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Verbal Abuse: 4 Red Flags and How to Deal With An Abusive Partner

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When talking about relationships, it’s common to hear people name physical domestic violence as a relationship dealbreaker.

However, what people often overlook is verbal abuse. This kind of abuse can take many forms, including more subtle ones, which makes it difficult for many to identify.

So, what is verbal abuse?

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Verbal Abuse Definition

Verbal abuse is when a partner uses language to hurt the other, usually through nasty words or undue criticisms. The goal of a verbal abuser is to bring you down by attacking your self-confidence so that he or she can gain control in the relationship.

Verbal abuse doesn’t necessarily mean yelling either. A common misconception is that verbal abuse only applies to dramatic showdowns, like shouted obscenities. But, that’s not the only kind of verbal abuse out there. Verbal abuse can also take the form of snide, critical comments that gradually wear your self-confidence down until you can barely recognize yourself.

Because verbal abuse can be difficult to spot, here are the red flags that will help you pinpoint this destructive behavior:

4 Signs of Verbal Abuse

Sign #1: Are You Feeling Isolated?

One way that a verbal abuser will exercise control over you in a relationship is by isolating you from friends and family. By removing your support system, it makes it easier for your partner to chip away at your self-esteem and manipulate the way you feel about yourself.

Generally speaking, your partner will do this by insinuating that those who love you don’t have your best interests at heart and can’t be trusted. This will make it so that you have no one to turn to when you are struggling and need a second opinion on your situation.

If you notice this happening, it’s up to you to decide if your partner is dispensing genuine advice or if your partner’s words have a more sinister purpose behind them.

Sign #2: Have You Lost Your Self-Esteem?

When your partner is constantly wearing you down with criticisms or verbal barbs, it’s easy to lose faith in yourself. Your partner may be doing this is because a person who doubts him or herself is easier to control.

People with low self-esteem feel helpless because they don’t believe in their own abilities to change the situation they’re in. Instead, they’ll allow their verbally abusive partner to make decisions for them.

When you’re experiencing self-doubt, one tactic that your partner may be using is gaslighting. If you notice that you’ve started questioning your own perception of reality because your partner frequently denies that something you believe is happening, it’s a huge red flag. Gaslighting is verbal abuse that will lead you to distrust your own judgment, destroying your self-esteem.

Sign #3: Do You Feel Uncomfortable Sharing Your Thoughts?

When you’re with your partner, do you find yourself walking on eggshells? If this is the case, you need to examine why that is. Often, people whose partners are verbal abusers will find it difficult to express their thoughts out of fear.

Regardless if your partner is the type to blow up at you at the slightest provocation or seems to judge your every word, these verbally abusive habits will cause you to feel less at ease around your partner. Thus, if you sense yourself keeping things to yourself, it may be a sign that you’ve been dealing with verbal abuse.

Sign #4: Does Your Partner Speak Respectfully To You?

Have you heard of the adage: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? When your partner communicates with you, don’t only focus on what your partner says. Pay attention to how your partner communicates, as well.

When your partner talks to you, does he or she:

  • Swear at you
  • Call you names
  • Dismiss you and your concerns
  • Talk down to you
  • Insult or attack your character?

If your partner habitually does any of the above, it means that your partner doesn’t speak to you respectfully. Instead, the way he or she addresses you is meant to tear you down and could be an indicator of verbal abuse.

6 Ways to Deal With Verbal Abuse

Now that you know how to recognize it, what should you do if you realize that your partner has been verbally abusing you? If your partner has been mistreating you, start building up your defenses so that you can handle the situation.

If you feel like you’re ready to start fighting back, here are six ways to deal with verbal abuse:

1. Build Up Your Support System

The first thing you should do is to get your support system back. After having your partner isolate you from your friend and family, you may feel like you have no one left. However, when you reconnect with your friends and family with an honest heart, they will respond to your sincerity.

It’s possible that your friends and family have long realized that your partner was bad news. In which case, they may be cautious at first, but once your friends and family see how you’re committed to getting your life back, they’ll accept you back.

