Things Verbal Abusers Say and Do

April 29, 2012 Kellie Jo Holly

Abusive people, men and women, say and do similar things to control their victims. The delivery may vary in tone or type, but the effect is the same. Read this.

What does verbal abuse sound like? The tone and content varies from abuser to abuser, but the words effect the victim in similar ways. Victims hear horrible things from their abuser and they feel small, withdrawn, angry, helpless, sad, shame, and a hundred other horrible emotions - sometimes all at once.

In the beginning of my abusive relationship, I felt anger and stood up for myself which led to loud, circular verbal altercations that had no solutions. Later, after coming to believe that he was my hero, my savior and provider, I felt stupid and wanted to fix myself so he would love me. Much later, I turned away and left the house for awhile which eventually led to increased physical violence and leaving forever.

Sometimes my abuser's words hurt when he jabs and attempts to provoke on the phone. Mostly, the memory, the countless memories of the abusive things he's said to me rear up and try to convince me that his remembered voice is my own.

This list is only a partial list of the things verbal abusers say. It's not limited to my own abusive relationship. It takes into account what others report hearing, too.

Things Verbal Abusers Say:

  • "Why don't you get a job so you understand the real world? Oh, wait - I forgot - you can't get a job because you're a stupid sh!t.
  • "Quit your whining and crying. You have no reason to cry or complain! Your life is perfect because I made it that way!"
  • "Bitch" (and the countless other names I won't bother to list)
  • "I should have left you at the club with all the other whores."
  • "If you were more like my mother I could worship you."
  • "I hate it when you act so pitiful. Stop the waterworks and talk like a human being."
  • "I can't stand to look at you. You make me sick."
  • "You're such a great actress! You know how to get what you want, don't you?"
  • "I can't believe I have to come home to you every day. How did I get involved with such a train wreck?"
  • "I must be the first a$$hole to love you. You don't know how to please a man!"
  • "You're fat and miserable and you make me hate you."
  • "You always look like God stomped on your face."
  • "Why do you care what I want for dinner? My favorites taste like crap when you make them anyway."
  • "You used to be as beautiful as my ex, but geesh - time hasn't been good to you, baby!"
  • "Those children are mine, will always be mine, and if you leave you'll never see them again."

Things Verbal Abusers Do:

  • Deny they said anything similar to the list above.
  • Defend what they've said.
  • Analyze what they've said out loud, explaining that the words they used do not have the definitions you seem to think they do.
  • Block you in a room so you can't leave and thereby avoid what they're saying.
  • Talk horribly to the television but are really speaking to you.
  • Flip open their knife to open a piece of gum while looking at you under knitted brows.
  • Leave to do something else at the last minute when you had plans together.
  • Take you out for your best birthday ever and then wind up berating you on the way home for not appreciating their efforts enough.
  • Tell your children you need more happy pills to be a good mom.
  • Change the topic of the conversation so you bounce from one place to another, never getting to the core of the issue.
  • Accuse you of being a whore or a dummy or a _________ so often that they no longer need to say the words but can offer up a "look" and you know what they're saying (then they may deny it).

Abusive people, men and women, say and do similar things to control their victims. The delivery may vary in tone or type, but the effect is the same.Okay. I have to stop. My stomach is literally upset right now after digesting the utter contempt and hatred some people spew on a daily basis.

If you're still living in this nonsense, learn about detachment and how it can benefit you. Maybe in time you'll choose to leave your abuser, and maybe you'll choose to stay. No one here will judge you for staying (I've been there and it can feel hopeless!), but please work on ways to make yourself feel better in the process.

Start here:

You can also find Kellie on her website at Verbal Abuse Journals , and social media pages on Google+, Facebook and Twitter. Buy her books from Amazon.

