Don’t Ignore These Less-Obvious Signs of Verbal Abuse

Don’t Ignore These Less-Obvious Signs of Verbal Abuse
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Sometimes it’s very clear when someone speaking to you is being verbally abusive; you feel cut-down, belittled, and/or manipulated. But other times, it can be harder to tell if the words directed at you are some type of criticism or unwelcome feedback, or actual verbal abuse.

In an article for Well+Good, Sarah Regan interviewed mental health experts who weighed in on the different types of verbal abuse — including some of the less-obvious signs. Here’s what to know.

What is verbal abuse?

In short, verbal abuse is all about power and keeping someone submissive, psychotherapist Annette Nuñez, Ph.D., LMFT told Regan. And while it certainly can involve yelling or screaming at someone, it can also be far more subtle, like “discrete manipulation, gaslighting, or simply making someone feel less than,” she explains.

In some situations, it’s not very clear-cut as to whether a conversation or comments are some type of feedback or criticism, or veer into the territory of verbal abuse. In cases like this, Nuñez says to pay attention to any repeating patterns — especially if you’ve already told the person that you don’t like being spoken to in that way.

She also notes, however, that not every unpleasant discussion or exchange constitutes verbal abuse; it could also be constructive criticism or some sort of disagreement. Again, Nuñez stresses that it comes down to whether the person is cutting you down repeatedly and trying to make you feel inferior (and not simply giving you feedback or expressing an opinion you happen to disagree with).

Less-obvious signs of verbal abuse

Verbal abuse can take many forms — some of which are pretty sneaky. Here are some examples of the less-obvious signs of verbal abuse, according to the experts Regan interviewed for her article:

Backhanded statements

No explosive arguments here. “There are even more insidious types of verbal abuse that are said calmly and framed as though they are helping you — with a problem you never knew you had,” clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy told Well+Good.

Threats

According to Neo, any type of threat should be considered verbal abuse — including threats to your safety and the other person’s.

Gaslighting

If you’re often hearing phrases like “That didn’t happen” or “You’re being dramatic” (regarding situations that did, in fact, happen), you may be experiencing gaslighting. Another form of verbal abuse, gaslighting involves constantly questioning someone’s reality with the goal of getting them to start doing it themselves.

“That’s the way they keep control over you and keep you submissive and down, by making you think you’re crazy and you’re the awful one in the relationship,” Nuñez told Regan.

Unsolicited ‘advice’ from a wise saviour

Sometimes, people position themselves as a “wise saviour” who provides invaluable advice to those who they believe don’t understand the world as well as they do. This can be phrased in many ways, but a classic one is “Word of advice, I noticed you are [character deficit example], and I want to help you,” Neo explains. Nope.

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