How to Help When You Witness Verbal Abuse

April 22, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

Witnessing verbal abuse of someone you know or love can be a difficult situation to process. Watching a friend or family member face abuse can create feelings of fear or anger in yourself while the victim is oblivious or minimizes the abuse. So what can you do if you see the mistreatment of one of your loved ones? 

What You Shouldn't Do When You Witness Verbal Abuse

Often, if you are present in a verbal abuse situation, it is not the first time this situation has occurred. Abusers are typically very careful about the persona that they let others see outside the privacy of their abusive relationship

Here's what you shouldn't do when you witness verbal abuse:

  • Be an angry defender -- While you may be tempted to rise up and defend your friend from the abuser, it may not always be the best choice. Going headstrong into conflict may escalate the situation and make it worse for the victim. 
  • Agree with the abuser -- If you end up agreeing with the abuser to avoid a confrontation, you are only making the problem worse for your friend. 
  • Minimize or ignore it -- Some people will try to minimize or ignore any verbal abuse they see in other relationships. This tactic helps to justify their lack of involvement. If they lessen the severity or disregard the abuse entirely, they will not feel guilty for avoiding the situation. 

What You Can Do When You Witness Verbal Abuse

You can help a victim of verbal abuse in various ways. Abuse of any type, should not be ignored, but each situation is unique, and you should proceed with caution. 

Here's what you can do when you witness verbal abuse:

  • Talk to the victim privately -- Once you witness your family member being the subject of verbal abuse, you should set aside time to speak to them privately. Express your concern for their wellbeing and how the abuser's treatment is not right. Offer any assistance you can, even if it is just an ear to listen when they need it. 
  • Speak up -- While not all verbal abuse is severe, some instances can escalate over time if it is not dealt with properly. If someone you know is insulted in front of you, speak up graciously to the abuser or the group. Simple statements that are non-confrontational can be: "A home/school/office/etc. is no place for name-calling," or  "Wow, that was not nice. Are you having a bad day?" or "That would make me really upset/angry/sad if you said that to me."
  • Use humor -- Sometimes, when you witness verbal abuse, diffusing the situation is the only way you can help de-escalate it, so it does not worsen for the victim. By interjecting humor into the conversation, you can redirect the abuser's verbal abuse temporarily. This tactic can diffuse a potentially harmful situation and allow you to talk to the victim later in private. 
  • Get someone else involved -- If you know someone else that can help you address the abuse, having support can be helpful. If two or more individuals talk to the victim about the verbal assaults they have witnessed, their concerns may hold more weight. There is strength in numbers, and with multiple people expressing concern, the victim might be more open to recognizing the abuse. 

It Takes a Village 

It may be possible that your friend has not sought out help for the verbal abuse because they are afraid of not being heard or the facts being accepted as true. If you witness any form of verbal abuse, do not try to ignore it or dismiss it. It may be the only chance the victim has to begin the process of getting support. 

You do not have to be the hero and save everyone from all the negative situations that they encounter in their lives. If you keep an open mind and know how to recognize the signs when you witness verbal abuse, you can help your friend seek out the resources they need for their healing journey. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, April 22). How to Help When You Witness Verbal Abuse, 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

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