*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2012, April 29). Things Verbal Abusers Say and Do, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, October 21 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

July, 6 2012 at 5:42 am

I think you bring up some good points but I don't quite agree with everything in your article. My brother verbally abuses me and he's done none of the things you have listed in this article. You are describing specific events as opposed to characteristics of an abuser. Not all abusers say and do exactly the same things. The abuse my brother dishes out at me is more vague. (ie: interrupting me to tell me that he knows what I'm going to say, turning up the TV loud enough for the floor to shake as a way to get me to stop talking, always having to prove that I'm wrong, etc.) Those aren't characteristics of an abuser. Those things are specific to my story. On the other hand, narcissism, intense anger/vengeance, and a lack of responsibility (for his or her actions) are just a few common characteristics of abusers. My point is that the things you listed are specific to your story. Its horrible that you were treated that way. No one deserves that kind of treatment. However, you can't generalize specific events from your story as if all abusers say and do those same things things. Every person is different therefore every abuser is different.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
July, 6 2012 at 5:59 am

The list is designed as an example of what abusers say and do, accumulated from my experiences and those of other women and men who have written to me. Each situation is going to be different; the idea behind the list is to mention many examples so readers can see if something their partner says/does can be accurately called abuse. The very first paragraph states, "The tone and content varies from abuser to abuser, but the words effect the victim in similar ways" and the fourth states, "This list is only a partial list of the things verbal abusers say. It's not limited to my own abusive relationship. It takes into account what other's have reported hearing, too."
Narcissism is not a necessary characteristic of an abuser, nor is intense anger. Many abusers may show the personality traits of a narcissist, but as most will not go to a psychologist/psychiatrist, they remain undiagnosed for personality disorders or maladaptive traits. Many abusers never display intense anger but do their damage through passive-agressive tactics.
I will agree that abusers do not authentically take responsibility for their actions although, during the honeymoon phase, they may pretend to do so. Does your brother ever treat you well? Do you have a honeymoon period? I'm curious to know what that period is like between siblings.

June, 26 2012 at 5:47 pm

My parents are both verbal abusers and neglectful. I tried to confront them but they only became more angry when I did. They accused me of being mentally ill because I began to act angrily and uncooperatively with them. This article and the other one with Dr. Rhoades are the closest I have ever come to describing the sad and frustrating time I have had trying to understand my parents' behaviors. I continue to have the most minimum of contact with them but I discovered that my mother has been secretly meeting with my children and giving them money. They are both young adults. Any suggestions?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
June, 27 2012 at 4:58 am

Money is a difficult temptation to ignore for anyone, and your parents know this. Your children are going to make up their own minds, and frankly, your parents may never, ever treat their grandchildren the way they treated you. Your children, being adults, can stand to hear about your experience with your parents. Feel free to tell them what you went through. Tell them the truth of what you feel, but the tone of the conversation and the last words should be something like, "I don't want any contact with my parents, but you are old enough to make your own decisions. I worry that you will suffer the same pain I did, and I don't want that for you. But i love you no matter what you decide."
And then you have to let it go.
IF problems arise between you and your children due to their involvement with your parents, you must deal with them head on and as quickly as possible. Have faith that your kids know who you are. They've known you longer and love you more than anyone else in this world. Communicate lovingly or else you'll create a wedge that drives them closer to the ones who hurt you.

June, 14 2012 at 8:06 pm

I'm with Kellie. It's a choice. I have certainly told my wife enough times that I don't like being called names, ordered around, being made the butt of her jokes, and her making back handed insults about southerners (I am one) or Texas (I was born there and lived there a very long time) or that "men are pigs" etc. Even if she was a moron, she should have gotten it by now that I don't like it and could change IF she wanted to.
I know it's ingrained in now for more than 50 years, but if she had any care or empathy for my feelings she would stop.

June, 11 2012 at 7:43 pm

My then husband always wanted to be the victim....then everyone would feel sorry for him and give him lots of pity. He has the look of a sorrowful person....It is (was) pretty calculated....He came from a home where his two siblings got positive and negative attention....and he was quiet and basically got ignored. He was "forced" to marry me because our religions were the same...But he was pretty furious, yet covered it well. After he had filed for divorce 40 years later. . . he told me the truth. It made a sham out of what I thought was a sincere marriage.

