How to Respond to Verbal Abuse

February 13, 2018 Emily J. Sullivan

Learning how to respond to verbal abuse can improve how you handle hostile situations and increase your self-worth. Here's how to respond to verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse cuts deeply, especially if you don't know how to respond to verbal abuse in an effective way. Arguments can be volatile with name-calling and blaming or more subtle like with passive-aggressive remarks or the silent treatment. One thing victims of verbal abuse come to discover is abusers are often irrational and unreasonable. The hostile language does not serve the purpose of getting a message across, it actually has nothing to do with what’s being said, it’s about the abuser's need to gain power and control over the victim. Understanding the argument itself carries no real significance as the abuser makes it apparent that trying to reason or explain is useless. Learning how to respond to verbal abuse can alter the course of the attacks and help a verbal abuse victim regain his power.


7 Ways to Respond to Verbal Abuse

  1. Ignore it. Ignoring verbal abuse may sound like unrealistic advice. How do you ignore someone screaming in your face or calling you names that make you want to punch him or her? Believe it or not, ignoring an attack is extremely effective because verbal abusers thrive on the way their victims responds. His goal is to hurt you, if you are seemingly indifferent, it will trip him or her up and keep the abuser from getting the desired result (You Can’t Stop Verbal Abuse With More Words–Use Action).
  2. Don’t get emotional. Again -- easier said than done. Crying, yelling, falling apart, and other emotional responses are what your abuser is after. Don’t give it to him. Rather than cry when you’re hurt by something he's said, try to focus on how screwed up he must be to treat people so poorly. Shifting your perception of what’s happening will help you to not take it personally.
  3. Set boundaries. Setting boundaries is initially difficult but with courage and consistency, it can be extremely effective. Not just in potentially changing another’s treatment of you, but also in altering your own level of confidence and self-respect. This practice will help you to develop a sense a self-worth. It is up to you to teach people how to treat you. Try using responses like, “I won’t respond to you if you scream at me, please lower your voice.” or “If you continue calling me names, this conversation is over-- you can communicate without name-calling.”
  4. Give it time. Letting things cool down before you attempt discourse can positively impact the overall tone and result of your discussion. Agreeing to or insisting that you give one another space for a set amount of time and then revisiting the conversation later helps to keep your responses more rational than emotional. You can say something like, “We’re both upset right now, let’s revisit this in a few hours when we’ve had a chance to calm down.”
  5. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Meeting crazy with crazy doesn’t generally help anybody -- it escalates conflicts to unnecessary levels. When someone pulls all the crazy out, remain calm, cool, and collected. Don’t respond to screaming with screaming or name-calling with name-calling (Can a Retaliatory Response to Verbal Abuse Make You Abusive?). When he goes low, you go high. He may realize how belligerent he's behaving and it should help to de-escalate matters to a more reasonable level.
  6. Anticipate and avoid. In verbally abusive relationships, there is an abuser and a victim and they go through a recurring and familiar cycle of abuse. The victim begins to know when an abusive attack is coming, she can feel the hostility building and she knows what sets the abuser off. When this is the case, and you know an altercation is in the foreseeable future, avoid it. Go visit a family member, stay late at work, take the kids out, do whatever you need to do to avoid an explosive environment until the dust settles.
  7. Stand up for yourself. There are calm and rational ways for a person to stand up for herself without being emotional or hostile. Find ways to be assertive and confident. If someone is degrading and belittling you, it is okay to say, “Those things are untrue and it is unacceptable to say that to me.” or “Don’t speak to me that way, I’m worth much more than that statement implies.”

Learning How to Respond to Verbal Abuse Empowers You

Learning how to respond to verbal abuse can be daunting and feel unattainable, but the more you practice, the easier it gets until it’s ingrained in your behavior. There’s a saying that goes, "people treat you how you let them"-- sometimes people have to learn how to teach others to treat them. It may not come naturally to be assertive and confident, it's terrifying for some people to stand up for themselves. However, just because it’s scary now, doesn’t mean it has to be forever. Slowly but surely, practice these ways of responding to verbal abuse, and you will see a new side of yourself you never knew existed.

APA Reference
Sullivan, E. (2018, February 13). How to Respond to Verbal Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Emily J. Sullivan

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February, 19 2023 at 7:06 pm

I need advice, I love my job and do not want to leave. I have been verbally abused by a coworker for 3 years. She has caused a lot of employees to leave. I have reported it to my office manager, but no changes from my abuser. I have done nothing to her and have always been kind. She also abuses the patients that come into our office by treating them very rude and unkind. We often have to work in the same room, so I am going to try and not work in the same room with her. I do not know what else to do! She attacks me by putting me down in front of other coworkers and patients. I can use any advice that anyone has for me.

