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 vary from abuser to abuser, but the words affect the victim in similar ways. Victims hear horrible things from their abuser and they feel small, withdrawn, angry, helpless, sad, ashamed, and a hundred other horrible emotions - sometimes all at once.

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

Sometimes my abuser's words hurt when he jabs and attempts to provoke me on the phone. Mainly, 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).

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 can 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 2024, May 18 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

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 ...

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