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8 Signs of Verbal Abuse and How I Left My Relationship

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The signs of verbal abuse

The signs of verbal abuse

What Is Verbal Abuse?

It’s not uncommon for couples to get into arguments. Arguments are actually healthy in a relationship as long as they are handled correctly and both partners take the time to hear each other out and come to an agreement or agree to disagree.

I was with my ex-partner for five years until I finally hit rock bottom and walked away from the verbal abuse. The strange thing is I didn’t realize it was verbal abuse to begin with. I thought for years that it really had everything to do with me, that I was the problem, and that I had some growing to do. When I look back, I think of all the words and name-calling that was said that eroded at my self-esteem.

A decent human being and a decent partner will not name-call during an argument or fight. This should never occur in a healthy relationship. Name-calling isn’t the only form of verbal abuse, and other examples are listed below. Verbal abuse can include:

  • Name-calling
  • Personal Attacks and Humiliation
  • Threats
  • False accusations
  • Gas lighting
  • Denial
  • Yelling and screaming (frequent)
  • Left-field insults
  • Physical intimidation (blocking, property destruction)

Important: Abuse doesn’t necessarily mean it’s occurring between man and woman or two people in a romantic relationship, it can be parent-child, sibling to sibling, boss to employee, etc. Anyone can be a victim of verbal abuse.

Examples of Verbal Abuse

I've included examples of common forms of verbal abuse below that I learned to identify through counseling and various resources. I experienced most of this but not all. You do not have to experience all to be affected by it and to seek help.

1. Name-Calling

The abuse I experienced first started out as less easy to identify, but name-calling is an obvious indication of abuse. Sometimes this form of abuse can be so covert that it first comes across as gentle teasing. The abuser might say that you’re too sensitive and should learn how to take a joke. This is still a form of bullying and this type of behavior erodes a person’s self-confidence over time.

Some examples might include: “No wonder no one loves you, you’re crazy,” or, “You are stuck with that job because you’re stupid and watch YouTube all day.”

2. Personal Attacks and Humiliation

Personal attacks are often intertwined with name-calling. At first they are quite subtle and then often build. You might find that your abuser first starts off by picking at the little things, for example:

  • Shouldn’t you get out of bed?
  • What have you done all day?
  • Yeah, yeah, yeah, shut up.
  • That’s not that impressive.
  • Yeah, that’s why they left you.

Over time, the abuser will pick away at things that happened in your past (things you’ve shared with them) and stuff that makes you vulnerable. They might go back deep into your family history or past love life and use your history to break you down. This is not ok, and no matter how much you stand up for yourself, you’ll find that it doesn’t stop them.

3. Threats

Threats are never okay and indicate that things could get progressively worse and even more dangerous in your relationship. Threats should be identified as a true red flag that the abuse could escalate. Threats often start out as subtle and then build. This is what they might look like:

  • Threatening to blackmail you with personal information
  • Threatening to break something of yours (personal belongings)
  • Threatening to leave or cheat if you don’t do something they ask (unless you have personal work to do)

If someone is threatening to break something of yours in your household, you should reach out to a support hotline to get help and answers on what steps you should take to safely leave your partner. Breaking objects can often escalate to personal injury and attacks towards you. You need to be safe and if the person you are around is threatening you in this manner, you are not safe.

Learn the signs of verbal abuse

Learn the signs of verbal abuse

4. False Accusations

Sometimes abusers will use false accusations towards you to literally make you second-guess yourself. This is similar to gaslighting in a lot of ways. False accusations are often used by the abuser to make you shaky, unstable, insecure, and to rock your confidence. Sometimes they will do this as a form of emotional/psychological abuse to keep you under control. It might happen during a time where you are really high (like after a promotion). They might say something like, “Oh, you only got there because you flirted with your boss,” or “My friend saw you out driving last night and I know you weren’t home,” when you truly were home. False accusations are meant to both test you and shake your confidence.

5. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a dangerous tactic used by abusers to make the victim doubt their own judgement. Gaslighting occurs when the abuse introduces false narratives, ideas, and scenarios by using lies and misinformation to make the victim doubt reality. Gaslighting might look something like this:

Examples of Gaslighting

  • Abuser: You were talking in your sleep list night and said so-and-so’s name, are you cheating on me?
  • Abuser: “So-and-so said they didn’t like you because they heard about the way you didn’t do ___ for me.”
  • Abuser: “Your friend told me that you ___ and that I shouldn’t trust you.”

Alternatively, if you try to tell your abuser things, them denying truths is also a form of gaslighting. This might involve reminding them to do something, and they intentionally forget about it and say you never warned them. This also might involve them blaming a mistake of theirs on you.

6. Denial

Denial is similar to gaslighting in that the abuser finds ways to deny the victim any sense of security and reassurance which is necessary in a healthy relationship. Denial can take the form off denying the victim healthy emotional, psychological support in a partnership and even denying assistance in the form of a fair partnership. Here are some examples:

  • One partner asks for time together and the other says they are busy when they are not
  • One partner asks for help with something and the other partner brushes off the responsibility
  • One partner identifies a lie and the accused denies it even though the evidence is obvious
  • One partner is upset or sad and the other partner is cold and emotionless towards them
  • One partner speaks up to share something and the other partner shuts them down

Denial heavily impacts self-worth. My partner often denied me time to share about the things I was passionate about. Eventually, I stopped sharing with them and grew quiet. Overtime, we had less and less in common. Them denying my voice eventually eroded our connection as well.

7. Frequent Yelling and Screaming

Everyone gets mad here and there, and an outburst once in a while that is non-violent is totally normal. It is not uncommon for someone to get angry and curse (to themselves or the room) as it’s actually healthy to release anger, but when the anger of your partner is released towards or at you, this is considered verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse takes the form of constant yelling and screaming often paired with some of the issues mentioned above. The abuser might also use this opportunity to humiliate you in front of others or strangers, by sharing personal information about you in a loud voice for by doing other things to draw attention and make you nervous or scared.

My abuser used to do this in public because they knew I would get so embarrassed...I would comply and stop engaging in the disagreement entirely which is what they wanted. It was humiliating.

8. Left-Field Insults

Left-field insults relate very closely to gaslighting/humiliation/personal attacks. Left-field insults basically means that the abuser pulls something so far out of left-field, something so completely out of context, with the only intention of truly shaking you up. This might be something from your past, 5 years ago, that you wish to forget or aren’t proud of that they want to remind you of (out of context) in the present moment.

An example might be reminding you of why you and your dad fight constantly, because of the time you did _____. This might also look something like the abuser reminding you of the time you did ____ to them, therefore, they want to punish you for something unrelated today. Left-field insults are petty and feel confusing to the victim. If you are asking your self why they are even bringing ssomething up, that’s a left-field insult.

8. Physical Intimidation (Blocking, Property Destruction)

If you are experiencing physical intimidation by a partner or family member or friend, this is an indication that you need to leave and come up with a safe plan to leave. Physical indication is an early sign to you that things can and will escalate. Property destruction is never okay, it is actually illegal and punishable by law (obviously) and someone blocking your path of movement or taking your car keys so you can’t leave is absolutely unacceptable. A healthy relationship will not include physical intimidation.

Abuse Can Happen to Anyone

Physical intimidation can happen to both men and women and anyone of any gender identity. Physical intimidation doesn’t just have to do with physical size, it’s a behavior. If your partner is breaking your property, know that this will escalate and can be very dangerous, especially if you live with pets and children. You should reach out to a National Abuse hotline and get support immediately. Be safe, however, because abusers are most reactive when the victim is trying to leave (this is the most dangerous time).