April, 18 2022 at 2:35 pm

This is not a good article. The writer is NOT a licensed professional, not a specialist in the topic. What makes people think they can write things they made up, or copy things they read but don't have the education or background to understand? At LEAST put up front that it's just for discussion and that you don't know anything.
The "ways to respond" were dangerous and harmful, without an understanding. Please tell people that you just made that stuff up. It is NOT based on scientific evidence in the specialty area.

April, 18 2022 at 9:51 am

I was verbally harassed in college for plaigarism on Zoom in front of my classmates. It rears its ugly head every time I see and hear that word in a conversation. The night in 2021 that it happened I was an emotional wreck and almost wanted to drop the class entirely. But I had to get through it in order to graduate. I never told anyone about this. The aftermath was awful and 2021 was the worst year of my life. No one wanted to partner up with me on assignments and I was intentionally targeted for this. I never reported it because I did not want to add more fuel to the fire. My mom almost wanted to write a letter to the president as well but that did not happen. There is a song called That's Hilarious by Charlie Puth and whenever I listen to it, it reminds me of that hellish situation that I went through and when I think about it, I cry. But it also makes me emotionally stonger as well. I also realized that just because I messed up, that does not mean that I am a bad person. On the bright side, I pushed through it and never gave up.

February, 11 2022 at 3:42 pm

I'm so glad that I have people who I can relate to over this. I've been verbally abused for years and am at a very low point in my life now. I even had suicidal thoughts, but reading these comments made me not feel quite so alone.

January, 27 2022 at 6:52 pm

Love how sexist this is. All nouns have women as the victim. Shows how little is cared about when the male is in this situation.

John M
August, 19 2022 at 4:51 pm

Exactly. I'm here to learn how to break a 21 year cycle of verbal and emotional abuse. At the hands of my WIFE (now ex-wife).

August, 29 2022 at 11:40 am

Thanks for the posts. I’m ending 17 years of abuse by my wife. It’s tough and hard to find support. No one wants to believe a man can be verbally abused.

Fay Frances
June, 17 2021 at 1:26 pm

It does get worse. I've been with my bf for 8 years. As I type this I endured yet another verbal attack, and why? Because I told him I felt like he was disinterested in me lately. Everything I talk about gets either a "meh" a "hmmm" or a "yah". No attempt at conversation. I told him it hurts me and that I felt he was angry with me a lot and I didn't deserve it. Well, I got the name calling, the swearing etc...I kept quiet and told him I was walking away, he said "I'll give you a reason to walk away EFF YOU!" I crept away. Then he came into my room and continued...I just turned to look out the window thinking to myself "Yeah, he must be so screwed up to treat his loved one this way!" and it made me detach a little bit. This has been going on since year 2 and though I had the disease of hope in thinking he would somehow find value in me and be more loving and respectful...that was wishful thinking. It's just a matter of time now before I ask him to move out of my home. I've reached my limit. They don't change unless they get professional help and do it on their own. It's sad and it took me 6 of the last 8 years to finally accept it. I don't want the relationship to end, I want the man I met; but...I also have love and respect for myself (finally!) and I won't put up with that anymore. I wish the best to all those who are still in the me one day you will finally have enough.

July, 10 2021 at 5:48 am

I’ve been dealing with 30 years of that! Get out now before there are kids and homes and money involved. It WILL continue. I’m not saying it will get worse but it will definitely continue for the rest of your life and trust me it’s degrading and draining of your self-confidence and self-esteem.

Carrie Doyle
May, 22 2023 at 2:30 pm

My situation is a little different. I have been emotionally drained by the words of my brother. He accused me of not comforting my teenage niece which is not true. He hollered at me and belittled me about this which happened quite a while ago. I was drained after the conversation and almost made myself sick just thinking about it. I talked to several friends and the advice given was to love him from afar and let things settle down. Do not allow anyone to yell at you or make you feel like nothing. I believe he has something that he is going through, but I am not a therapist so I have to take care of my own mental needs. People, there is no excuse for anyone to endure verbal abuse, no matter who the person is!

July, 19 2023 at 12:08 pm

Oh my Frances, I am glad you are done with this and are going to get him out of your home. I did this for 12 years, but due to drinking and then he began to get hostile after I had a child. He had emotional mental issues and I must have to because I stayed so long. one brave older therapist told me I would have to leave to turn this around so I did. But I did not plan to return. Unfortunately, I quickly met a man with kids, and got married, only to divorce him in five years due to his toxic acts and subsequent difficulties with visitation. I had to leave for my daughter. So be careful getting into a different type of addictive relationship.

