prevents all possibility of discussion, it consistently denies the victim’s reality and it prevents the partner from knowing what her mate things about anything.

An abuser who constantly counters seems only to think the opposite of his partner. If she (or he) says anything directly or expresses thoughts on something, the abuser will say it is the opposite. What he is really saying is “No, that’s not the way it is” even about her most personal experience of something.

Discounting denies the reality and experience of the partner and is extremely destructive. The verbal abuser discounts his (or her) partner’s experience and feelings as if they were worth nothing. He will say something that gives her the message “Your feeling and experiences are wrong, they are worth nothing.” Such as – “You’re making a big deal out of nothing, you always jump to conclusions, you can’t take a joke, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you take everything the wrong way.”

This kind of abuse is not done in jest. It cuts to the quick, touches the most sensitive areas and leaves the abuser with a look of triumph. The abuse never seems funny because it isn’t funny.

Disparaging comments disguised as jokes often refer to the nature of the partner, their intellectual abilities or competency. If the partner says “I didn’t think that was funny” the abuser will discount her experience by angrily saying “You don’t have a sense of humour!” or “You just can’t take a joke!”

This category of verbal abuse specifically controls interpersonal communication. The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed or withholds information. He or she can prevent all possibility of resolving conflicts by blocking and diverting. This may be by direct demand or by switching the topic.

Examples of blocking are:

*You’re just trying to have the last word!
*You think you know it all!
*This conversation is over!
*Just drop it!

Through diversion the topic is changed. None of the abuser’s diversions answer the partner’s question in a thoughtful or considerate way.

A verbal abuser will accuse his partner of some wrongdoing or some breach of the basic agreement of the relationship, blaming his partner for his anger, irritation and insecurities.

When asked a question, the abuser will accuse his partner of attacking him. In this way, he avoids all intimacy and possibility of exploring his partner’s feelings.

The verbal abuser may judge his or her partner and then express his judgement in a critical way. If the partner objects, the abuser may tell her that he is just pointing our something to be helpful, when in reality he may be expressing his lack of acceptance of her.

Most verbal abuse carries a judgmental tone.

Statements which begin with “The trouble with you is…” are judgmental, critical and abusive.
Statements which begin with “Your problem is….” are judgemental, critical and abusive.
Critical “stories” about your mistakes or actual lies about you which embarrass you in front of others are abusive.

Trivialising says, in so many words, that what you have done or expressed is insignificant. When trivialising is dont in a frank and sincere tone of voice, it can be difficult to detect.

if the partner is very trusting, she may listen with an open mind to the abuser’s comments and end up feeling perplexed that he doesn’t understand her or her work or her interests.

Trivialising can be very subtle, so that the partner is left feeling depressed and frustrated but isn’t quite sure why. It can be confusing to the partner because, if she doesn’t recognise it for what it is, she believes she somehow hasn’t been able to explain to her mate just how important certain things are to her. The abuser may feel one up when he puts his partner down, but his partner is kept on an emotional roller coaster.

Undermining not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination. The abuser who undermines his partner has usually verbally abused her in many other ways. Consequently, her self-esteem and confidence are already low, making her that much more vulnerable to the abuse.

Comments such as those below, which dampen interest and enthusiams, are examples of undermining:

Partner: What a pretty flower!
Abuser: A flower is just a flower.

Partner: I’d like to find out if there are any……
Abuser:*What’s the point?
OR Why bother?
OR Who cares?
OR I don’t see that that’ll get you anywhere.

Direct squelches such as the following are also undermining:

Who asked you?
Nobody is interesting in your opinion.
You wouldn’t understand.
Who are you trying to impress?

Sabotaging is also a way of undermining, such as disruption and interruption. For example, the abuser my sabotage his partner’s conversations with others by causing some disturbance. He may also simply interrupt her by finishing her story, opposing her or negating her.

Threatening manipulates the partner by bringing up her worst fears. Verbally abusive threats usually involve the threat of loss or pain.

Some examples:
Do what I want or I will leave.
Do what I want or I will get a divorce.
Do what I want or I will get really angry.

Name calling is one of the most overt categories of verbal abuse.