Margaret Leahy
May, 26 2012 at 11:57 pm

I have lived with a verbal abuser for 35 years and yes he came from an
abusive home. At one point he was diagnosed with ADHD, but as we came
to find out it was actually PTSD not ADHD. You will find that many children
from abusive situations actually suffer from PTSD but have been incorrectly
diagnosed. I have come to the realization that my verbal abuser does not
verbally abuse everyone at large so he has some control over the issue. He verbally
Abuses me because he can. I know I can't help him, live him enough to cure
him, I can only help me. I am seeking an EMDR therapist to help me with the
Trauma I have suffered and am making plans to leave him. Only he can make
himself stop. Statistics I've heard suggests that 95% of verbal abusers will never
change. Don't waste your lives like I have

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 27 2012 at 3:07 am

Margaret, you make an excellent point: Abusers do not abuse the "world at large". They choose carefully who to abuse. Like you say, "So they have some control over the issue."
And if they can control who they abuse, then that means they CHOOSE to abuse. It is a choice that most could change, if they wanted. It just works so well for them, they don't want to change.
You are about to feel freedom and peace, Margaret. It is never too late to be happy. Plan carefully and execute the plan suddenly. Good for you!

Tammy Wright
May, 18 2012 at 5:38 pm

Hi Kellie,
Thank you so much for reaching out and sharing your story. Just knowing that there are others out there that can identify with what I went through and that there is help to recover is a relief.
I am so grateful that I finally got the courage to leave that beast. I grew up in a household where verbal abuse was common, and I swore I would never subject myself to that cycle of insanity again in life. Yet there I was in the same cycle of verbal abuse and the more I tried to leave the more he would try and convince me that he would get help and stop.
He would even make attempts to get help and when I would come back it would start all over again. It is truly a sickness a mental condition and needs to be treated by a professional. Anyone who has experienced the trauma should also seek help to heal and recover.
May, 13 2012 at 7:46 am

I am bi-polar, & my boyfriend has adult A.A.D. I realize that I am certainly no picnic to live with. But neither is his A.A.D.It has a lot of similarities, to being bi-polar!! I don't know witch is worse!!

Gaeline Newham
May, 11 2012 at 8:22 am

Hi Gina and Kellie
Reading through your comments has been such a relief to me because I think my husband suffers from an adult form of ADD and obsessive compulsive disorder and I honestly dont think he has any idea of his abusive nature (most of his family have some type of mental issues as well). This in no way as far as I'm concerned makes his treatment of me any more exusable or right with his constant cruel behaviour. I guess what you have both said confirms many things for me and I am now getting some professional help to learn how to cope with this behaviour....and detach from this. I find that I buy into his abuse so often and the fights that ensure are not pleasant and I am left feeling hurt and angry while he waltzes around in his own little world of denial..his whole family do exactly the same and I honestly think that he doesnt know what he is doing as it is such a normal behaviour pattern for them...and this in no way diminishes his behaviour either..thank you for your article...gaeline

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Katherine Peabody
May, 14 2018 at 7:55 am

My husband is a text-book classic abuser. Though the abuse has never escalated to anything physical (with the exception of withholding intimacy which in my book is a physical manifestation of his abuse), he has threatened physical violence on at least six occasions. When the verbal abuse first started all it did was confuse me. It all seemed so counter to the man I thought I knew. Then I progressed through the steps that others have gone through; the self examination and self blame, the reasoning,, crying, etc. Eventually it was clear that nothing would change. I am still in the relationship but have mostly detached and have been making steps to leave the relationship entirely. it has been the worst relationship with any human being that I have ever encountered. I am certain that he is mentally ill. My degree in Psychology, though, did not prepare me for him. Living through the symptoms backlash has been a nightmare. I have never even experienced the so-called "honeymoon" phase that some people have when the abuser tries to regain control over the victim. In other words, the abuse has just been ongoing for over a decade. Why am I still with him? Very deeply entrenched aversion to breaking vows. But as I said, I am getting my ducks in a row to make my exodus. Writing this isn't totally cathartic, of course, but it helps. Thanks for the blog.

November, 20 2018 at 12:01 pm

Hello,I was also really confused...ahet the beginning,he completely swept me off my feet and after 5 years of abuse he has broken me in so many ways....
I also have a degree in Psychology...and ironically our thesis was about abuse in hetero and homosexual relationships(not a topic I chose).At that time I couldn't even conduct interviews with our participants properly,professionally,and objectivelyI was too angry at their abusers and felt too much sympathy for what they had to go through...years later and here I am-stuck with an abusive husband....funny how life turns out...except I am not laughing......

