What is Verbal Abuse? Definition, Types, Signs, and Effects

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20 June 2024

10 Mins

Verbal abuse is a type of negative behavior that involves using words, tone, or gestures to hurt someone emotionally. Communication is a pathway and verbal abuse is about using that opportunity to make someone feel bad. When someone says mean things to have power over you or control you, that's verbal abuse. Even if the hurtful words don't immediately make you feel upset, it's still considered verbal abuse if the intention behind them is to gain power or control.

In this blog, we will learn about verbal abuse types, signs, and how to deal with it. But first, let’s understand the verbal abuse definition.

verbal abuse

What Is Verbal Abuse?

The “verbal abuse definition” is when someone uses mean or hurtful words to control or hurt another person. It's a type of emotional abuse where the damage is done through words instead of actions. This can happen not only in romantic or family relationships but also with friends, coworkers, or bosses. For example, a boss constantly criticizes an employee's work and saying things like "You're always messing up" or "Your ideas are never good enough" can be a form of verbal abuse that can affect an employee's confidence and work quality.

Even though other types of abuse like hitting, mental torture, or unwanted touch are often connected, verbal abuse can happen all by itself. However, it can still be harmful and cause a lot of pain and trauma to the person on the receiving end.

If you are a victim of verbal abuse, talk to an industry professional to navigate this properly for free.

Types of Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse comes in different forms, which can be an indicator of the environment in which a person grew up and how their parents treated them. In some cases, people may understand verbal abuse as a standard communication method due to their upbringing.

Still, it's important to emphasize that just because someone grew up with this behavior does not make it acceptable to consider it normal. So, let’s dive in to understand verbal abuse examples:

1. Name-calling

Name-calling involves using hurtful words to insult and belittle someone. It goes beyond simple disagreements and can deeply impact a person's self-esteem, making them feel unworthy or belittling. For instance, if someone constantly calls you "stupid" or "worthless" during an argument, it's a form of name-calling.

2. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where someone tries to make you doubt your values, integrity, and the things you are saying. They may deny things they said or did, causing you to question your memory and perceptions, which can lead to confusion and self-doubt. Imagine that you remember a conversation differently than the other person, so instead of accepting different viewpoints, they insist that you are wrong and you start questioning yourself.


3. Guilt trips

Guilt trips involve manipulating someone's emotions to make them feel responsible for things they are not responsible for. This type of abuse uses guilt as a way to control one’s behavior, creating a sense of obligation and emotional distress. If someone says, "I always make sacrifices for you, and you never appreciate it," to make you feel guilty for something that isn't your fault—that's a guilt trip.

4. Criticism

Criticism involves pointing out flaws, mistakes, or shortcomings on a regular basis. This not only damages self-esteem but can also create a negative atmosphere, making you feel unappreciated and undervalued. Constantly being told that you're not good enough, no matter your efforts, is a form of criticism. For instance, someone told you, "You never do anything right," which can be emotionally damaging and cause deep repercussions for you.


5. Threats

Threats involve expressing an intention to harm someone emotionally, physically, or otherwise. This creates an atmosphere of fear, causing anxiety and stress for the person experiencing the threats. For example, if someone says, "If you don't do what I want, I'll tell everyone your secrets," that's a kind of threat that eventually scares you and forces you to follow their wishes.

6. Blaming

Blaming involves unfairly assigning responsibility and making someone feel guilty for situations they have no control over. This creates a distorted sense of guilt and can damage a person's self-confidence and self-worth. For example, even if a situation is beyond your control, someone blames you for it, saying, "This problem happened because of you.” This makes you feel unfairly responsible and thereby causes you a lot of guilt.


7. Humiliation

Humiliation occurs when someone intentionally embarrasses or degrades another person, often in public. This not only harms a person's self-esteem but also damages their social standing and relationships. Publicly mocking or embarrassing someone, like making fun of their appearance or personal choices in front of others, is a form of humiliation that damages their confidence.

