You Can’t Stop Verbal Abuse With More Words--Use Action

August 24, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

Personal boundaries exist to protect you, not to control your abuser's behavior. What you DO speaks louder than what you SAY. Protect yourself in the process.

Through much of our conversation together, we've discussed setting boundaries and telling your abuser what you will and won't do when she behaves abusively. Today, I want you to realize that the words you speak are for you only. Your abuser doesn't listen to them anymore than she listens to anything else you say.

The Abuser Won't Hear Your Boundary, But Will Notice Your Actions

Words are merely playthings to the verbal abuser. When abusers translate the words you say, and when they utter words to you, the resulting "words" mean nothing close to their dictionary definitions. They're twisted versions of themselves. Let's look at a personal boundary from the abuser's standpoint:

You say, "When you narrow your eyes and interrupt me, I feel unheard and disconnected from the conversation. I want you to acknowledge my point of view. Since I am powerless over you, I will leave the room until a later time when we can talk again."

Abuser hears, "My target is on to me - he recognizes that I am attempting to get my way. The best way out of this is to divert attention from whatever my target is saying and re-engage him by using another method or escalating my tactics. What should I do...hmm...cry? yell? bring up the time when? hit or push?... Yell. I'm gonna yell!"

But guess what? The last statement you made was "I will leave the room..." You are not there. The abuser's target is gone. You interrupted your abuser's game and threw her a bit off balance.

Your abuser has no idea what you said. All she knows is her target disappeared.

What to Expect When You Stop Abuse with Action

Abuse doesn't stop when you act on your boundary, but other things do.

Your Sense of Empowerment Increases

As you turn and leave, you will feel empowered and possibly a little scared. You have reason to be a bit afraid, and we'll discuss that later. Right now, let's focus on the empowered feeling.

First of all, you recognized an impending or imminent sign of abuse (the narrowed eyes). You probably remember a time when your abuser did that and you didn't see anything else coming. But this time, you recognized that yellow flag. Good for you!

Secondly, you remembered what you wanted to do when you recognized that sign and you did it. You stated why you were leaving and then you left. No one else must understand, agree with or even hear what you said. It's enough to know that you stood up to protect your mind and heart from more abuse.

Say Your Boundary Out Loud If You Want To and Feel Safe Enough

As a side note, you do not have to state your boundary to your abuser at all. Many victims of domestic abuse initially feel like they owe it to the abuser to explain what they're doing and why they're doing it. If you feel that way, say your words out loud.

But, if you think saying what you're doing out loud will only make the situation worse, then trust your intuition. Don't say anything out loud. State the boundary to yourself, but then DO WHAT YOUR BOUNDARY SAYS TO DO. No explanation necessary. You design boundaries to protect yourself, not to control what another person does.

Your Fear Increases

Right after these good feelings, as you're walking to another room to do something you enjoy, there could be a sense of panic. "Oh my goodness! What is she going to do now?!" This fear is legitimate. Your abuser may come charging after you to continue or escalate the abuse.

You can read your abuser's body language better than anyone else in the world because your emotional and physical safety depend on your skill. Nothing motivates us more than imminent danger, and living with an abuser equates to living with constant possible danger whether you realize the danger or not.

Remember You're in a Constantly Dangerous Situation

Please realize that you could be numb to the feeling of danger or fear, especially if you're in a long-term abusive relationship (refer to The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker). You may no longer be afraid of your abuser's anger or aggressive body language due to repeated exposure to it. However, if you saw these behaviors in a stranger, you would feel afraid. If a stranger saw your abuser acting in these ways, the stranger would be afraid.

Stop Abuse by Acting on Second Boundaries and Emergency Plans

After you state or act on a boundary with an abusive person, you've got to have a second boundary or an emergency plan ready.

Trust yourself. When you begin thinking about your boundaries, draw them out to their "best case" and "worst case" ends. The best case is that your abuser doesn't follow you and doesn't continue the abuse. The worst case is that your abuser escalates to physical violence. It doesn't matter if your abuser has never laid a hand on you before! Physical violence is always a possible means of control.

Second boundaries describe what you will do if your abuser does not honor your first boundary. If your first boundary called for leaving the room, your second boundary may call for calling a friend (abusers hate witnesses), locking yourself in your bedroom, or leaving the house to wait out the storm.

When your boundary calls for you to leave the room, make sure you head toward one of the safer rooms in your house.

  • Avoid bathrooms, kitchens, and garages (hard surfaces, easy access to tools or appliances that could be used as weapons).
  • Avoid rooms that have no windows or alternate means of escape.
  • Avoid putting distance between yourself and your house/car keys (you could keep copies of the keys in your undergarments).

