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How To Respond To Verbal Abuse

Learning how to respond to verbal abuse can improve how you handle hostile situations and increase your self-worth. Here's how to respond to verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse cuts deeply, especially if you don’t know how to respond to verbal abuse in an effective way. Arguments can be volatile with name-calling and blaming or more subtle like with passive-aggressive remarks or the silent treatment. One thing victims of verbal abuse come to discover is abusers are often irrational and unreasonable. The hostile language does not serve the purpose of getting a message across, it actually has nothing to do with what’s being said, it’s about the abuser’s need to gain power and control over the victim. Understanding the argument itself carries no real significance as the abuser makes it apparent that trying to reason or explain is useless. Learning how to respond to verbal abuse can alter the course of the attacks and help a verbal abuse victim regain his power.

7 Ways to Respond to Verbal Abuse

  1. Ignore it. Ignoring verbal abuse may sound like unrealistic advice. How do you ignore someone screaming in your face or calling you names that make you want to punch him or her? Believe it or not, ignoring an attack is extremely effective because verbal abusers thrive on the way their victims responds. His goal is to hurt you, if you are seemingly indifferent, it will trip him or her up and keep the abuser from getting the desired result (You Can’t Stop Verbal Abuse With More Words–Use Action).
  2. Don’t get emotional. Again — easier said than done. Crying, yelling, falling apart, and other emotional responses are what your abuser is after. Don’t give it to him. Rather than cry when you’re hurt by something he’s said, try to focus on how screwed up he must be to treat people so poorly. Shifting your perception of what’s happening will help you to not take it personally.
  3. Set boundaries. Setting boundaries is initially difficult but with courage and consistency, it can be extremely effective. Not just in potentially changing another’s treatment of you, but also in altering your own level of confidence and self-respect. This practice will help you to develop a sense a self-worth. It is up to you to teach people how to treat you. Try using responses like, “I won’t respond to you if you scream at me, please lower your voice.” or “If you continue calling me names, this conversation is over– you can communicate without name-calling.”
  4. Give it time. Letting things cool down before you attempt discourse can positively impact the overall tone and result of your discussion. Agreeing to or insisting that you give one another space for a set amount of time and then revisiting the conversation later helps to keep your responses more rational than emotional. You can say something like, “We’re both upset right now, let’s revisit this in a few hours when we’ve had a chance to calm down.”
  5. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Meeting crazy with crazy doesn’t generally help anybody — it escalates conflicts to unnecessary levels. When someone pulls all the crazy out, remain calm, cool, and collected. Don’t respond to screaming with screaming or name-calling with name-calling (Can a Retaliatory Response to Verbal Abuse Make You Abusive?). When he goes low, you go high. He may realize how belligerent he’s behaving and it should help to de-escalate matters to a more reasonable level.
  6. Anticipate and avoid. In verbally abusive relationships, there is an abuser and a victim and they go through a recurring and familiar cycle of abuse. The victim begins to know when an abusive attack is coming, she can feel the hostility building and she knows what sets the abuser off. When this is the case, and you know an altercation is in the foreseeable future, avoid it. Go visit a family member, stay late at work, take the kids out, do whatever you need to do to avoid an explosive environment until the dust settles.
  7. Stand up for yourself. There are calm and rational ways for a person to stand up for herself without being emotional or hostile. Find ways to be assertive and confident. If someone is degrading and belittling you, it is okay to say, “Those things are untrue and it is unacceptable to say that to me.” or “Don’t speak to me that way, I’m worth much more than that statement implies.”

Learning How to Respond to Verbal Abuse Empowers You

Learning how to respond to verbal abuse can be daunting and feel unattainable, but the more you practice, the easier it gets until it’s ingrained in your behavior. There’s a saying that goes, “people treat you how you let them”– sometimes people have to learn how to teach others to treat them. It may not come naturally to be assertive and confident, it’s terrifying for some people to stand up for themselves. However, just because it’s scary now, doesn’t mean it has to be forever. Slowly but surely, practice these ways of responding to verbal abuse, and you will see a new side of yourself you never knew existed.

Author: Emily Sullivan

Find Emily on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

6 thoughts on “How To Respond To Verbal Abuse”

  1. Hi Emily, this last paragraph really summed it all up for me: “We’ve learned that actually, the problem isn’t that we’re too needy. The problem lies, once again, with the perpetrator of verbal and psychological abuse. And it’s not our problem to fix.”
    After years of verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse…..and having it engrained in your head daily that you’re the one that’s screwed up, you’re the one who’s crazy, you’re the unreasonable one when it’s so obvious that they’re so far above any fault in their own minds, it’s been a long slow recovery, and seeing and knowing that it wasn’t me at all who needed the fixing.
    Thank you for a well written and defined article.

    1. Thanks so much! It’s true; when you take a step back and look at the person behind the actions, you can get a whole new perspective on the behavior you’ve witnessed/been subjected to. Thanks again for reading. -Emily

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