Verbal Abuse and its Devastating Impact
By Patricia Evans


Verbal Abuse is insidious.
Verbal Abuse is endemic.
Verbal Abuse impacts millions of people.
Verbal Abuse and its denial are crazy-making
Verbal Abuse usually occurs in secret.


If you've heard, "You're Too Sensitive" you've heard verbal abuse.

Although many people have heard, “sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us”, those who have suffered from verbal abuse know that words do hurt and can be as damaging as physical blows to the body. The scars from verbal assaults can last for years. These psychological scars leave people unsure of themselves, unable to recognize their true value, their talents and sometimes unable to adapt to life’s many challenges.

Except for name-calling, many people don't recognize verbal abuse—especially when it comes from a person they believe loves them or from a person they perceive as an authority figure or in a position of power, for example, one's boss, a family provider, one's parent, or even an older sibling that one has learned to look up to in childhood.

Unfortunately, when people don’t recognize verbal abuse for what it is, they may try to get the person who is putting them down, giving them orders, or “correcting,” denouncing, yelling at or ignoring them to understand them. Or, they may try to stop them by giving it back in kind. In other words, they may act out their anger.

The circumstances under which verbal abuse takes place make a real difference in how to respond to it. In the workplace, for instance, an appropriate response to a very abusive boss might be to prepare a resume or to read the want ads. On the other hand, a child can’t very well escape from an abusive parent and so we, the observers and relatives of the child, must be alert and ready to speak up for him or her. Keeping a record and letting others know what is going on are often good first steps.

Since, in the majority of cases, people who indulge in verbal abuse are selective about whom they abuse, many people are surprised to hear that someone is experiencing on-going and periodic abuse from someone they know and have always seen as nice and friendly. “Nice and Friendly” is the persona of many an abuser. Although many folks are as nice and friendly as they seem, some are not.

See our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), reprinted from a dialogue at iVillage.com.