Posted by: Judy | May 26, 2015

Types of Verbal Abuse

Emerging From Broken shared this article on FB:

I’m constantly checking my own actions. Am I slipping into the bad habits I was taught? The abused learn to abuse from experts. The difference between becoming an abuser or not is in choosing to break the chain by making different choices. Choosing to not be an abuser requires recognizing the abusive behavior.

I think I’ve mentioned how I used to say, “You know better than that” or “You’re smarter than that” as a way of correcting. Then one day I realized what I was really saying, the underlying message: “You’re stupid.”

So, here’s the list:

*Abuse Disguised as a Joke ~ NM enjoyed telling stories about me as a child that she thought was funny. They were humiliating. She didn’t stop until someone else pointed out how horrible they were, a few years ago. I’ve done this and have worked hard to end this.

*Abusive Anger ~ I still tremble at some of the memories. I’ve used this, in the past. It works. I have also worked hard to change. I do have a voice capable of peeling paint. It can be quite effective in gaining attention in the midst of chaos.

*Accusing and Blaming ~ My sister and I were responsible for keeping NM happy. Funnily enough, we were taught that one person can’t make another person angry. However, it was neatly twisted into “if you would simply do what I asked…” I actually did take the message to heart. I know I choose to be angry, which is frustrating because I don’t want to play the blame game. It was helpful to recognize anger was a healthy response to boundaries being violated. Thanks, Ruth.

*Blocking and Diverting ~ This is how I’d end up taking responsibility for something I hadn’t done. I wasn’t allowed to defend myself. Even if I did, it would be twisted in nothing flat. Interestingly enough, I never acquired this skill. When tensions are high it’s a battle to keep my mind from going blank. I do sometimes change the subject, but it isn’t subtle.

*Countering ~ How often were stray quotes thrown out? Another one I didn’t master, not well anyway. I have used it on rare occasions, usually because I have so much in my head and I want it all out.

*Denial ~ The most popular phrase in this house is “That didn’t happen” and “I don’t remember.” It’s been a real struggle to not fall into the same trap. Once I accepted it was another form of lying, I learned to refer to Rule #1 Stop lying, especially to yourself.

*Deprivation or Withholding ~ I’ll stick to one of the more interesting examples, because it backfired. NM gave us the silent treatment on more than one occasion. It isn’t punishment if the person being punished is trying to figure out how to make it happen again. I worry about this one. From the outside, it looks like I give NM the silent treatment. From my side, she repeatedly tells me she can’t hear me, and yet she speaks to me through doors and hears me. Which is it? Maintaining as little contact as possible is the only safe course of action. If I could go completely No Contact, I would.

*Discounting ~ Yes, what did I know? Nothing. I used to do this. It ties into that odd quirk of arrogantly thinking others had nothing to teach me, while at the same time believing I was stupid and worthless. It truly is a miracle I never went over the edge. How does a sane person live with that kind of duality? I didn’t do well. I was constantly at war with myself.

*Forgetting ~ YES! All. The. Time. I work hard to not be forgetful. I go so far as to post things in my online calendar so it sends me an email to remind me.

*Judging and Criticizing ~ NM talking about my weight or even the abuse that happened to me to others, even with me in the room, like a bug pinned to a board. This has been an ongoing effort to unlearn this. One can’t go through life or even a single day without making judgements. However, one can refrain from saying anything. I’m improving on this, with practice.

*Name Calling ~ Crabby Appleton Rotten to the Core. I confess I call a lot of people toad, weasel, and a few other names but never to their face unless we’re joking. I endeavor to vent to myself or someone I trust.

*Ordering and Demanding ~ The maddening part was that NM would say, “Whenever you have time” or something of that nature, but then she’d follow up on what she told you to do, checking to see if you’d done it. NM’s fond of saying, “You’re doing the doing, do it your way.” However, it better be her way or she’ll explain to you her way. If I care about how something is done, then I do it myself. Otherwise, I accept that the world really doesn’t revolve around me and other people have their own way of doing something. It’s a matter of learning to recognize that there’s an awful lot in life that is flexible. If someone is helping me, then I need to simply be grateful for their efforts.

*Threatening Behavior and Words ~ “If you don’t ____, there will be blood all over the saddle.” “Do ____ because you don’t want to know what I’ll do to you if you don’t.” I threaten on rare occasion, as a joke.

*Trivializing ~ NM could always find a flaw or tell you about someone else worse off than you. This was something else I had to unlearn and still catch myself doing once in a while. It only happens now when I’m not fully present in a conversation. I’ve worked hard to improve that.

*Undermining ~ Yes, this, too. I’ve endeavored to never do this. Not to say that I don’t. I’ve caught myself, but I try not to. I don’t want to be the kind person that would deliberately do something like this.



  1. I wonder this often too – am I slipping into learned behaviors? Communication involves this list in dysfunctional families, covert and overt. I learned to communicate using many from the list. I have found it hard to catch and often, I am reminded of my own when I see it in another. I feel like I’m re-learning how to speak.

    The one listed as ‘judgement and criticizing’. I think judgement is drawing a conclusion based on evidence. “I feel unsafe or I don’t trust a person.” I think what you add helps, not to express condemning a person for how they are or live.

    • I think it’s a real testament to our desire to not pass on the abuse that we do work so hard to be aware and change what we were taught. It really is “re-learning how to speak.”

  2. My mother did/does most of these. So much of it really is confusing, especially when I was young. It’s all mind games in a game designed so that I never understood how to do anything but lose. Man, I don’t miss my mother.

    The silent treatment always stressed me out. I think it’s because I knew it was only silent to me — she was talking plenty of smack about me behind my back, most of which was entirely made up an designed to make other people angry at me as well.

    I probably should worry more about how these behaviors manifest in me because I’m sure I do partake in them from time to time.

    • The most stressful part about the silent treatment, for me, was wondering when it would end. The weird peace would end.

      Having read about some of your efforts to communicate with people, I think you’re very aware, especially in difficult situations, and endeavor to do better.

      • I do agree with you about it being a weird sort of peace. Better than the ranting, screaming and berating, but sort of like being in the eye of the storm.

        • That’s it exactly!

  3. Discouraging when you realize we had all of these happen to us. Part of chain breaking is stopping the behavior with us. Hugs. You are doing great.

    • Thanks ((Ruth))

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