Types of Verbal Abuse


Belittling "puts down" the victim and invalidates her opinions or feelings. Or it may be designed to tell the victim that her concerns or accomplishments are insignificant. Belittling statements may be patronizing put-downs such as, "Well, that's nice that it gives you something to do."

Some belittling statements include:

  • You can't take a joke.
  • You're too sensitive.
  • You don't know what you're talking about.
  • You're making a big deal out of nothing.
  • You always have to have something to complain about.

Countering and Correcting

Countering shuts down the discussion and opposes denies the victim's reality. The abuser argues against her thoughts, her opinions, and her reality. By negating her views, the abuser feels he is maintaining his control and dominance over her.

Abusive "Jokes"

Put-downs disguised as jokes often refer to woman’s gender, to her mental abilities, or to her competency. This can include statements such as:

  • You need a keeper!
  • What else can you expect from a woman?
  • You couldn't find your head if it wasn't attached.

Holding Out

The abuser who refuses to share himself with his partner, who ignores or refuses to listen to her, or who refuses to share information is violating the premise of a relationship. Holding back emotional support erodes confidence and determination. Holding out includes refusal to communicate, and statements such as:

  • There's nothing to talk about.
  • You wouldn't be interested.
  • It's none of your business.

Side-Tracking and Shutting Down

Forcing the discussion off track, shutting it down, or changing the subject are ways to control and frustrate the conversation. Sometimes accusing and blaming are used to hijack the discussion and throw the victim off balance. Some shutting-down statements are:

  • You're just trying to have the last word.
  • I don't want to talk about it anymore.
  • Just drop it!

Transferring Blame

Many abusers blame their partner for their anger, irritation, or insecurity. Telling the victim that the abuse is her fault confuses her and puts her on the defensive. An abuser may accuse the victim of the very actions done by the abuser himself. (This can be very "crazy-making.") Some blaming phrases include:

  • It's all your fault.
  • You're just trying to pick a fight.
  • If you weren't so...


Most statements that begin with the word "you" or "always/never" signal abusive faultfinding and criticism. Faultfinding veiled in help or advice is abusive.

  • You’re always so….
  • Why can’t you just…?
  • You should just let me do that.


Intimidation can come through words or actions that threaten or imply harm or loss. It is designed to control and gain power through fear.

Insulting and Labeling

Insulting names and personal "labels" are abusive, as are demeaning sexual references.

  • Dingbat, air-head
  • Slut, bitch, broad
  • Stupid, ugly, fat

Selective Memory

Abusers may "conveniently forget" or alter the facts. This selective memory can be used to deny, twist, and rewrite reality (this is also "crazy-making"). Selective memory is signaled by statements such as:

  • I don't know what you're talking about.
  • I never said that.
  • You're making that up.


When a partner commands or demands instead of respectfully requesting, he denies the worth and independence of the victim.

Lashing Out

Lashing out at someone is never justified. Angry verbal attacks, yelling, raging, and temper tantrums can be effective ways to intimidate and control others.

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy