Dealing with Random Verbal Abuse from Strangers
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
- 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.
Wozny, C. (2021, April 8). Dealing with Random Verbal Abuse from Strangers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, September 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/verbalabuseinrelationships/2021/4/dealing-with-random-verbal-abuse-from-strangers
Author: Cheryl Wozny
Today in my local park, I was there playing fetch with my dog, only for someone other persons dog who decided to joint in the fun, unfortunately this friendly dog got the sharp end of my dog's aggressive barking. The owner of this dog decided to tell me that my dog was dangerous, I reacted by telling this complete stranger that it is commonsense to have a lead on your dog, when approaching other dogs and people, fact is, he didn't know anything about me or my dog's personality. Well, that didn't go down well, he reacted by threatening me with violence etc..I remembered he had a strong accent, like Polish or Eastern european accent. Anyway I reported the incident to the police, and the park security and their management. Don't worry I am not holding my breath on any response from anyone. Heaton Park Manchester UK, is a sinister place. Watch out for dog owners, they are the worse, mind you not all of them.
Yesterday I got on the bus and these three teenage boys sat near where I was sitting and kept staring at me and muttering. When I got up off the bus they made gagging noises and so I flipped them off and they flipped me off back, though I regret it now. I know it was because they were homophobic and I was wearing a skirt and while it sounds so lame writing it out it still was unsettling to me. I keep telling myself they were weirdos because of their own insecurities but now I'm worried about using the bus at the time again and worried they might even follow me off the bus next time. I don't know. I was thinking of sitting somewhere else and ignoring them if I next see them, but I'm still anxious about it.
Yeah I totally feel you. I remember in 5th grade how I went home by bus and there were 2 teenage boys (around age of 16 I'd say?) mocking me for basically no reason. Not just me, but also another stranger. To be honest, the other stranger did well and went to another seat, but I still stood there (I was scared that they were going to say something like "Omg he's going after her princess" or Idk, because when the other stranger walked away they told me something along the lines "aww you scared her"). To be honest, I don't remember the rest of the conversation, but I know that when they got out of the bus, one of them grabbed my arm and almost pulled me out of the seat. I remember how they laughed while they were leaving the bus. And yes, that was it. Never told anyone about it.
How did I get over it? Well, to be honest, it's not like I'm over it, but this experience became more of a flashback along with many other traumatic events lin my life
Anyway, after that happened, I still used the bus to go back home and luckily I didn't encounter them anymore. However, I'm pretty sure if we had crossed paths again, they'd still act like this. If not with me, with others for sure unfortunately. My advice is to still continue using the bus and hope that they aren't there or that they forgot about you. And try to stay away from them of course. I'd also suggest you to scream for help or something if they corner you or something, however I totally understand if it is hard - every time I am in a situation like this I feel too ashamed of myself to actually scream for help or just to do anything.
I have mainly written this to show you that you're not alone and that your feelings are normal. It is not ok for them to do this, but it is ok for you feel anxious about it!
I was in Kauai last week on vacation, with my fiance celebrating my birthday. We had a beautiful vacation and it was my first time in Hawaii. On my birthday, I decided to take a ride on a beach cruiser around the resort area alone where we were staying and I was riding my bike minding my own business and enjoying the ride. I passed a few nice people including one man near a golf course said, "Have a nice ride!" I was on the sidewalk and in front of me about 20 feet I saw a small Asian woman and Caucasian woman walking towards me. They were young and in their 20's and looked up and the Asian woman saw me coming towards them and she made this mean face and turned toward her friend, discussing something they obviously did not appreciate, me coming towards them. I have seen this behavior before, in Southern California so I know the "drill", the Asian woman continued walking towards me with her head down, and had this fake smile on her face - they do this behavior when they do not want to make eye contact with a man that they fear, a Black Man, and she was closest to me in passing. I had sunglasses on and I just kept looking forward but as we crossed, I immediately looked at her friend, to make sure that she didn't yell something nasty in my ear - I have experienced that, too. At that moment, the Caucasian women quickens her step and she had this aggressive, hateful look in her eye - she looked like a crazy person for a second. As I passed them, the Caucasian woman screams, "Hell no!" And I kept on riding casually and I never seen them again, even on my way back to the Condo. I did nothing to provoke this treatment but it was obviously racism. Like I said, I have experienced this behavior before but I feel the Asian woman planned and manipulated the whole thing - I saw whole thing 20 feet away unfold. I remember thinking, right after..."Do I really want to report these idiots, call the police and take pictures of them, on my 51st birthday? I figured not and I just ignored them and carried on with my day. I am in great physical shape and was wearing shorts and a tank top but that shouldn't matter. As a Black man, I get into these "situations and altercations" from time time, with Asian-American or Chinese women and Caucasian women more than men, in Southern California. Did I handle this situation correctly, or should I have called them out on their abusive behavior and called the police? I still feel like I was assaulted and I do not like that feeling. Appreciate any feedback.
Thank you for reaching out to share. I understand that it takes vulnerability to talk about painful encounters, so I appreciate your willingness to be open. I am so sorry that you experienced this treatment, but I want to let you know that you are safe and welcome on this platform. HealthyPlace does not tolerate any abusive or discriminatory behavior of any kind. I hope the rest of your vacation was relaxing, enjoyable, and full of memories.