August, 24 2020 at 1:49 pm

Really sticky situation for me. I have an abusive mother. Now that I'm taller than her she shifted her abuse to words and disturbing mind games. Me being a millenial, I do not have a job yet, no income, no friends close enough for me to take shelter with them, no hope, no dreams, no nothing except for plenty of emotional wounds and anger. Basically I have to be in this household constantly with my everything being monitored by her and being bombarded with her verbal abuse and worse: gaslighting. Every single time I'm saying anything on any topic that doesn't agree with her she keeps repeating this as if she's a broken record: "you're hallucinating! I never said that! I never did that! You're mentally ill!" She does that to everyone but behind their backs. I'm the only one she says this about to my own face. I'm not mentally ill. I'm depressed because of my life and very angry for the cards that was handed to me, so bad that I'm robbed of one of the biggest and most basic blessings most people get in life which is a loving/sane mother but I'm not mentally ill and have never hallucinated. Many people told me many times that I'm one of the most reasonable and objective people they knew (not that any of those would help me one bit if I was to just rot under my mother's abuse in my grim fruitless life). I feel like I'm trapped in a dead end. How she is affecting me and making me hate life more and more is making it more impossible for me to manage to run away and make a life for myself far away from her. She loves that fact too and takes full advantage of that too, constantly reminding me of what a failure I am that can't even get a life together and linking those to me "being stupid, being ugly, being weak, being useless, being unwanted, etc." as the reasons why I failed to make my own life. Why was I given a monster who's hurt me so badly and more than any enemies even would, instead of a mother is beyond me. Not like I'd even be able to talk to anyone about it since I don't want to bore people with me being whiny and it's a fact that my mother being abusive is my own problem not my friends'. When people face problems they go to their parents, what am I supposed to do when the one abusing me is my own parent?! I really feel like I'm trapped here only to end my life myself.

August, 27 2020 at 11:51 am

Have you tried love? Loving yourself? Speaking to the inner child within?
I can’t offer the right words and I can’t fully comfort you in this situation. But I can say this: I feel you on the crazy mother shit. It hurts. It’s terrifying. It makes you feel like reality is slipping and your mind is the only thing watching it go down. You get no affirmations of love, no normal conversations, no validation... and you’re walking on eggshells with all the hairs standing on the back of your neck. You’re defensive. You’re wounded. And she is too.
But these words that you are saying to yourself... don’t give them so much power. Are you a failure? Are you REALLY a failure? Or is this a mini version of your voices mother dominating in your head? Disconnect, pull away, place yourself in the calmest state you can... and refuse to move. Refuse to back away from your calmness and protect it with all the love you have. You need to heal yourself. You do not need to figure out your mother. You are worth doing this for. But I can’t tell you that, you’ll have to tell yourself.

December, 27 2021 at 2:15 am

It took balls to even write this I hope you are okay
I wish I could just give you a hug!

May, 22 2023 at 2:44 pm

Please don't think about that. You need to talk to a therapist or a friend about this. I was verbally insulted by my brother. I was so shaky after the encounter. This is not the only time, he has done it several times before. You have to realize that you are not the problem. Step back and try to get yourself a descent job, save and get out of there. Realize that you are not the one who has lost it! Pray and remember just because some one yells it, doesn't make it true!

June, 29 2019 at 5:07 pm

My bf and I have been together for 6 years. I’ve always known he has had issues but last night he went to far . We were eating dinner at our friends house around the table and a conversation came up about shark article . I had sent the article to my bf that morning and he then responded I didn’t get it you must have sent it to your other bf . Idk why he deceived to respond negatively but I ended up saying I did send it to you see . I showed him . And then he decided to loudly call be a “f***ing Idiot in front of my friends and there two young children . I was in shock and my bf continued and said I was coming at him and my friend kid eneded up turning around to him and saying , “no she didn’t , your coming at her .” The fact that even an 8 year old child stood up for me and noticed what he had done , I was embarrassed and yet relieved that I in fact am not crazy and people can see how he really is to me behind closed doors .I ended up driving myself home that night . He did come home and apologize to tell me how ashamed he was for speaking that way to me . Btw he never apologizes for anything . Anyways I can’t bring myself to forgive him and have been saying nothing to him . I don’t know if I should leave him or not because it’s an ongoing cycle .

