Verbal abuse (also known as verbal aggression, verbal attack, verbal violence, verbal assault, psychic aggression, or psychic violence) is a type of psychological/mental abuse that involves the use of oral language, gestured language, and written language directed to a victim. Verbal abuse can include the act of harassing, labeling, insulting, scolding, rebuking, excessive yelling towards an individual. It can also include the use of derogatory terms, the delivery of statements intended to frighten, humiliate, denigrate, or belittle a person. It is an act of abuse where the abuser attacks the self-concept of the victim, decreasing the self-confidence of the victims and making them feel powerless. These kinds of attacks may result in mental and/or emotional distress for the victim. Verbally abusing or attacking another is a maladaptive behavior that can be occasionally displayed by anyone, especially during stressful times or times when one is experiencing significant physical discomfort. It can also be used as a defensive mechanism when an individual feels like they are being attacked by another individual, or as a method of achieving vengeance on an individual. However, verbal abusive behaviors can also be used to intentionally manipulate others.
Victims of verbal abuse may display abusive behaviors towards other individuals. In addition to that, there are other reasons that could cause one to be verbally abusive. For instance, abusers tend to verbally abuse their victims when the abuser is feeling stressed. They also tend to display verbally abusive behaviors after undergoing negative life events. These abusive behaviors can take on many forms.
- Bullying is one of the forms. Bullying can be defined as behaviors that are intentionally used to intimidate or hurt another person. It can also be used to make the victim submit to the will of the abuser. Although it mostly happens in schools, and the victims are usually children, it can also happen in everyday life and anyone regardless of age can become a victim.
- Gaslighting is another form that verbal abuse can take. In that form, the abuser makes the victim question not just their own self, but also their own sanity. One way abusers tend to use gaslighting is by questioning the victim in a manner that gets the victim to question their own perceptions of things. The abuser does not see the victim as equal. The victim tends to feel powerless while the abuser feels in control. As a result, gaslighting tends to make the victim feels dependent on the abuser.
Anyone can be a victim of verbal abuse. When an individual starts verbally abusing another, the intensity and the frequency of abuse tend to increase over time. Even though verbal abuse is not physical and does not leave physical traces such as bruises, it can be as harmful as physical abuse, and can negatively impact the victim’s health. The victims of verbal abuse may suffer from emotional pain and mental distress, which over time could lead to succumbing due to stress-related illness.
Verbal abuses tend to leave greater negative impacts on younger victims such as children and adolescents. Individuals who were verbally abused as children tend to have low self-esteem in adulthood. Victims of parental verbal abuse or peer-related verbal abuse tend to have a higher risk of developing clinical depression, anxiety, anger management issues, addictive drug use, and even tend to be more suicidal. In addition to that, researchers have found that victims of verbal abuse are three times more likely to develop personality disorders, especially among children. Parents who verbally abuse their children may cause their children to develop personality disorders during adolescence and young adulthood.
Verbal abuse includes the following:
- abusive anger: "aggressive outbursts"
- accusing and blaming
- blocking and diverting
- countering: disputing a "...partner's thoughts, feelings, perceptions and experiences" or arguing "any point or idea"
- denial of anger or abuse
- judging and criticizing
- minimisation, discounting, trivializing
- name calling
- ordering: commanding to show control
- withholding: refusing "...to share ideas, feelings, intimacy, thoughts and dreams with the partner"
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