Why I finally left

Why I finally left

How, Why, and When I Left My Abuser

I was dealing with escalating verbal abuse for almost five yeas. My first year in the relationship with my ex was certainly what one refers to as the “honeymoon phase.” Everything was normal, light, and happy. We were very much in love and the butterflies were still there (that happy feeling). After the first year, traits of my abuser started to show. What I first saw as confidence and sometimes arrogance that was not directed at me but others (I liked the confidence) eventually came right back at me.

It started with little criticisms and at first I would stand up for myself. Standing up for myself often escalated the fights because my abuser was relentless. This is when I experienced things like humiliation, left-field threats, and gaslighting. They would tell me what their friends thought of me (and later admit they were lying) or they would threaten to leave or cheat because they claimed they had so many other potential partners waiting for them). Sometimes, they would even say exes came back into their life asking for another chance, later stating they only wanted to see my reaction and make me jealous. It drove me crazy.

Eventually, I was so exhausted defending myself and being shut down that I grew quiet. For example, if I tried to share something that was interesting to my partner, they would want me to stop talking. My resentment grew and I even started to feel differently about my partner. As the love faded, they would try everything to get affection from me, but it got to the point that I was pretty much shut down and felt like I wanted to be alone...I didn't even want them to touch me.

The Day I Finally Left

The day I decided to leave was the day things had finally come to a head. I knew when my partner got in my face and physically took my keys away during an argument that things were not going to be okay between us. I also realized in the days that I would be alone in our condo that I was happier alone, and I slowly started to realize what was happening. I had stopped seeing friends, I had gained weight, I had stopped caring for myself, and I had stopped doing the activities I loved. I felt like I was just constantly walking on egg shells around them. I had had enough - my energy was gone and I just couldn't deal anymore. I mentioned to my ex that we should go to counseling together and they wanted nothing to do with it. That's when I took my belongings and left.

It’s hard to leave when you share pets, kids, and property - that makes things complicated. I was able to reach out to an abuse hotline and find resources and find help through a local network which is great. Counseling has helped a lot. You want to make sure that you leave safely. Maybe you and your partner both realize that your relationship is toxic (mutually) and you can come to a peaceful end. This is an ideal situation and often uncommon, especially if your partner is controlling.

It’s been 3 years since I moved on from my abusive relationship and I have really transformed. I no longer deal with manifestations of stress (when I hear someone come home I don’t get nervous...well, because I live alone and love it!). I don’t deal with constant belittling and I’ve actually accomplished quite a lot since breaking away from the relationship.

I landed a new job and moved to another state and I’ve made a new network of friends. I hope you know that if you are in a verbally abusive relationship, please seek counseling. Do not go through this alone. There is no winning and there is no positive outcome. The abuser needs help, too, because they have their own demons. Save your self-esteem now and your life before it’s too late. Life is too short to be sad or unhappy. I left, and so can you.

© 2020 Brynn B Lewis


Brynn B Lewis (author) from Houston, TX on November 08, 2020:

Hi Kaplana Iyer from India. I hope you were able to move on as well.

Brynn B Lewis (author) from Houston, TX on November 08, 2020:

Hi dashing thanks for the compliments. You are right because we choose who we are with.

Kalpana Iyer from India on October 28, 2020:

I have been in two types of abusive relationships - one verbal and one physical. Out of the two, the verbal one was far more difficult to catch. You keep thinking maybe it is your own words or actions that made them act that way. When the truth is, a person who says such demeaning and disrespectful things to you is not capable of loving you ever. I am glad you got out of a toxic relationship. I could relate to many of the things you said.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on October 26, 2020:

Excellent article.

Oftentimes verbal abuse is foreplay for eventual physical abuse.

Anyone who witnesses their partner yelling, cursing, throwing things, or punching holes in walls because they're angry at someone... should know it's only a matter of time before it is YOU who has pissed them off.

Don't think (you) are going to be "the exception" to their raft.

People who love themselves don't tolerate being mistreated.

Each of us gets to (choose) who we spend our time with.

Each of us has our own boundaries and "deal breakers".

No one is "stuck" with anyone! Suffering is optional.

"Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary."

- Oscar Wilde

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