Why Verbal Abuse Is So Dangerous
Most people think physical violence is more dangerous than verbal abuse in a relationship, but this is a misconception. It's why we often hear well-meaning advice such as, "If an abuser's behavior turns violent, it's time to leave." But should it have to get to this point before the abused person walks away? Emotional abuse and physical violence are not mutually exclusive -- in fact, one is usually a precursor to the other. So, let's explore the psychological side effects of verbal abuse, some of which have dangerous implications.
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for two years. For most of that time, I was anxious, lonely, and depressed. I felt sick when I heard my boyfriend's key in the door; I dreaded having to tell him something I knew he wouldn't like -- I even had dreams about him murdering me. I was genuinely afraid of him and, although I never admitted it, I believed it was only a matter of time before his threats of physical violence became my reality. And yet, I didn't consider myself at risk. I'd like to think I am a perceptive person, so why didn't I see the real dangers of his verbal abuse?
The Dangers of Verbal Abuse Are Often Minimized
Because emotional abuse is so subtle, the warning signs of impending abuse are hard to spot. Verbal abuse mostly takes place behind closed doors, and there are no black eyes, finger imprints, or broken bones. Yet, as victims, we feel battered, exhausted, and weak, without a single scar or bruise to show for it.
We minimize the effects of these verbal attacks, both inwardly and outwardly, because that's the only way we can cope. It's easy to keep our secret from the world because we doubt that the emotional abuse is actually happening. Instead, we believe what our abusers are telling us: that we're crazy, its all in our heads, and if only we could be a little less selfish and responsive to their expectations, then the abuse would stop.
Verbal Abuse: The Hidden Dangers
The effects of verbal abuse are often overlooked or they are confused with residing mental health issues or addictions. However, this lack of awareness is contributing to the stigma surrounding domestic abuse in all its forms, so it's important to recognize the dangers. Verbal abuse can lead to:
- Depression: Verbal abuse will diminish your self-confidence, sense of self, and trust in your own perceptions. The repeated negative comments (along with other abusive tactics such as withholding contact, gaslighting, and lack of affection) can easily cause you to become depressed.
- Dissociation: Loss of "self-concept" may result in dissociation, which your brain believes provides an escape from the psychological trauma caused by verbal abuse. Some victims even become more like their abusers, either because they think that will make their abusers happy, or because it helps them feel more in control.
- Self-medicating: Being manipulated, insulted, and ignored by someone you love is incredibly painful. Inevitably, you will find ways to lessen that pain -- whether it's alcohol, drugs, or overeating. However it manifests, it's not uncommon for victims of verbal abuse to experience problems with addiction.
- Physical abuse: Like physical abusers, perpetrators of verbal abuse need to control and subjugate those they are closest to. The subtle tactics of fear, humiliation, guilt, and manipulation come from the same place as physical violence: a place of anger, insecurity, and fear of losing control. Whichever way you look at it, it's likely that an emotional abuser could later turn violent.
- Self-harm: Eventually, recipients of verbal abuse will lose their sense of personal value, which can lead to thoughts of self-harm. In extreme cases, some victims contemplate suicide because they don't feel able to escape the abuse any other way.
My Verbally Abusive Relationship and Why It Was Dangerous
As for me, I became so convinced that I was worthless that I clung to my abusive partner, believing no one else could ever want me. I continued the relationship for far too long, thinking I had nowhere else to go and that he was doing me a favor by staying with me.
Being alone was my ultimate fear. My boyfriend made me despise myself so much that I couldn't bear the thought of separating from him. Because without him, there was nothing else. I may not feel this way now, but I know that so many people are still living with the genuine dangers of verbal abuse, which is why it's so important to continue this conversation.
Let me know your thoughts below, and thank you for reading.
Smith, E. (2017, November 28). Why Verbal Abuse Is So Dangerous, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2017/11/why-verbal-abuse-is-so-dangerous
Author: Emma-Marie Smith
I experienced verbal abuse by my husband and for quite some time I knew better but still did everything to change myself and then after not putting through divorce attempts I finally come down to the point I was ready to come to it. I have now put it into motion but still with his visits on the weekends I find myself needing to stay strong for me and my daughter.