Forgetting involves both denial and covert manipulation.

The declaration by the abuser that what occurred didn’t occur is abusive. Everyone forgets what happened now and then. However, consistently forgetting interactions which have a great impact on another person is verbally abusive denial.

Often, after the partner collects herself after being yelled at or put down, she may try to talk to her mate about it. He will have conveniently “forgotten” the incident, saying, for example, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not going to listen to this.”

Some abusers seem to consistently forget the promises which are most important to their partners. Often the partner is truly counting on a very important agreement made by her mate. he will have “forgotten” the agreement.

Ordering denies the equality and autonomy of the partner. When the abuser gives orders instead of asking respectfully for what he wants, he is treating his partner as if she were the glove on his hand, automatically available to fulfill his wishes.

14. DENIAL –
Although all verbal abuse has serious consequences, denial is one of the most insidious categories of verbal abuse because it denies the reality of the partner.

I never said that.
You’re making all of that up.
We never had that conversation.
I don’t know where you got that.
You have got to be crazy.

When the partner of the abuser clearly realises that:
He DID say that, she’s made nothing up, they did have that conversation, shes upset about something, her experience IS real and she is not crazy, then, she has enough self-esteem and knowledge to recognise verbal abuse.

Anger underlies, motivates and perpetuates verbally abusive behavior.

In order to recognise abusive anger, it is essential that the partber fully realise that she is in no way responsible for being yelled at, snapped at, raged at or even glared at-no matter how demanding, accusing or blaming the abuser is.

The partners of verbal abusers know that explaining what they really said, meant or did has never brought an apology such as “Oh, I am so sorry to have snapped, shouted or yelled at you. Will you forgive me?”

The partners of verbal abusers know this from experience. But they hope that they will not have to give up the hope that *this time* he will understand. This hope may be the hardest of all hopes to give up.

It is also important for the partner to fully realise that there is no “way she can be” to prevent the abuser from venting his anger to her. Speaking more gently, listening more attentively, being more supportive, more interesting, more learned, more fun, thinner, cuter or classier – being more anything will not work.

The abuser’s anger arises out of his general sense of Personal Powerlessness. he expresses his anger either covertly through subtle manipulation or everything in unexpected outbursts directed at his partner. These outbursts accuse and blame the partner.
By making her his scapegoat, he denies the real cause of his behavior and convinced himself and usually his partner that she has somehow said or done something to justify the abuse.

Attempts by the partner to find out what is wrong simply do not work. The abuser will deny his anger outright or claim that his partner is to blame for his behavior. If the abuser were to admit that his partner was not the cause of his anger, he would have to face himself and his own feelings.

In most cases, abusers are unwilling to do this.

Patricia Evans

This entry was posted in Abuse - General, Abuse - Verbal and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The 15 Characteristics of Verbal Abuse

  1. A few comments about this, though. Sometimes some of the issues mentioned really are legitimate, not the flags of abuse so stated.

    6. Accusing and blaming – Sometimes something the partner did really did violate agreements, etc., and the accusations and blame are thus totally warranted. And sometimes people just feel insecure, for whatever reasons, and asking these kinds of questions is just a way of seeking reassurance. Just being jealous or suspicious and expressing those feelings is not inherently abusive in and of itself.

    10. Threatening – Setting limits and boundaries is sometimes mistaken for making threats, particularly by people who don’t understand the concepts of boundaries and limits to start with, or their partners’ rights to have them. After putting up with it for a while, perhaps, one might tell a partner that if X (fill in abusive behavior here) happens again, that it will be a dealbreaker and will cause her to have to leave the relationship.

    This is not the sort of threat that Evans is talking about here. That is very healthy setting of limits, maintaining of boundaries. Abusers hate it when their victims set boundaries and hold them; it deprives them of their fix of controlling that victim.

    It’s critically important that people understand the difference between a real threat that is abusive and manipulative and something like this, though. This is one area where abusers often try to turn the tables back on their victims, when the victims do try to take a stand and set boundaries. Sometimes an abuser will try to call his victim abusive by citing “threats” such as these – among other things. But this is decidedly *not* abuse in this kind of situation. Everyone has a right to set their own limits and boundaries.