November, 4 2019 at 6:40 pm

Leave him, it will only get worse. My boyfriend used to speak to me the same way, we are now married for 30 years, and it has not stopped. He takes zero ownership of his behavior and gas lights every situation. My two grown kids see it and they think he is mentally ill. He is the bread winner and i feel trapped. I wish I never married him.

January, 5 2021 at 10:41 pm

Leave him. Trust me he will not start treating you better after the wedding. Leave now when you can.

July, 10 2021 at 5:53 am

Omg I am you! Same life. It’s terrible. Same exact things with the kids. Although they are afraid to stick up for me and that hurts too.

November, 12 2022 at 4:19 pm

Mary! I think we are the same person! It goes in cycles so I spend some of my time thinking everything is great than I get slammed that I am f word idiot and he wonders if I will ever get it through my thick head whatever the issue may be. And I only ever think about myself. We also have been together for 30 years and are so far in debt that it’s very hard to leave.

June, 26 2018 at 2:17 pm

Thank you for this! I found the words “ untrue” and “unacceptable” especially empowering. As a mother of a child with adhd and dmdd (disruptive mood dysregulation), I find it overwhelming to be charged with the take of raising and supporting my abuser. There is so much a child like this needs, but there is also very little in the way of support for parents or siblings. Wish the mental health field would do and share more about childhood mood disorders. This is not just about discipline. We are not abused because we allow it. We are abused because nothing, in terms of medication, therapy or behavioral techniques, helps. Still, these seem like good guidelines for survival

Anita Robertson
February, 27 2018 at 11:39 pm

. Financially he treats me well but verbal abuse is becoming more.and more after 6 years of marriage. I am 67 years and do not see myself at this stage moving out. The other problem is that he is isolating me from friends and family. When i.go to do shopping or my hair I have to hurry back home. It is draining me with no love or respect left. Keeping quiet is the best but being held captive is unbearable. Any suggestions?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 5 2018 at 11:49 pm

Anita, Thanks for reaching out. I'm so sorry to hear you are going through this. Would you feel comfortable telling him how you feel or attempting to set boundaries? Have you considered couples therapy or even/especially personal therapy? I'm going to attach two articles I think may help. Please continue reaching out to us anytime, hang in there Anita! -Emily
Toxic Relationships: Friend and Family Estrangement
Verbal Abuse Coping Skills For When You Can't Just Leave

February, 25 2018 at 10:05 pm

I have to say, well said. Very enlightening and all so true.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 26 2018 at 9:05 pm

Rainey, Thank you so much for reading!

February, 24 2018 at 2:05 am

This blog really hit home. And what I’ve read I have first hand experiences and it’s sooo exhausting and draining. I personally think that the person i have in mind is a control freak (without directly saying it) “ he says things like “I’m not saying it to be a control freak” but I feel he is. He always has to have the last say, and when we argue I’m the one who has to shut up.? But so hard when I feel that he’s in the wrong and I’m not what he thinks/ says. I dunno. I can really relate to the begging of this blog. Good to know that there are people who share or have shared similar stories. Thank you for sharing.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 26 2018 at 9:08 pm

Kay, thanks for reading! I'm sorry you've been dealing with this in your life. There are many articles in this blog on how to cope with verbal abuse when you can't leave, why you should leave, signs you're being verbally abused, etc. I hope you check them out! You are definitely not alone! Reach out to us anytime Kay, Thanks so much. -Emily

February, 20 2018 at 11:43 pm

Hi Emily, this last paragraph really summed it all up for me: “We’ve learned that actually, the problem isn’t that we’re too needy. The problem lies, once again, with the perpetrator of verbal and psychological abuse. And it’s not our problem to fix.”
After years of verbal, psychological, and emotional abuse.....and having it engrained in your head daily that you’re the one that’s screwed up, you’re the one who’s crazy, you’re the unreasonable one when it’s so obvious that they’re so far above any fault in their own minds, it’s been a long slow recovery, and seeing and knowing that it wasn’t me at all who needed the fixing.
Thank you for a well written and defined article.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 21 2018 at 7:16 pm

Thank you Nancy! I'm so glad you were able to get something from it. Keep reaching out, thanks again for reading. -Emily

February, 13 2018 at 3:23 pm

I love this so much. Thanks for sharing.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 20 2018 at 11:45 am

Thanks for reading Zaineey! I'm so glad you enjoyed. -Emily

February, 13 2018 at 10:17 am

“try to focus on how screwed up they must be to treat people so poorly.” - Love it!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 20 2018 at 11:47 am

Thanks so much! It's true; when you take a step back and look at the person behind the actions, you can get a whole new perspective on the behavior you've witnessed/been subjected to. Thanks again for reading. -Emily

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