Dealing with Random Verbal Abuse from Strangers

April 8, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

You do not have to be in an abusive relationship to experience verbal abuse. There can be many situations where an individual is subjected to verbal abuse from strangers. Unfortunately, this happens more often than you think. These random incidents are not okay, but it can be hard to deal with them when they come up. It can be in the form of personal insults, name-calling, or other belittling comments. 

I have been the victim of verbal assault on several occasions, including while I was running down the street and going to the grocery store. Both of these times, I was shocked to the point where I had no response and chose to ignore the instigator and leave the situation. 

Strangers Who Verbally Abuse (and More)

It is never healthy to treat people abusively, but unfortunately, many individuals do not feel there is anything wrong with their behavior, even to strangers in public. There can be several reasons why people lash out at strangers. 

Some of the reasons why verbal abuse shows up include: 

  • Learned behavior
  • Lashing out because of a bad day or week
  • Racism
  • Insecurities 
  • Lacking social skills

These reasons do not excuse verbal abuse in any way, but knowing why verbal abuse happens can help you deal with it when you experience it. 

What You Can Do About a Stranger's Verbal Abuse

There are different ways that you can deal with verbal abuse from strangers. Depending on your personality, you may want to choose one option rather than another. How you decide to react is a personal choice, and it should be what is best for you. 

Ignore the Abuse

Sometimes, it is easier to ignore the person who is insulting or belittling you in public. If you are in a shopping center or other large public area, you can walk away and remove yourself from the situation. This act can take the power away from the abuser while you control your environment. 

Call Them on It Without Escalation

Some people will choose to face the abuser head-on and confront them. This option can be a simple comment from you, like:

  • That is a horrible thing to say.
  • You should not treat people like that.
  • I don't appreciate being talked to like that.

It can be hard to call the person out on their behavior without them retaliating and forcing an escalation in the situation. If you have faced the abuser head-on and they are becoming more combative, you can still remove yourself from the environment. 

Respond with Kindness

You do not know what situations a stranger is going through unless they tell you personally. The choice to use empathy and kindness is a sign of compassion and understanding. By responding politely, the abuser may change their behavior or realize that their verbal assaults do not affect you and remove themselves from the situation. 

Verbal Abuse from Strangers Is Not Personal

Verbal abuse from strangers is not personal. It is often a result of a problem from the abuser rather than anything you have said or done. If you remember that it is not an attack on you as an individual, you can deal with the problem more easily without becoming emotionally involved.

Although facing verbal abuse from strangers can be surprising and difficult to manage at that time, it is an isolated incident, and you do not have to deal with that person further. Just knowing that you will not see them again can help you move on from the situation and not let it get to you. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, April 8). Dealing with Random Verbal Abuse from Strangers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, January 21 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

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

December, 7 2021 at 1:02 pm

As someone here said, it's so lonely to be verbally attacked by a stranger. Mine happened 2 days ago and it still twists my stomach up and makes me shake a little. These posts make me feel less alone but I wish the initial article had more advice or resources.

nora raafat
November, 28 2021 at 2:59 am

I also face a lot of verbal abuse and it can be hard in the moment not to internalize and whats worse I live in a small town where people are very entitled and if you don't say hi to everyone or talk to everyone they throw temper tantrums. I saw a man lose his cool because I did not return his smile and women got very verbally abusive and starting hurtling insults at me because I was not paying attention to them looking at me like I am a piece of meat. They were very upset and started talking to each other out loud calling me names hoping to get a rise out of me. An old lady started talking to her husband about me and everyone in the small town immediately launches into gossip and verbal abuse about me whenever I go anywhere but there is nothing I can do. I think these people are very narrow minded. I am not God and they can't make me solve their problems instantly they need to solve their own problems of having no social life. I began putting on headphones so I don't hear the verbal abuse and tirade of gossip and insults hurled my way when I go about my business. Its just a bit too much and I think these people in America are just really entitled and expect one girl to cater to every man and woman in the small town which if you ask me is the dumbest thing ever.