If you’re having trouble recapturing these relationships, you can also invest in new friends and broaden your support system that way.

Building up your support system will help you realize your self-worth and give you the strength to cut ties if you need to.

2. Seek Counseling or Therapy

If you find that your mental state is suffering due to the verbal abuse that your partner inflicted upon you, seek professional help from counseling or therapy. Although there is still stigma regarding counseling, seeking help doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.

Going to a counselor gives you a place to vent to your counselor regarding your partner’s treatment of you, which can be great stress relief. Additionally, you can learn about effective strategies to respond to verbal abuse from a licensed professional.

Above all, going to therapy can get you out of your head and prevent you from being unduly affected by your partner’s abusive words, helping you become stronger in the process.

3. Call Out Abusive Behavior

Now that you’re familiar with verbal abuse, start calling out your partner’s behavior. Confronting your partner can be frightening, especially if your partner is one who will lose his or her temper and scream at you.

However, if you express that you recognize what he or she is doing and establish that it’s the type of behavior you don’t want in your relationship, you’re letting your partner know that you won’t stand for such behavior in the future.

Directly calling out abusive behavior could also be enlightening because your partner may not even recognize what he or she is doing.

4. Have a Conversation and Set Boundaries

When you feel strong enough, gather your thoughts, sit down with your partner, and have a conversation. Clearly state what you’ve been experiencing and how you’re hoping things will change in the future. Pay attention to whether your partner is willing to rectify the situation.

If your partner seems receptive to your concerns, set boundaries so that there’s no longer any excuse for verbally abusive behavior to happen. Let your partner know that if he or she continues to abuse you, he or she is disrespecting you and that you won’t stick around if the behavior persists.

Having a conversation and setting boundaries will help you take back some of the power in the relationship. This will hopefully return your relationship to a state where the balance of power is equal and where you’re comfortable being around your partner again.

5. Give Your Partner a Chance To Change

Forgiveness is very difficult, especially after someone has hurt you deeply. Being verbally abused by someone you love is challenging to heal from. However, if your partner says that he or she is willing to change the dynamics of your relationship so that it’s healthy again, it’s important to give your partner a chance to prove this to you.

While it’s possible that your partner is lying or won’t be able to change to your satisfaction, because verbal abuse is such an elusive concept, it may be impulsive to immediately cut ties. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt, but keep an eye open for those red flags in case they make a comeback.

Who knows—your partner may surprise you!

6. If All Else Fails, Leave

If you’ve given your partner a chance to change and he or she won’t stop verbally abusing you, leave. At this point, you’ve already communicated your intentions and expectations. If your partner doesn’t follow through, take it as a sign that things are not going to improve. Ask yourself if you really want to deal with this maltreatment for the rest of your life.

After the journey you’ve made, you should realize that you’re worth more than the way your partner has been treating you. You’ve rebuilt your support system and took it upon yourself to seek help and get your wishes heard—you’re definitely strong enough to handle life by yourself now. Not to mention, you deserve a partner who won’t degrade you with verbal barbs and make you feel miserable.

After all, a relationship can’t only be one person’s burden to bear. If you’re going to be in a relationship, find a person who will diligently work on it with you.

Picking Yourself Up Again After Verbal Abuse

Rebuilding your sense of self after having it destroyed by someone close to you is laborious work. Spend time alone where you’re doing things that make you happy. Socialize and catch up with friends. Remind yourself of the aspects of yourself that make you who you are. All of this will help you realize the good in you.

You’ll be surprised how much you’ve lost touch with yourself because of your verbally abusive relationship. But once you find yourself again, you’ll be on the road to recovery.

If you or someone you know is dealing with abuse, Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline

Additional Resources

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About the author

Jessica Chen
Jessica Chen is a freelance writer who loves to write about weddings and other lifestyle topics. A fan of both romantic comedies and superhero flicks, she enjoys using her nerd-like tendencies to research new ways to help people live a better way of life.

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