Gina Pera
May, 4 2012 at 8:14 am

Hi Kellie,
You have really made this topic come alive. I'm sure you've done the important job of "awakening" readers to the idea that they are suffering from abuse. And motivating them to take care of themselves.
I'm always of mixed mind, though, when it comes to using the term "abuser." For one thing, it often implies that the person is abusing a partner on purpose, that it is volitional. Part of a larger, carefully thought-out plan.
Instead, I find that these "abusers" also suffer from mental illness. Often mental illness that confers a lack of objectivity about themselves or other people. In other words, these abusers might truly see themselves as the victims.
While we certainly don't want to condone such behavior or say "they can't help it," I think it's also important to recognize the behavior for what it is: pathology. Otherwise it might be that much harder to deal with the pain caused by the behavior. That much harder to get past it. Because it's so hard to make sense of the fact that someone who seemed to love you can act so cruelly.
As an expert in Adult ADHD, I can assure you that many of the examples you list above are present in some relationships affected by unrecognized ADHD.
It's a complicated syndrome, ranging from mild to severe, and it has some highly problematic "traveling companions," such as antisocial personality disorder and more. Medication can help many of these people to be less impulsive, less destructive, more empathic, and more objective.
Moreover, understanding the genesis of the abuse can help its victim be more pro-active in acting rationally instead of emotionally.
Somehow I think it is less painful, less overwhelming and confusing, for the abuse victim to view such behavior in the light of mental illness than to see it as willful. As long as it means they take active steps to take care of themselves.
Gina Pera, author
Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Kellie Holly
May, 4 2012 at 12:13 pm

I agree with you to some extent on the unconscious aspect of abusers' actions. I realize that in the case of ADD and some personality disorders, the abuser is "not at fault" if you consider their diagnosis only. It was helpful to me to see my ex's behavior as "the demon called abuse" because then I could detach from it more readily and therefore save myself some emotional and mental anguish.
However, I try to get the idea across that there comes a time when it doesn't matter if the abuser is "at fault" or not. Whether the abuser is disordered or of normal psychology, their behavior greatly and negatively impacts other people. At some point, the victim must detach and decide whether to stay (with psychological and social protections in place) or leave (because the abuser isn't going to change - especially the disordered ones).
I think you and I basically agree that acknowledging pathology (when it is there) has its place in the healing cycle. The trouble is that many if not most abusers will never receive a diagnosis because they will never visit a psychiatrist or therapist. Most of the partners of abusive people will never have the validation of knowing if the abuse they suffered was purposeful or a side-effect of the abuser's devastating mental disorder.
Either way, the victim of partner abuse must decide what to do about their situation independent of the abuser's motive or lack thereof.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 13 2018 at 8:10 pm

I seem to believe this also! I ask myself these questions and then I can decide if it’s on purpose or maybe a mental disorder.
When they get angry do they only break my things?
Do they only get loud and argue only when your alone or at home?
If they break everything know matter who it belongs to and are loud and argue anywhere then I definitely think a mental order could be there. But if they are putting a front up and fighting only when your alone and someone stops by they are instantly happy again then there is a need for control on their part and a mental illness doesn’t come and go to fit the abuser.

November, 24 2018 at 6:47 pm

Amen to that. And, even if it is a disorder, the abused one has to put his/her energy in his/her own well being, not in trying to "understand" the abuser. Abuse or any kind of passive aggressiveness is not understandable, is not explainable, is not acceptable.

Marianne Hochman
April, 29 2012 at 10:47 am

I was talked out of planned things with my kids (example: Girl Scout sleepover) to have a "special time" with my abuser only to be more of the same ole nothing and miss out on my kids event. I finally learned it was just another way to undermine. As I left with my daughters to go to something we looked forward to for weeks he tried to tell me what project he wanted to start and I smiled and said you go right ahead I will join you when I get back. It felt good. So many more remarks ... so many more ...

Leave a reply