How to Avoid Verbal Abuse During Controversial Conversations

December 23, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

Verbal abuse can rear its ugly head in situations when you least expect it. Often large gatherings with friends and family will bring up controversial topics surrounding politics and current events. When you mix several people in a group with different opinions, tempers can rise, causing some inappropriate comments and even verbal abuse

In the past, I know that when family members and friends gathered, not everyone would see eye-to-eye on all subject matters. These conflicting opinions could quickly become apparent when individuals started talking about topics in the news.

I know that in some gatherings I have been part of, the first rule of the evening was that no one in attendance was to discuss religion or politics. This way, everyone had pre-set guidelines on engaging appropriately in the group and it avoided many hurtful feelings or uncomfortable discussions. 

Why Verbal Abuse Happens During Controversial Conversations

Occasionally, someone who is not typically verbally abusive can spew hurtful comments to their friends and family without realizing the implications. Verbal abuse can arise when individuals have strong opinions about a topic. Facing opposing views when they are confident that their position is correct can bring about anger from passive people. 

Individuals who may be verbally abusive when in a heated discussion may be so because: 

  • They feel like others are verbally attacking them.
  • They become defensive about their individual values and opinions.
  • They are adamant their position is correct.
  • They are not accepting of other views or positions. 
  • They want to try to persuade others to believe in their position with force. 

There is no excuse for being verbally abusive, even in friendly conversations with family or acquaintances. However, if this situation becomes a problem at your next gathering, it should not be allowed to continue. 

What You Can Do

If you find yourself in a heated discussion this holiday season, it is possible to diffuse the situation and minimize the chance of escalation. No one likes to be the victim of verbal abuse, and if there is a way to avoid it, you can spare yourself and others hurt feelings and displaced anger. 

If someone is becoming agitated and starts to raise their voice or it seems like the situation is escalating, you can try one or more of these methods: 

  • Keep calm and do not engage in similar behaviors or react to the abuse.  
  • Clearly state to the individual who is being abusive that while they may disagree with your opinion, it does not give them the right to be verbally abusive to you or others. 
  • Encourage everyone to take a break or a time-out from the subject. Express your concern for any unnecessary resentment and ask for a change in subject matter to keep the conversation light and manageable. 
  • Excuse yourself from the group and walk away from the conversation. Go grab a snack or refill your punch and find an alternative conversation to join where you will not be the victim of verbal abuse.

It can be challenging to keep yourself from being the victim of verbal abuse when friends and family members enter heated discussions during the holidays. Of course, you want to engage in conversations and be part of the group. Still, when differences occur, not everyone can control their reactions well, especially if alcohol is involved. 

Enjoy the Holidays Without the Hurt

If you are hosting a gathering, one sure-fire way to avoid becoming the victim of verbal abuse is to ensure that all your guests know the expectations for casual conversations ahead of time. In addition, avoiding topics where tempers can flare will help minimize the chances of someone saying something that could be hurtful. 

To steer conversations to lighter subjects, you can opt for: 

  • Movies, television shows, or books
  • Music, art, or the theatre 
  • Foods, specialty dishes, and meals 
  • Children and pets 
  • Upcoming vacations or travel plans 

Remember that the holiday season is a time to gather and enjoy each other's company. If you have no way to avoid verbally abusive conversations at large gatherings, you do have the choice not to attend. Doing what is best for your mental health is essential, even if it means skipping dinner with a group, so you are not the victim of abuse. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, December 23). How to Avoid Verbal Abuse During Controversial Conversations, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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