Yes I'm in a verbal relationship with a man who has been my husband for 2 yrs now bit together for 10 we have 2 boys 5 and 7 every time he has a drink he gets abusive with his words toward me and even in front of his friends and family and even are kids I want to leave and be happy but I'm scared if I do I wont have my kids this has been going on threw out most of are 10 yrs there has also been a few times he had put his hands on me once in which I was pregnant what can I do or is it even okay to just leave this kind of relationship not to mention there is a 30 yr difference in are ages!!
This is not the same type of relationship but my grandpa was verbally and is verbally abusive and my dad was physically abusive when I was very younge and verbally as well I’m gonna let off eveything thing else that’s happened I was put into a sexual position at 6 that I did not want to be in with my female cousin of the same age I remember the mommy daddy game is what she call no one believes me but those who rarely do say it was exspirimental and I never had a great relationship with my family so that really sucked all my life I’ve been bullied and ridiculed and it’s been awful I need help I’ve tried killing and harming myself since I was six and I cry all the time I just want the suffering to stop it’s only the small things that keep me going like the sweet and protective guy I’m dating, I’m 12 gonna be 13 and my childhood was fucked up im not just a girl anymore....thank you for listening and I hope you get through anything your going through ❤️
I am so sorry to hear all of this. Im a 30 year old male that has been dealing with physical and emotional abuse since as far back as my brain remembers not including all the things I've repressed from my memory. I have a very hard time living with myself because I started to believe all thos terrible things people told me about myself. I still deal with it to this day. I take depression and anxiety meds to which i feel dont work at all they just make me feel worse. But what i do when I start hating myself is I remember my great grandma that raised me and how much she loved me and the praise she always gave me and it typically helps within minutes. Try and take your mind to a good time on your life. Always remember you are not those bad things that people say you are. And you definitely do not deserve and physical abuse either. You are worth it and if you need to talk I've left my email along with this post. Please take care and keep us updated. We are all here for each other. With love always, a very hurt soul.
heyy, i am so sorry about everything you've been through. i truly am sorry x i just wanted to let you know that although it may feel as if no one loves you there are so many people that love you. it may be rough and trust me i have a similar story so i know what its like, im the same age as you and i just wanted to tell you that its going to be ok, you can always email me if you need someone to talk to and it would be nice to get to know you more xx
I am currently l9cked into this situation and i had been so lonely for many years spending everyday crying and ended up badly hurt and I feel so sick. I can't get out!!! I am so lost and I dont know what to do. Im afraid of the beep from Viber because i know it will be another hurtful monent. I hate to be in this situation. ?
My gf called me names that I can't even repeat here... She physically abused me in the past and topped it off with an assault with weapon... I got scared for my life. Over the past 3 years she showed little to no guilt whatsoever but she never physically hurt me again except one big slap in the face. (even though she faced the police and the court) I can say that she is the one having most of the mental issues because after the assault I changed. I still love her cuz I know deep inside she is a beautiful person. we are now miles apart and I miss her good side vm.
Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry to hear about what you want through. Dealing with mental health issues and abuse is incredibly complicated, but it does sound as if you are safer apart from her -- especially since she has shown no remorse for her actions.. I assume she is getting help, so try to focus on rebuilding your own life. Relationship abuse of any kind is incredibly traumatic so it's important that you get the support and ongoing help that you need. Over time, those residual feelings of love for her "good side" will probably subside, but talking to a therapist will help you work through your feelings.
Good luck, and take care.
I’m very much afraid that what I am experiencing is emotional abuse from my wife. I do t know what to do
Could you suggest going to see a couple's therapist together? It's so difficult because often the only way out of an abusive situation is to leave, but many people feel they can't do that. Also, it's possible that your wife isn't aware of how her behavior is making you feel. As I've said in previous articles, although there is never an excuse for relationship abuse, there is always an explanation. Your wife could be lashing out due to feelings of insecurity or a need for control. She could be suffering a mental illness. Whatever the reason, emotional abuse is never OK and it needs to stop.
Try telling her that the way she's making you feel is not OK. Advise her that she needs to change the way she treats you if she wants the relationship to continue. It depends on the circumstances of course, but sometimes changes in behavior (if that's what this is?) can be explored and worked through. However, it takes both people to make that happen.
Good luck, and please feel free to come back to the site for support any time.