Blog Comment Moderator
Hi Brian, I hope this incident doesn't still plague you. They were racist, rude and intimidating, but I don't think they broke the law so I don't think you would have gotten any resolution in calling the police. The sick thing is they probably told the story later of feeling like you were the bad guy when they imagined and created the whole thing.
I just had a situation happen to me while walking my dogs at 8:40 pm in a small town residential neighborhood where I have lived for almost 20 years. I was really shaken up after being yelled and cursed at for the length of a block with him sicking his dog on us. He had so much vitriol hatred. He and his dog were crouches down a block away. I thought he was holding his dog so we could walk by safely but still decide to go the other direction. As soon as we turned the other direction he stood up and erupted at us verbally. I now think he was actually waiting for to come his direction. I don't know what he would have done. Or maybe he was offended that we didn't go that direction 🤷♀️ I don't know why I responded I think I was in shock and originally thought maybe he was on the phone but when he walked in our direction and his words got louder as I walked away I realized he might actually be yelling at me. I said "sincerely, excuse me, are you talking to me" - no attitude at all. "F-right I am B****!" And then spewing more verbal hatred.
His words were vicious and continuous. When he threw a ball in our direction and told his dog to sick us I was really scared but kept walking quickly. When the dog returned I interrupted his assault to say "will you please put your dog on a leash?" I'm such a coward. That's all I had in me on response to the shock that he would send his so our way and keep yelling at us and walking toward us. His words increased. I did not stop but said I was waking if you keep talking to me that way I'm going to call the police. "He started mocking, mimicking and spit sputtering baby talk. He continues until I turned corner which was at least 25 yards. It felt like an eternity. When I turned the corner he said something that I didn't really understand except for the swear words but the tone felt dominating, like he conquered and was proud of himself. He started laying manically. Said some other commands to his dog about us. Said something about still swing me, more vicious words, and laughter. There were a few "that's right, and you can't hang" " you. Can't handle this" spread throughout his cursing. As soon as I felt fat enough away I did call the police. They might charge him with disturbing the peace. They seemed to be familiar with him based upon my description and the location. The policemen asked me what I wanted to happen. This and other words didn't feel comforting or validating. I felt like he said calling was pointless. When I started to say such a thing "should I not have called? Do you think this was acceptable behavior and I should have just let it go" he back tracked and clarified what he meant. I was able to tell.him that he should do whatever he thought would have the greatest effect on communicating that the man's behavior wasn't acceptable and someone deserves to be able to walk their dog without being verbally assaulted and threatened. I did say that I would like him to know that the woman he just yelled at did call the police on him.
The actions didn't make me feel better and talking to the police actually made me feel worse. Maybe I was just processing and would have felt that way at the time regardless of what I was doing. I was too shaken to walk my dogs any further and they were not happy about that.
I googled something in hopes to find peace. I found this forum and you sharing about your own experience. I feel like such a baby. I want to be more mentally tough than this but I guess I have the underline fear of "what would have happened if I kept walking his direction?" What if my daughter walks that way and he doesn't stop with words? Did I do something to spark it and this will happen again with someone else and escalate? I'm trying to control my thoughts and not let him still be scaring me because it was very clear that's what he wanted, but man it's hard!
today while walking home with 2 friends a man on a bike called me a fat whore multiple times. He even biked right up to me and started intimidating me verbally. I was heart broken.
I am overweight. I struggle with my weight and body image, almost have had eating disorders.
Having a hard time shaking off the feeling.
Hello, I am Cheryl Wozny, current author of the Verbal Abuse in Relationships blog here at HealthyPlace. I am sorry that you had to experience that horrible situation. Often intimidation is traumatic, even when it is only verbal. I know how hard it is to ignore the comments from strangers when you are already dealing with low self-esteem, as I have faced the same situation. It can help to talk to someone about it, so it does not affect you further. Our resources page here https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer… has options for you to check out and find the support you need while you deal with verbal abuse and its after-effects.
I have dealt with verbal abuse for 35 years because I was born a certain way. It averages at 1 verbal abuse from a stranger every two weeks. Yes, for 35 years. I am 47 years old. Not only this, my demographic is mocked in: hollywood, tv, songs, comedy... anywhere you find human beings. It is something I cannot change with surgery, or diet. In fact, I am in fear of saying what it is here, because people just don't get it.
This week, I have had 8... yes EIGHT verbal attacks. I am angry. I am a decent person and have been for all my life. Respecting others, and extremely aware of not hurting peoples feelings - because I am the bottom of the barrel in society. Society tells me this. Which is strange in a society that goes on about body positivity, racism, trans rights, gay rights, and equality "be nice to everyone". I have been super nice to everyone all my life. So why are people so awful to me. The abuse I've received this week - bare in I am already suicidal at the moment - is starting to turn me bitter. How can a decent person, who was born a certain way get so much hate. Society is duplicitous, double standards. I am sick of it and can not take any more.
I'll reiterate. I had abuse eight times in the last 5 days. I can not go to the shop to buy milk without getting hate. I am sick of being a decent person, I am sick of how duplicitous society is, and I'm sick of living frankly. By duplicitous, I mean.... "be nice and thoughtful to everyone"... "except that one demographic who are born with a certain body type, who frankly us as a society doesn't think should exist"
Thank you for reaching out to share—I am so sorry that you have been forced to experience such abusive treatment all your life. You are absolutely right, there is no excuse whatsoever for the suffering you endure. Please know that you are welcome in this HealthyPlace community, where abuse is not tolerated in any form. If you need to speak with someone to process further in a confidential dialogue, here is a list of hotline numbers that could be helpful: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer….
Verbal abuse from a male neighbour.... I have experienced intimidating behaviour from my male neighbour, at first he appeared pleasant but his behaviour changed. I would hear him shouting and swearing in his house during the day and night, and then there was a period when he started to bang on my front door, when I answered he would yell things like what's wrong or are you ok which was odd and made me nervous. I did try and ask him at a later time if there was a problem but he would slam his front door and not talk with me. In the end I rang the local police more for advise and to make them aware, they were very supportive and made a report saying it was a form of harrassment, their advise avoid contact with him which I do. He still continues to shout when in his house but he no longer bangs on my door, I genuinely believe if I was a man he wouldn't have behaved this way. His male friend stood outside my back gate on Sunday night ringing the bell and shouting at my dogs, I didn't want to confront this man as I live alone but I was glad I'd locked the back gate earlier. Again I have no clue as to why this happened, it really upset me and left me physically shaking and unsettled in my own home.
I’m a black woman, married to a white man. I live in Norway. I’m being abused verbally several times by white Norwegian kids and my husband (who is a big jerk ) never does anything. I feel so bad… well, at least he’ll be waiting forever for affection from my side.
Thank you for reaching out to share. I am so sorry to hear that you are experiencing constant verbal abuse and that your husband will not intervene to protect you from this treatment. Please know that you are welcome in this community—there is a place for you here where abuse is not tolerated.
HealthyPlace Comment Moderator
Just happened to me now. A white male in his full spandex riding a bicycle. I stopped to let him go in front of me and he stopped and started yelling at me for not using my turn signal! My father warned me about the cowardice of men who verbally assault women in the streets because they are too chicken to lash out at males.
I greatly admire each of you for telling your story. Calling out these experiences affirms that they are realities we have experienced moat unreservedly. People in 2022 are as in 2021 a pretty stressed out crowd. There is a lot of world anxiety, self doubt due to Covid having juggled up our lives, and for many shifts in the areas of life people generally count on for self-affirming vibes. It doesn't permit cruel put-downs to be the way to relieve tension. I find that best response depends on who is with us. I would simply say, Sorry you feel that way and hope the day improves. It is such a waste to try winning over a rude person who you would not wish to befriend, and teaching them a lesson is best let be because too many people are not in a normal state of mind and it can be dangerous. So where strangers are abusive, let it go but if they persist at all (follow you, persist in yelling, or create a big scene to bring more people into the attack leaving you mobbed by rude angry people) get to safety and call the police. Just letting them know gives you a feeling of better safety and alerts them if a serial abuser is developing in town. Use hotlines to discuss your experience too, and allow yourself to feel upset, even angry, but then let it go. They were just a bad odor in life you certainly don't need to hang on to!
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.
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.
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.
That's terrible. But we want you to know you're not the only one. In fact I had another similar situation in an eyeglass store of all places today! I think it's also a form of aggression that is becoming more and more common, we see it a lot in the news and it's nothing actually new. I am in my 50s and am vulnerable as well as have disabilities. But it happens to most of us. Are you just have to not see yourself as being a victim and do whatever you can to get out of that situation and to also be prepared, for when these things happen what you would do and will do. I'm certainly a lot happier on my own and not being around others, but you can't live your life in fear. I've had these negative experiences my whole life and try not to take them personal when I see that they've never really gone away. You just have to be smart, be aware and protect yourself and be very logical. Sometimes you can make a report online if you don't have to go to law enforcement, for example in the case of an aggressive stranger or driver. Sometimes if a bad experience occurs in a business or public place you can leave a review about it. Don't feel like a victim or allow the experience or situation to go without a purpose as you can help others with it. If somebody ever touches you physically or causes any sort of physical damage you need to do something about it, immediately. And either of these cases verbally or physically it's an assault and you don't have to tolerate it. I even had a very similar experience in an airport once. A man laughed at me and he hit me in the head, I had a hat on the time but for no reason at all he smacked me on the brim of my hat and laughed at me. Why I didn't go to security I didn't know but I was so shocked and so jolted by the experience and he was on camera so he couldn't have denied it. You just need to be very aware of your surroundings and take a proactive if not post active stance on anything that happens. I would have gone to security right away but that happened years ago so it's kind of too late now. Just tell them that behavior is not okay and if they escalate that's fine, you'll just go to law enforcement. Don't be a victim.
With the level of verbal abuse that I see on the news from some people in the US, this sort of advice seems inadequate
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.
Glad you stood up for yourself.
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.
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.