Dealing with Random Verbal Abuse from Strangers

April 8, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

You do not have to be in an abusive relationship to experience verbal abuse. There can be many situations where an individual is subjected to verbal abuse from strangers. Unfortunately, this happens more often than you think. These random incidents are not okay, but it can be hard to deal with them when they come up. It can be in the form of personal insults, name-calling, or other belittling comments. 

I have been the victim of verbal assault on several occasions, including while I was running down the street and going to the grocery store. Both of these times, I was shocked to the point where I had no response and chose to ignore the instigator and leave the situation. 

Strangers Who Verbally Abuse (and More)

It is never healthy to treat people abusively, but unfortunately, many individuals do not feel there is anything wrong with their behavior, even to strangers in public. There can be several reasons why people lash out at strangers. 

Some of the reasons why verbal abuse shows up include: 

  • Learned behavior
  • Lashing out because of a bad day or week
  • Racism
  • Insecurities 
  • Lacking social skills

These reasons do not excuse verbal abuse in any way, but knowing why verbal abuse happens can help you deal with it when you experience it. 

What You Can Do About a Stranger's Verbal Abuse

There are different ways that you can deal with verbal abuse from strangers. Depending on your personality, you may want to choose one option rather than another. How you decide to react is a personal choice, and it should be what is best for you. 

Ignore the Abuse

Sometimes, it is easier to ignore the person who is insulting or belittling you in public. If you are in a shopping center or other large public area, you can walk away and remove yourself from the situation. This act can take the power away from the abuser while you control your environment. 

Call Them on It Without Escalation

Some people will choose to face the abuser head-on and confront them. This option can be a simple comment from you, like:

  • That is a horrible thing to say.
  • You should not treat people like that.
  • I don't appreciate being talked to like that.

It can be hard to call the person out on their behavior without them retaliating and forcing an escalation in the situation. If you have faced the abuser head-on and they are becoming more combative, you can still remove yourself from the environment. 

Respond with Kindness

You do not know what situations a stranger is going through unless they tell you personally. The choice to use empathy and kindness is a sign of compassion and understanding. By responding politely, the abuser may change their behavior or realize that their verbal assaults do not affect you and remove themselves from the situation. 

Verbal Abuse from Strangers Is Not Personal

Verbal abuse from strangers is not personal. It is often a result of a problem from the abuser rather than anything you have said or done. If you remember that it is not an attack on you as an individual, you can deal with the problem more easily without becoming emotionally involved.

Although facing verbal abuse from strangers can be surprising and difficult to manage at that time, it is an isolated incident, and you do not have to deal with that person further. Just knowing that you will not see them again can help you move on from the situation and not let it get to you. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, April 8). Dealing with Random Verbal Abuse from Strangers, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

August, 18 2021 at 2:50 pm

I was in a situation in July. This guy started yelling at me at a gas station. I tried to ignore him and just get in the car. He knocked on my car window. I still ignored him. He opened my car door. He told me, "You need to learn some manners." I told him, "You need to have some patience". He then screamed, "You need to get out of the way!". I slammed my door shut and had to ask my sister how to start her car. He had me so shook up. I still think about it and wonder why! Why did this happen to me? What was the reason? There's a reason for everything, but I can't figure this one out.

September, 21 2021 at 3:51 am

Some people might be suffering from a mental illness, drug abuse or are just self-entitled in how they treat people but expect better treatment back in return. I've had several occasions when complete strangers have shouted something offensive to me across the street, muttered in a lift, or have said something mean during what was supposed to be a fun hobby class. The only way I can justify that someone would want to intentionally hurt a stranger, other than the 3 reasons above, is because they have low self-esteem and think the temporary kick out of putting someone else down will make them feel better about themselves in the long run.
I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Let's try and surround ourselves with people who treat us right. Hang in there.

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