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How to Defend Yourself from Verbal Abuse

August 12, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

If you or someone you know has been the victim of verbal abuse, it can be hard to determine how to handle the situation. Verbal abuse can show up in the home, at work, or even in public situations. Each circumstance is unique, and knowing how to defend yourself against verbal abuse can be complex. In some cases, verbal abuse can lead to physical violence, so effectively handling it can keep you safe from harm. 

How to Defend Yourself When Confronted with Verbal Abuse

Examine the Real Reason for the Verbal Abuse

There could be an underlying issue why your abuser is lashing out at you during this moment. Although this is not an excuse to condone verbal abuse in any way, it could help you understand why they are acting abusively towards you. Sometimes if you can pinpoint the source of the anger, you can help diffuse the situation. Did you make a comment or do something that they misinterpreted? Is the abuser angry at someone else, but you are the person in front of them right now taking the negative energy? Do they feel threatened by you in some way? 

Avoid Defensive Mode Even Though You Are Defending Yourself from Verbal Abuse

Automatically, when we are feeling attacked or abused, we will go to our defensive mode. It is an instinct to protect ourselves and fight back, but this can escalate the situation higher when facing verbal abuse. Some of these tips can help minimize the severity of the problem. 

  • Keep your voice calm, almost monotone, without yelling or showing extreme emotion.
  • Relax your body, do not appear tense, frightened, scared, or angry.
  • Do not provide extensive explanations to the abuser; they will not listen anyway.
  • Do not use vague or hypothetical situations in your comments to an abuser.
  • Do not offer answers for the abuser to continue their verbal assault.
  • Use clear, concise, and straightforward language and do not stray off-topic.
  • If you can physically remove yourself from the situation, it may be best, depending on whether you have any witnesses.

Know Some Effective Responses 

You will not always be able to diffuse a situation immediately or as ideally as you would like. Knowing some alternative ways to have the abuser stop attacking you can provide relief in many cases. If they are a regular acquaintance in your life, you can respond accordingly once you know their intent. Try responses like these:

  • "I'm sorry, I will not sit here and listen to you talk to me like this."
  • "It's funny that you mentioned that I eat too much junk food since I was just thinking about a story I read in the newspaper about a convenience store that had a problem with their supplier . . ." and then go on and on until the abuser gets fed up and leaves. (This is the "boring baroque response.")
  • "It can be frustrating when you don't know where other coworkers are in their projects and are coming close to the deadline."

Each circumstance will be different, and it is crucial that you stay calm, remember to breathe, and not retaliate if someone is verbally abusing you. If you cannot handle the situation yourself, you must seek some help from others before your circumstances become worse. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, August 12). How to Defend Yourself from Verbal Abuse , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, May 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2021/8/how-to-defend-yourself-from-verbal-abuse



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

GaryLee Duclos
February, 23 2022 at 9:57 pm

I had an assistant manager insult, berate, intimidate, humiliate, and demand that I have to stay and "deal with it" over her (I feel) intentional mistake.
Right after she sent a star coworker home, she was also berating, for taking an extra half hour on her unpaid break to calm down.
So, taking verbal abuse to the next level.
Wanted someone to yell at so bad she purposefully created a problem, then blamed me for it in a tirade.
This is the second time she's straight yelled at me for her mistakes.
She's also singled me out, in another situation, three hours into my shift telling me I wasn't allowed to eat because reasons didn't matter.
Made a whole thing about a handful of free fries I wanted to eat to keep my strength up.
Basically, we don't care if you're hungry or starving, we rule all, now get back out there and feed the customers! They're starving! Oh, and times a factor... So... No breaks
After she went off on me, in the original paragraph of this statement, she walked away saying...
And if you don't like it... I'll find somebody else, then she smiled smugly and walked off.
It killed every ounce of passion I had for the day on the spot.
I told the other managers what happened and that I couldn't stay for the rest of the shift because of it.
I just didn't want to be there another five hours with her looming and skulking over me, just waiting for me to make a mistake so she can pounce again. (What she did for a half hour after the incident)
They told her what my plan was and she just had to come over, dig her heels in, and "put me on the spot"
Conversation went very much like this,
So I hear you're going to leave early?
Me: Yeah
Yelling: You CAN'T leave, you HAVE to stay, you're scheduled wether you like it or not, it's set in stone!
Me: *looks her right in the eyes and laughs loudly*. *Struggling to stay calm*
You! You're the reason I'm leaving! You have a terrible attitude and I can't work with you anymore!
Then I clocked out and left.
Apparently, after I left, everything fell apart even harder. She refused to get "hands on" even though two star employees left. And just let everything crash and burn.
Source: Headcook coworker working the shift I left, we game together.
Called in the next day cause her manager won't be back for three days and I stand by what I say.
Luckily I had three days off after the call out.
I'm going in tomorrow, armed to the teeth, with homework I've done on worker's rights and verbal aggression and harassment. I'm eager and am a professionally patient person...
I'm actually feeling excited with confronting this issue tomorrow.

February, 24 2022 at 11:19 am

Hello Gary, I am Cheryl, the author of the Verbal Abuse in Relationship blog here at HealthyPlace. I applaud you for taking the initiative to stand up for yourself and others against an abuser. Taking the steps to remove yourself from the situation and find a solution that works for you can be challenging, especially when it involves our livelihood. Remaining calm and researching your options is a terrific strategy for returning to a better work environment. I wish you luck with your next steps.

August, 15 2021 at 4:51 am

Wonderful tips, especially remembering to breathe and leave the situation! However, sharing a long story to annoy the abuser can sometimes escalate the situation. I know this from personal experience with a verbal abuser.

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