Hi Tim, I can't advise you what to do but I would not stay in any abusive situation the effects on oneself from abuse is devastating and extremely traumatizing.
I was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused, throughout my childhood. This included bullying in school. So, I started out believing that I was something to be despised. I got my first job, in my career field, hoping that my life would be better. My supervisor slowly proceeded to verbally/emotionally abuse me. He would tell me that I was the "least productive" in the office; that "everybody" had trouble with me; that I "never" did this, or "always" did that. I would feel horrible and ashamed (although that confirmed my assumption about myself). Months later, I was told that I was the "most productive...", and that "everyone" liked me, and "everything" I did was wonderful. He would alternate between these opposite types of feedback. I found myself goofing off at work, which, I think, was to handle my anxiety by making the verbal abuse happen; to "get it over with"). He practiced gaslighting with myself and other staff members. When we would point out that he had told us something, he would angrily deny saying it, and we would drop it. He had great charisma, and it was hard for others to believe what he was doing. One time, after being told how "wonderful" I was, I said something like, "what about the times that I am awful"? He told me, "stop being paranoid". I went through this for almost 10 years, then escaped to an even more abusive work setting, where I had a supervisor who not only berated me, but yelled at me, as well. I'm free of that, but I struggle with knowing how to handle criticism, and if that criticism is valid, or not. I don't know if I do my work right, or not. I went from horrible supervision, to no supervision, at all. I am constantly guessing...
Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry to hear about the experiences you've had; they must have taken phenomenal strength to work through, and are bound to have had a lasting effect on your self-esteem and your perception of criticism.
Handling criticism is something a lot of people struggle with, myself included. It can be complex because sometimes the criticism is just, and other times we feel like we're being berated unnecessarily -- like we're always the target for someone else to project their issues on to. At work, it can be difficult to escape people who we consider "toxic" or overly critical -- I've had this problem in the past. It can be even more difficult to know whether the problem is with them or us, but I'm not sure the answer is ever that black and white. While we can control our environments to some extent, we can't always avoid abusive people at work, therefore we need to develop coping mechanisms to help us deal with them.
In a recent article, I explored the idea that some people are easy targets for abuse ( (Easy Targets for Verbal Abuse: Why Me?). You might find the article helpful to read. There is also a podcast episode that I listen to called Handling Criticism, which is part of The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) Podcast series -- you don't have to identify as an HSP to relate, and some of the advice is really helpful.
I just left my emotionally & verbally husband after 30 years. I have bought my own home & am really glad I had the strength & ability to leave. I used to drive around or park in shopping centers because I hated the thought of going home. I was suicidal for nearly 5 years. I thought about it everyday. I was so manipulated and didn't realize it for way too long. It was so subtle that I never noticed my personhood slipping away. He would go ballistic over the most innocuous comments. I walked on eggshells daily, until I only spoke about superficial things with him. He very rarely wanted sex, even when we were young. I was a good wife to that man. He used and abused my love for him. It was worse when our son was living with us. I think he was jealous of the attention a child requires. I have a lot of bitterness about the years I wasted on him, hoping for changes he wouldn't make. I am never going back to him and I have no desire to ever have another man in my life again. I may get lonely sometimes, but that's a lot better than what I lived with for so many years.
If you're in an abusive relationship, get out as soon as you can. Life is too short to be miserable loving someone who can't really love you back.
Hi Alison, thanks for your comment. I definitely agree with your closing statement -- I felt far lonelier in an abusive relationship than I ever did on my own. I'm glad you were able what sounds like an awful situation, and I hope you continue to heal. It sounds like you're incredibly strong and self-aware, so I'm sure life will only get better from here.
I was in an abusive relationship with my first wife for years. It just kept getting worse every year. It was mostly verbal/emotional, but it beccame unbearable. When my mood swings got so bad that I had to go to the hospital, I didn't want to go home! After 10 days in a locked psych ward, I dreaded going back hgome. I worked up the will to leave her and get a divorce after I got home. Best decision I ever made.
Thanks for your comment. Emotional abuse is about as unbearable as it gets -- I totally know what you mean about not wanting to go home. I'm glad you were able to make the decision to leave.
Fantastic article Emma-Marie! I really enjoyed this one, so on point. Great topic and I loved the video too. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Emily! I'm glad you enjoyed it.