5 Common Patterns of Verbal Abuse

August 23, 2018 Emma-Marie Smith

You can see the patterns of verbal abuse in most abusive relationships. Discover 5 patterns of verbal abuse and how to spot them on HealthyPlace.

As anyone who has been in an abusive relationship will tell you, patterns of verbal abuse exist. These abusive patterns (combined with tactics like gaslighting and manipulation) create misplaced feelings of trust and codependency and keep survivors coming back for more. Statements like "you're being too sensitive" or "you're imagining things" can make the abusive cycle even more confusing, causing survivors of abuse to think the problem lies with them. If this sounds familiar, you could be in an abusive relationship. Here are five common patterns of verbal abuse to watch out for.

Verbal Abuse Patterns to Watch Out For

These patterns of verbal abuse are typical of abusive relationships.

  1. Short bursts: Abuse occurs in short burst but between incidents, the relationship seems normal. Abusive interactions might involve verbal put-downs, gaslighting, financial abuse, control or emotional manipulation. (Such as, "If you don't do what I want I will be upset/harm myself/end the relationship.")
  2. Love bombing: Love bombing is when verbal abuse and control are interspersed with romantic gestures and sentiments. This pattern is incredibly effective at confusing and gaslighting the survivor, as it creates an addictive cycle of emotions. One minute an abuser is being cruel and heartless, the next, the same person is adoring and attentive. 
  3. Not seeking reconciliation: The domestic violence narrative we're exposed to in books and movies is always the same: the abuser lashes out, then begs for the partner's forgiveness. However, another common pattern also exists -- one where the abuser does nothing to seek reconciliation. This typically occurs when the abuser is confident the survivor will keep coming back, usually after a prolonged period of abuse. In this instance, the survivor becomes solely responsible for all the problems in the relationship as well as for trying to solve them. This helps the abuser deflect blame from him or herself while diminishing the partner. 
  4. Minimizing: Rather than apologizing or denying the abuse, abusers may also minimize the pain they have inflicted by disguising abuse as a joke or claiming the other person is overreacting. When confronted, the abuser may say, "It's all in your head," or claim there is nothing to talk about.
  5. Withholding: During periods where abusers feel insecure, they may withhold contact or affection from the survivor. Withholding can also be used as a punishment if the survivor has done or said something the abuser didn't like. It's important to note that withholding affection or contact isn't necessarily abusive on its own. Withholding is usually accompanied by other forms of abuse, such as control, manipulation, gaslighting, verbal put-downs or physical violence over a prolonged period. Over time, it succeeds in isolating, degrading and depriving the survivor of basic necessities -- such as conversation and physical closeness.

Verbal Abuse When There Is No Pattern

Sometimes, verbal abuse seems to come from nowhere and there is no distinguishable pattern of verbal abuse between incidents. However, there is almost always a reason or trigger behind the behavior. The abuser (whether knowingly or unknowingly) may feel insecure when the relationship seems normal or the survivor is happy. This is why abuse often occurs when everything seems fine in the relationship.

What to Do If You're Locked in an Abusive Pattern

Verbal abuse can be incredibly damaging. Some survivors claim they found emotional forms of violence even more harmful than physical violence, though, of course, the two aren't mutually exclusive (The Invisible Line Between Verbal and Physical Abuse).

If you think you're being abused, please reach out using one of the numbers listed below:


UK: 0808 2000 247

If you live outside the UK or US, speak to your nearest domestic violence shelter or Women's Helpline for support and advice. You don't have to go through the patterns of verbal abuse alone.

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2018, August 23). 5 Common Patterns of Verbal Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Emma-Marie Smith

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March, 26 2019 at 6:03 am

After reading the five , i thought god that is me,. thats exactly how it is. Four yrs i have had of this. I am middle aged. Trouble is my fella has BPD and i tried to excuse his behaviour , over and over. But he has completely broken me with his inappropriate verbal behaviour. I had relied on him financially too, but he gave without asking. Then when i tried to split , he kept throwing at me , all i have given you and done for you. I have finally blocked him. I Have to keep away , i couldnt go on any more

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