Don’t Ignore These Less Obvious Signs of Verbal Abuse

Sometimes it is very clear when someone is talking to you offensively; you feel deprived, belittled and / or manipulated. But in other cases, it can be more difficult to determine if the words addressed to you are criticism, unwanted feedback, or real verbal abuse.

In an article for Well + Good, Sarah Regan interviewed mental health experts who weighed in on various types of verbal abuse, including some of the less obvious signs. Here’s what you need to know.

What is verbal abuse?

In short, verbal abuse is about powering and keeping someone in line, ” said Regan psychotherapist Annette Nunez, Ph.D., LMFT. And while this can certainly involve yelling or yelling at someone, it can also be much more sophisticated, such as “discrete manipulation, gaslighting, or just making someone feel worse,” she explains.

In some situations, it is not very clear whether the conversation or comments are some kind of feedback or criticism, or whether they fall into the realm of verbal abuse. In such cases, Nunez advises paying attention to any repetitive patterns, especially if you’ve already told the person that you don’t like being spoken to this way.

However, she also notes that not every unpleasant conversation or exchange of views is verbal abuse; it can also be constructive criticism or some kind of disagreement. Again, Nunez stresses that it all comes down to whether the person constantly humiliates you and tries to make you feel inferior (rather than just giving you feedback or expressing an opinion that you accidentally disagree with).

Less obvious signs of verbal abuse

Verbal abuse can take many forms, some of which are quite secretive. Here are a few examples of less obvious signs of verbal abuse, according to experts interviewed by Regan for her article :

Deceived statements

No explosive arguments. “There are even more insidious types of verbal abuse that are spoken calmly and presented as if they were helping you – with a problem you never knew existed, clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo of DClinPsy told Well + Good .


According to Neo, any type of threat should be viewed as verbal abuse, including threats to your safety and that of another.


If you often hear phrases like “It didn’t happen” or “You are dramatizing” (in relation to situations that actually happened), you may be experiencing gaslighting. Another form of verbal abuse, gaslighting, involves constantly questioning someone’s reality in order to get them to start doing it themselves.

“In this way, they keep you in control and keep you submissive and depressed, making you think that you are crazy and that you are terrible in a relationship,” said Nunez Regan .

Unsolicited advice from a wise savior

Sometimes people position themselves as a “wise savior” who gives invaluable advice to those who, in their opinion, do not understand the world as well as they do. It can be phrased in different ways, but the classic one is “Tip, I noticed that you are [an example of a character deficit] and I want to help you,” explains Neo. Nope.


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