Enact an emergency plan if the abuse escalates to physical violence or uncontrolled rage. You must be ready to either escape (temporarily or forever) or to call the police who can calm the situation. Calling the police is not high on the list of an abuse victim who wants to make the relationship work, and I know that. But as you plan to stop the abuse through your action, plan that some of your actions will include people who can help.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, August 24). You Can’t Stop Verbal Abuse With More Words--Use Action, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

June, 28 2020 at 4:51 pm

Thank you for these articles. I'm retired and having to endure alot of verbal abuse from my retired husband for the last 3 yrs. due to him not seeing the grandkids. He didn't want to follow any rules by the parents. He's very jealous of me and wants sympathy from them so he tells his family I'm crazy and a big B____. I can't leave because I'm financially strapped for a few years. It really hurts.

December, 2 2012 at 1:23 pm

Hi Kellie,
No, we don't share bills. He takes care of all the bills, and I hear about it daily. I have no idea how much money he makes or what he spends it on, except for all the bills that me and my kids run up. He owns a business, an auto repair shop, yet I still don't have a car. I was a nurse for 16 years, but lost my nursing license 3 years ago. Since than, his treatment of me has gotten worse and worse, to the point now, where I cannot take anymore. I am in school for paralegal, but will not be finished for about a year. Until than, I am dependent on him for financial support. We are not married, so if I leave, I get nothing. Sometimes I think to myself "what would be worse, living in a tiny two room apartment with no money, barely any food, no way to buy my children clothes, etc. or dealing with him?". I have not wanted to get out of bed for the past week, and of course that is because I am lazy. Not that I could be depressed from what he puts me through. And yes, you are right, he is telling the truth through omission. It is all about the power. If I had a job and could support myself, I know he wouldn't act this way. One of the only things that keeps me going, besides my kids, is knowing this is not permanent. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Thanks for your encouraging words. Just being able to vent is a big help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
December, 2 2012 at 5:34 pm

Patty, why don't you go talk to the domestic violence people in your county's department of social services? Sometimes opportunities become available for "displaced homemakers" and even employed women who leave their abuser. You won't know of any options until you ask. When I was with my ex, I had similar financial concerns. I used my lack of resources as one of the reasons to stay. Like you, I thought that if I could make it until I finished my degree then I would be better off. Turned out that I couldn't stay that long.
A short five months out of the relationship (financial trouble and all), I told a friend that I would rather eat dirt and live under a bridge in the park than go back to that sham of a marriage. I meant it. I had a part-time minimum wage job and over $1200/month in monthly bills. I received food stamps only for myself (he had primary custody of our children). I was in a kind of hell I'd never experienced before...but people helped me. People I didn't know existed when I left my ex. It worked out. It is working out.
If you had a job and could support yourself, he would do everything he could to distract you from succeeding at your new position. He would not back off because controlling you, no matter how good you are, no matter how little you need him, does not matter one bit. It is his job to convince you that you cannot live without him.
Even so, there is that light at the end of the tunnel. If it comes up quicker than you thought and you're forced to leave for your and your children's mental health, everything will work out. Talk to people in your community who could help should the unexpected happen.

December, 1 2012 at 1:41 pm

I just want to thank you for this website. The person I am stuck in a relationship with constantly harasses me verbally, mentally, financially, however he can without hitting me. He started again today, and I have been so sick all week. I just ignored him and would not answer back, so he sat next to me on the couch-almost on my lap, really, as I tried to do schoolwork on my computer. I cruised on over to this site and started reading about things abusers say. Of course he had to find the items that did not apply and say "I never do that", without thinking about the others that describe him to a tee. I think that just his knowing that I am on to his little power and control game are enough. I hope things will change, but I doubt it, so all I can do is continue to prepare myself for that day when I can afford to finally leave this hell. Thank you so much for all the advice here. It is saving my sanity.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
December, 1 2012 at 2:28 pm

He is such an attention hog! His behavior is common. If you won't talk, he'll find another way to get your attention. My ex would stare at me. Just sit there and stare. In my opinion, they're trying to dominate our personal space - control it. Let us know that we CANNOT ignore them. Eventually, I would go to another room, and if that didn't work, go to the neighbors or for a drive. Having to leave my home to avoid his icy invasions pissed me off, but it was better than sitting there and "taking it". I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing during his staring sessions anyway.
I feel your guy knows he is being manipulative (at least) because he purposefully ignored the things he does himself while commenting "I never do that" on the others. He's telling the truth through omission, as you hinted.
When it comes to money, you may be surprised what you could afford to do right now. I don't know if you guys share the bills or combine incomes or anything like that, but if you do it is worth figuring out what you would pay if you were on your own.