8. Screaming

Yelling involves raising your voice to an intimidating level that creates a negative environment. This aggressive behavior can create feelings of fear, stress, and instability in the person being yelled at. When people shout loudly and aggressively in the midst of an argument or disagreement, it establishes a harsh atmosphere that can cause the other person to feel both scared and overwhelmed.


9. Spreading lies

Spreading lies is a conscious attempt to damage a person's reputation by spreading false or misleading information about them, which can further lead to social isolation and spoiled relationships. False allegations have the potential to not only be hurtful but also cause endless damage. Therefore, it is inappropriate to create false information about a person's life and mental peace.

10. Degrading

Degrading involves talking down to someone and treating them as if they are inferior or less valuable. This constant demeaning behavior can contribute to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. For example, constantly saying things to someone like "You're useless" or "You'll never be able to do anything" is a form of degradation.


Signs of Verbal Abuse

If you want to better understand it, there are noticeable signs of verbal abuse to watch for. A common sign is that the person might use a harsh tone or loud voice, and their body language can seem intimidating. But be aware that verbal abuse might not always be loud—it can hide behind a soft voice or kind tone.

So, ensure to look out for these signs as well:

  • Getting insulted
  • Being called hurtful names
  • Purposeful putting down
  • Overreacting to small things to make you feel ashamed
  • Blaming you for things
  • Ignoring you or refusing to communicate (stonewalling)
  • Trying to embarrass you
  • Attempting to scare or intimidate you

signs of verbal abuse

What Are the Impacts of Verbal Abuse?

No matter the type of relationship, it's never okay for someone to use hurtful words. Verbal abuse can significantly impact a person, both in the short and long term. If someone goes through this kind of treatment without help, they might end up feeling stressed and anxious and even develop a tendency to be in auto-alert mode.

Therefore, identifying verbal abuse symptoms is crucial to addressing various negative effects such as emotional distress, damaged self-esteem, and weakened relationships. So, here are some of the negative impacts that can happen due to verbal abuse:

1. Shame

Verbal abuse can create deep feelings of shame in people. Hurtful words and negative messages can make them feel embarrassed and devalued, which may result in a persistent feeling of embarrassment that can affect their personal relationships, workplace relationships, or even their connection with themselves.

2. Low self-esteem

Constant exposure to mean comments can have a significant impact on a person's self-worth. When someone is repeatedly told that they are not good enough, it erodes their confidence and self-esteem, especially if it happens in a family setting where one expects support and validation, which can further lead to self-degradation, anxiety, isolation, self-doubt, and even depression.

3. Depression and anxiety

Verbal abuse doesn't just hurt feelings; it can affect areas of the brain associated with emotions, potentially leading to conditions such as depression and anxiety. Persistent negativity and emotional distress from verbal abuse can contribute to the development of these mental health challenges.

depression and anxiety

4. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

In severe cases, the trauma from ongoing verbal abuse can become so intense that it triggers PTSD-like symptoms. Flashbacks, nightmares, and increased stress reactions are possible consequences that highlight the deep impact of verbal abuse on a person's mental wellbeing.

5. Trust issues

When someone you care about says intentionally hurtful things, it can lead to a loss of trust. Verbal abuse can make it challenging for people to trust others in the future, as they may fear similar abuse or worry about disappointing them.

6. Dissociation

Dissociation is a coping strategy that some people use after suffering abuse as a way to mentally separate from traumatic experiences. People with verbal abuse may feel a disconnection between their thoughts and their actual experiences, a reaction that can persist even after the abuse has ended. For instance, during abuse, the person is physically there but feels mentally absent, as if their thoughts are somewhere else to cope with the emotional distress.


There are dire consequences of verbal abuse on a person; talk to a professional to get out of this in a healthy manner for free.

7 Ways to Deal With Verbal Abuse

If you are facing a verbally abusive person in your relationship and experiencing verbal abuse symptoms, the first step is to examine your safety and set boundaries right away. Your situation may vary depending on factors such as financial dependency or living arrangements, so consider your circumstances when deciding what to do next.