October, 21 2021 at 4:46 am

I could be walking down the street minding my own business when some ramdom stranger will say something inappropriate about me in a loud voice,even when they know i am not listening they will do it more. Some people will laugh because they think it's funny they just want to see you upset.
It seems every time i go out i cannot escape these things that people do to me.
Even when people see me on the opposite side of the street they will intentionally cough at me as i walk past i know it is fake because the more i ignore it the louder it gets.
Whenever i am being insulted by another person people don't really do anything they tend to join in with the person or pretend they don't see it, it can be a very lonely place when dealing with things like this. I have had people's dogs bark at me in the street and the owners never really do anything to stop it. I often ask myslef what could i have done to provoke this animal to behave like this then again i cannot blame the dog because their behaviour is a reflection of it's owner. But it's not just dogs i need to be mindful of but cyclists as well. People on bikes are not socailly aware of the people around them. The number of times i almost got hit by someone on a bike that i while crossing the road or turning the corner can be a frightening experience most cyclist never really acknowledge the danger they put you in they ride off without a care in the world leaving you to deal with the aftermath.
Most people behave like their pets if they are not angrily barking at me for absolutely no reason at all. They want to do what ever they can to make sure you know how they feel about you. Some people have even followed me down the street just to make fun of me this usually happens when i am on my own.
I feel like i can't go anywhere without soneone staring at me or saying something . I tend to aviod alot of places where i know it would draw attention to me. Because the last thing i need is to give people more of a reason to do things.
Going shopping is an altering experince because i encounter alot of troubled individuals. There was a time that the person i was with was inside buying a pair of shoes i decided it would be best if i waited outside. All of sudden i noticed these two guys staring at me from a distance. I heard one of them say she is a slag. As i turned to look at them briefly one of the men was acting in a hostile way. So made sure i had my body turning away from them. The more i stood there the more angry the guy became he kept repeating himslef so i choose not to look at them when my relative came out of the shop i was so reliefed all i wanted to do was get away from the two men who were constantly being abusive. And when they saw the person i was with they did not attempt to say anything else but i knew they were still watching. We went another way so that to avoid giving them any more reason to say anything else.
But this problem seems to happen wherever i go people seem to have real problem with me especially guys because they always have an angry expression on their face. The supermarket is no better because i feel from the moment i step over the freshold i feel as if the staff are immediately judging me. People tend to make a lot negative remarks which i usually brush off pretty well.
Most of the staff are not very engaging and will act like emotionaless statues i try smiling at them and being friendly but i get nothing back. I notice whenever they are around other customers they become a completely differently person they will go out of their way to put on a smile and become more friendly to them. It makes me wonder what i am doing wrong. I try being approachable and friendly but nothing works it does not matter how much i am being myslef it would never be enough for them because they don't see me like anyone else.
I am often ignored when standing in the line most people will jump in front of me and act as if i am not there i find this to be very furstating because certain people have no regards for the fact that you were there before them.
People take alot of time out of their day to stare at you. It's not so much the staring but the fact they can stand their and not say anything. People are fully aware they are doing it and make it apparent they are looking at you. I don't really look at people who do that. It is not a nice feeling knowing people are staring at you but there is not alot i can do about it. People will stare whether you like it not.
The wrost thing to happen to me is when i went to my local corner shop to buy a few things i was waiting in the line when these two individuals came in and tried to jump the cue. The woman who was in front told them that they had to wait in line. Once i finished paying at the counter was about to leave when all of a sudden this man puts his elbow out hitting me in my glasses i could feel the lense press agaisnt my eye.
As i turned to look at the man i wanted to see if he had noticed that he hurt me. He was so oblivious to what he had done because he was too busy talking to the shop keeper i thought the other customers in the shop would had said something to him but no one did so i could only aasume no one else saw what happened. When i left the shop i was pretty shocked because i was never expecting to be elbowed in my glasses.
When i got home i was so upset about had happened i tried so hard not think about what the man did to me. Every negative encounter has really affected how i see people i tend to limit my eye contact or keep my distance from them i rarely go out unless i have to. The more time i spend around people the more dangerous and unpredictable they become. I am alot more happy when I'm on my own than when i am being around other people.

S Collins
October, 16 2021 at 9:33 pm

With the level of verbal abuse that I see on the news from some people in the US, this sort of advice seems inadequate

Living Life…
September, 26 2021 at 3:51 am

I’ve been verbally attacked a few times by men this year. Standing on line @ Trader Joe’s. I thought the man was standing in line behind me, I turned around because he was standing closer than normal. His teeth clenched and growling “So are you gonna f’in move! …F you B!…” He had other options to get to the meat bread aisle. I saw people in line watching in horror. I yelled back @ him, “No one is in your way! Learn some manners you A’hole !.” & Today while crossing the street, a man in his truck at the red light called out & waved me down. He had a big smile on his face, so I thought he was going to give me a compliment or flirt. Looked professional. He was asking me for directions. I said “These are only street names not street numbers” he started hollering, “You stupid B! I didn’t ask you for a street name! Etc…” I stepped back & realized he was out his mind walked away & thought why he couldn’t google his own directions. He wanted my attention. My new strategy is to completely ignore people in these New York City streets to avoid these random rages, even if they “look” normal & nicely dressed.

August, 18 2021 at 2:50 pm

I was in a situation in July. This guy started yelling at me at a gas station. I tried to ignore him and just get in the car. He knocked on my car window. I still ignored him. He opened my car door. He told me, "You need to learn some manners." I told him, "You need to have some patience". He then screamed, "You need to get out of the way!". I slammed my door shut and had to ask my sister how to start her car. He had me so shook up. I still think about it and wonder why! Why did this happen to me? What was the reason? There's a reason for everything, but I can't figure this one out.

September, 21 2021 at 3:51 am

Some people might be suffering from a mental illness, drug abuse or are just self-entitled in how they treat people but expect better treatment back in return. I've had several occasions when complete strangers have shouted something offensive to me across the street, muttered in a lift, or have said something mean during what was supposed to be a fun hobby class. The only way I can justify that someone would want to intentionally hurt a stranger, other than the 3 reasons above, is because they have low self-esteem and think the temporary kick out of putting someone else down will make them feel better about themselves in the long run.
I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Let's try and surround ourselves with people who treat us right. Hang in there.

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