Kellie Holly
November, 26 2012 at 3:08 am

Rachel, if your former friend lies about you, then she lies about other people too. If a mutual friend brings that woman's comments to your attention, say, "That is nonsense" and move the conversation to a different topic. If you verbally bash her, you will be acting like her, and people will notice.
Why doubt your child's counselor? If the counselor sees Zara as a happy child, then that means she is happy, in part, because of your parenting skills. Your former friend's poisonous lies have no place in your mind. Spit them out.
Your relationship with your former friend is not the same as your relationship with Zara's father for the simple reason that you can control Zara's contact with the friend. The former friend has no say-so in Zara's life and her opinions mean absolutely nothing to Zara.
I suggest that you find a good counselor of your own. On top of the added stress that comes with loving an autistic child, you carry the memory of an abusive relationship. Your counselor would help you work through your trauma.

November, 24 2012 at 7:16 pm

my 7 year old daughter & i both see a consellor & a now former friend insisted i was a victim everytime i said i wasn't, my daughter has autism,so has some odd behaviours outside of these behaviours she doesn't behave like an abused kid,probably because as much as i can i shield her from it,we leave the room when the crap starts & read,however this woman insists that my taking my girl zara to a counsellor is tantamount to an admission of abuse on my part,please be careful of the ones you choose to confide in ,this former woman friend-purely platonic is verbally abusive but never raises her voice,she disparages her husband now her son is an anxiety riddled mess,however now i'm doubting whether or not keeping zara with me is the best for either of us despite the counsellor saying zara is the happiest,friendliest,kid,her behaviours are autistic ,not traumatic reactive,i wanted her to have counselling so i could be prepared for outrageous behaviours,unfortunately this woman's kids & mine attend the same school,& we have the same friends,so what should i say when at the same gatherings she calls zara & me,mental.kooky,calls me a child abuser & victim,excepting the relationship & gender differences between zara's father & i,i feel she & i are in the same relationship as zara's dad & i

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
November, 29 2012 at 4:12 am

Rachel, Zara's father attempted to leave a hateful comment about you on this blog. I sent an email to your address, but since he has access to that email address, I cannot guarantee you will see it. Please contact me using a different email address as soon as possible. I would like to do my part to help you, but I cannot without an updated email address.
Hope you see this! ! Kellie

August, 26 2012 at 10:46 am

Thank you so much for this! I've been reading all I can about how to protect myself until I can get to my appointment with a counselor for help. I feel like I am on the right track. I remember reading first about setting boundaries, and I thought to myself "what's a boundary". I walked out of a store the other day and took my kids with me when he started cussing out an elderly man for blocking an aisle and then started cursing me for not agreeing with him. I was scared, but felt relieved at the same time. I know I may be headed into dangerous territory, but for the first time in a long time, he left me alone the rest of the day. Again, thank you for being here. :)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
August, 26 2012 at 12:10 pm

Good for you, Ceecee. I know your kids felt good about it too. No one likes to see someone act like a horse's behind. And just think about any person in the store who saw the scene - you probably gave them an idea for the next time someone THEY know acts out. :) You're spreading the good word, sister!

August, 25 2012 at 12:08 pm

i've been in the situation of verbal abuse. when i did leave him,(the night before i left) he kept badgering me telling me i couldn't live without him. finally i kept walking away because all he wanted to do was argue i went and laid down he came in insulted me for the final time i was frustrated and tired we'd been arguing all day much to his delight, so i slapped him after he called me a b------ h and he slapped so hard there were fingerprints the next day i'm not proud of striking him but i just had had enough already .today i was feeling lonely and down and of all the outrageous thoughts of going back to him thank you for this article it truly saved me literally !!!!!!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
August, 26 2012 at 2:26 am

Cheri, I slapped my ex once too. Like you, I felt ashamed of myself. Unlike your abuser, mine escalated the physical violence and I ended up hurt with soreness and bruising the next day.
Cheri, I completely understand why you slapped him. I know the "enough is enough" frustration. Although you made the mistake of slapping him, YOU LEFT after doing so. You obviously recognize that once a relationship turns physical, there's no going back. You've prevented future physical harm to yourself by choosing to leave. You are wise to leave and to stay away.
However, it is important that readers understand that I do not advocate the action of physical violence to end verbal abuse. Physical violence does NOT END verbal abuse; it is a dangerous reaction to verbal abuse (at best).
Setting personal boundaries prevents the victim from reacting physically. The idea is to get out of the abusive situation before it escalates to the point of feeling physical violence is a solution.

August, 24 2012 at 7:13 pm

[Do not keep the keys] around your neck unless it has a break away chain. Thanks for the article.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
August, 25 2012 at 6:39 am

Good point, Michelle! I edited the suggestion to keep them on a long string around your neck. I used to keep the keys in my bra, so I suggested "undergarments" so the guys would consider putting keys in their briefs, too.

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