Here are seven tips for handling verbal abuse:

1. Establish healthy boundaries

Setting boundaries is about deciding what behaviors are acceptable in your relationship. It might mean deciding not to shout during disagreements or making it clear that name-calling is not something you will tolerate. Healthy boundaries create a framework for respectful communication and mutual understanding.

2. Talk about the situation

Unhealthy behavior can sometimes stem from misunderstandings or a lack of awareness. When dealing with verbally abusive people, having a calm and honest conversation about the issues can be a crucial step. This is an opportunity to express how the behavior is affecting you and work together on finding healthier ways to communicate.

3. Take care of your emotions

Being a victim of verbal abuse can have an impact on your emotional well-being, making it important to take care of it. Practicing emotional self-care includes activities that help you manage stress, reflect on your experiences, empower yourself, talk to a counselor, engage in activities you enjoy, and find healthy platforms to express your emotions.

4. Minimize interactions

If the verbally abusive person is someone you encounter regularly, such as a coworker, consider minimizing interactions where possible. This can involve avoiding places where they typically hang out or accordingly planning your activities to reduce unnecessary encounters. By doing so, you create physical and emotional distance.

minimize interactions

5. Seek support

It is important to talk to a trusted friend, family member, or partner about your situation. Verbal abuse can be isolating, and having someone you trust can provide emotional support. Trusted people can offer perspectives you might not have considered and can be a source of encouragement to take steps toward your self-protection.

6. Validate your feelings

Verbally abusive people may deny their negative behavior; therefore, it is essential to recognize and validate your own feelings. Your feelings are important, and acknowledging them is a significant step toward understanding the impact of verbal abuse on your well-being. Trusting your feelings will empower you to prioritize your emotional health.

7. Know when to walk away

If the person responsible for the verbal abuse shows no willingness to change or lacks self-awareness, it may be necessary to consider ending the relationship. If breaking up is on your mind, explore safe and effective ways to disengage from the relationship and seek support as needed. Knowing when to walk away means recognizing the importance of your own well-being, and prioritizing your safety and mental health in the decision-making process.

know when to walk away

What to Do if You’re Being Verbally Abused

If you are experiencing verbal abuse, seeking help from a therapist can be an important step in dealing with and overcoming the emotional challenges. A therapist provides a safe and confidential space for you to express your feelings, understand the impact of verbal abuse, and develop coping mechanisms. They can provide guidance on setting boundaries, building self-esteem, and exploring healthy communication strategies.

A therapist can also help you deal with the emotional impact of abuse by guiding you to make informed decisions about your well-being. Seeking help from a professional ensures that you have a trained supporter who can help you take control of your life and work toward a healthier, more empowered future.

what to do if you are being verbally abused

How Can Now&Me Help?

If you ever feel like you need someone to talk to, Now&Me is here for you. The therapists at Now&Me are ready to listen and support you 24/7 on your mental health journey, starting at just Rs. 30. Along with that, you can also join our supportive community and explore our self-help books to cope with the long-term consequences of verbal abuse.

Wondering how it works? Just download the Now&Me app, find a therapist according to your needs, and book a consultation call with them. Start your mental health journey with the right therapist to overcome your challenges with verbal abuse and find ways to make positive changes.

Now&Me professionals are tailored and qualified to help you in traumatic and conflicting situations, connect with one and talk to them for free.


  1. Verbal beatings hurt as much as sexual abuse. Harvard News Office. 2007. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/04/verbal-beatings-hurt-as-much-as-sexual-abuse/

  2. Negative emotional reactions to criticism: Perceived criticism and source affects extent of hurt and relational distancing. Plos One. 2022. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0271869

  3. Parental Psychological Abuse toward children and Mental Health Problems in adolescence. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3998989/

  4. Emotional and verbal abuse. Women’s Office of Health. 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/other-types/emotional-and-verbal-abuse

Now&Me articles are written by experienced mental health contributors and are purely based on scientific research and evidence-based practices, which are thoroughly reviewed by experts, including therapists and psychologists with various specialties, to ensure accuracy and alignment with current industry standards.

However, it is important to note that the information provided is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individual circumstances vary, and it is advisable to consult with a qualified mental health professional for personalized advice and guidance.

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