    12. Forgetting and 14. Denial
    – Sometimes people really do forget, legitimately, and sometimes even frequently, for many reasons, particularly as we get older, and some just don’t have great memories to start with. Various medical conditions and medications can also make this worse. Yes, it’s difficult and puts strain on a relationship, but it’s really not abusive per se in a situation like this. I’ve struggled badly with this myself, and felt absolutely terrible when I forgot something important to my partner, particularly when it happened repeatedly, but it was entirely rooted in my own issues and medical situation.

    Likewise, denial really may be someone legitimately forgetting something – and if you don’t remember it, you will often naturally deny that it happened, or that you said it, etc.

    What does the abuser do when confronted with proof of what actually happened, though? Does he own up to it? Apologize and admit that he was mistaken? Or does he continue to deny it?

    Because some of these can cut both ways, it’s really important to understand the difference.

  2. Shadowlady says:

    I think your comment is very valid on these characteristics. Yet at the same time I think it is not one or the other that is making it abuse, it is the multitude and the characteristics reappearing on a continuous or very regular basis. Plus if within a BDSM connection; “is there consent” Some people really do get off on humiliation. And as you have pointed out before it is a thin line between abuse and kink sometimes except for the critical consent factor.

    I see these 15 as ingredients. One in itself is maybe not a meal (i.e. abuse) but when put together they become a meal and a bad one at that. The other part in it is the intent of the abuser. What is he/she trying to achieve? Felling better themselves or reaching out to another person in a socially inept way. That needs to be a critical distinction as well.

    Having said all that. If 5 or more of these characteristics are present and are an integrated, non consensual part of your relationship you are well on the way of being in a verbally abusive relationship

  3. Absolutely, Shadowlady. And I think that almost everyone does many of these things once in a while, but not as a steady diet. It’s that steady diet indeed that adds up to abuse.

    Theoretically, repeated episodes of one alone would be abusive, but of course, they never occur by themselves. They always come in multiples.

    Intent vs social ineptitude is an interesting thought, and is a question I’m less sure of. It’s clear to me that many (not all) abusers don’t actually set out with overt *intent* to abuse, at least at the beginning. Most of them don’t sit down and think things like, “Gee, I think I’ll abuse my partner today” or anything of the sort – although admittedly, things like isolating their partners and the like do seem to be much more deliberate. The fact that some can and do change is actually a testimony to the fact that much of it may indeed actually be just poor communications skills, at least in some circumstances. Anger management is a biggie, also, though, in a huge percentage of cases, so poor impulse control is a factor. Again, though, there’s a certain amount of social ineptitude there.

    Ditto with trying to feel better themselves. Most people aren’t even aware that that’s what they’re doing, and may be horrified when and if they learn that that is the dynamic behind what they are doing. That’s certainly social ineptitude of a sort, when people don’t know other, more constructive ways of achieving that goal, but it still has the same negative effect on the partner.

    I think maybe a big part of the difference is a question of degree, as well as what they do about it when the issues are brought to their attention. Are they open to hearing about it? Apologetic? Do they appear sincerely remorseful? Do they make a really good faith effort through things like counseling (including couples counseling, because that’s the only way to really understand a particular relationship dynamic and sort it out) to learn about what they are doing in depth, along with more constructive behavior? Or does pointing out the problem only start a fresh round of nastiness and a digging in, deliberate retaliation, etc.?

    OTOH, that cycle of abuse and then apparently sincere apology is almost pathognomonic of abuse by itself.

    What do you think?

  4. Shadowlady says:

    You said OTOH, that cycle of abuse and then apparently sincere apology is almost pathognomonic of abuse by itself.

    Totally 100% true. The first sincere apology may be genuine, but if things happen again and a gain, the apology no matter how sincere is part of the abuse cycle.
    The abuser alleviates their guilt onto their victim, who in turn will feel guilty ‘after all he is really really sorry and promised it would never happen again’ ……..unitl it doe and chances are it is because the victim “made” them do it with their behaviour *sigh*.

    Lack of taking responsibility for action now that is a characteristic of abuse too!!!

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