Verbal Abuse and How to Identify It

Recognizing types of verbal abuse is a most valuable skill because if you cannot recognize abuse as it happens, you will not control your reactions to it.Types of verbal abuse range from full on anger to forgetting on purpose. Even the silent treatment is a type of verbal abuse! Verbal abusers use several other sneaky tactics to abuse and control their victims, too. Patricia Evans, author of many books about verbal abuse, defines several ways in which abusers control their victims. Recognizing verbal abuse is the first step to overcoming its effects and regaining your mental health.

The types of verbal abuse, used in combination by an abuser, forms the building blocks of crazy-making and makes domestic abuse in all its forms possible. Crazy making occurs when a victim is a victim without realizing they are a victim.

What?! Yes, crazy making twists words and actions around in so many ways that the victim of abuse doesn’t realize s/he is manipulated and abused. When the victim feels confused in this way, she waits intently for clarity from the abuser. When the abuser offers his or her version of clarity it is often so welcome to the victim that she accepts the explanation without question.

No matter how stupid and illogical the abuser’s explanation, the victim plugs it into her brain and believes it holds the key to her sanity. She feels as if she understands her partner better, and increases her feelings of intimacy toward him. Even though the abuser fed her a hot, steamy bowl of crap, she accepts it as gratefully as if it were chocolate ice cream offered during PMS.

Male victims suffer the same reactions. When the abuser releases her victim from the conversation, the victim may come to wonder things like, “What just happened?” and “Wait a minute…that doesn’t make much sense.”  He may also think, “Wow, I really am a horrible husband,” and suffer guilt for doing some very imaginary things to the abuser. The abuser can make you question if you are the abuser

Or perhaps the victim finds himself consoling his abuser who, of course, is now so hurt that she’s indulging in some crocodile tears and just can’t understand why he is so indifferent to her feelings!

Types of Verbal Abuse

Crazy Making And The Types of Verbal Abuse Go Hand-In-Hand

These reactions also occur after verbal abuse. The types of verbal abuse, taken together or even one or two at a time, constitute not only crazy making, but the basis for every abusive relationship. Once you can recognize abuse as it happens, you will no longer be a victim. You will become a survivor.

Patricia Evans offers a whole new understanding of domestic abuse, and I suggest you click the links below to compare notes with me. See if your partner uses these abusive and coercive tools too. Remember, recognizing domestic abuse is one of the most valuable skills you can develop. If you don’t recognize abuse when it happens, you cannot control your reaction to it. Download this worksheet to help you figure out how abuse happens to you.

*The categories listed above are from the book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Expanded Third Edition: How to recognize it and how to respond by Patricia Evans, ISBN 1558505822, Adams Media Corporation, 1996. I highly recommend reading this book!


  1. Patrician Evans books are very helpful! I credit this list (when I found it on your blog a couple of years ago) with helping me identify what was “wrong” in my marriage, and helped me discover that I was not crazy.

  2. Mei-Lin Po says:

    My question is, is it possible for an abusive individual to come to understand the *wrongness* of what they are doing? I mean, I prefer to believe that they CAN, but in most cases an attempt to persuade them is just a waste of energy.

    • Sure, some abusers can understand how badly they’ve behaved and create the desire within themselves to change. How can you tell the difference between someone willing to change and someone giving you lip service to get you to stay? Watch their behavior more than listening to their words. Whether you want to stick around long enough to see if they change is up to you. Sometimes it is better to tell them once and if they don’t change just stay far away (like at work). You are right in saying persuading them that what they do is wrong is a waste of energy. Unless you want to spend a good part of your life “persuading” someone who doesn’t care one bit what you think of them, just leave the relationship as early as possible. By the way, Patricia Evans (author of several books on verbal abuse) says that she’s seen many men change their behavior – it is the women who do not change.

      • Patrick Stewart said that it is not the women who will end domestic violence, it will be the men. I think that is what you are saying Kellie. Men need to hold other men accountable and work with each other to end domestic violence, because for the most part, it is the men that are the abusers. Not all the time, but most of the time.

  3. What doesn’t change about the women. What does change in the men? This information is incredibly vague. Maybe the women need time away from their abusive counterparts in order to reflect, re-evaluate, consider and change. The abuser’s power is in his manipulation of a woman that he has broken down piece by piece.

    • You would have to ask Patricia Evans about what doesn’t change in women and what changes in men. I remember reading something about abusive women being “so damaged psychologically” that to turn them around from “acting like men” to acting “like women” is too difficult. At least for modern psychology. I don’t know if I believe that or not.

      Traditionally, women’s healthcare, including mental health care, develops much more slowly than men’s healthcare. I do have an opinion on that, but I suspect women’s healthcare knowledge will pick up now that more women are doctors and psychologists (and more) than in previous generations.

      And yes, women who are with abusive men DO need time away from them to regather themselves. The problem is that abused people can stay blind to the abuse for a very long time. When they realize what is going on, victims often feel so weak that leaving the abuser seems impossible.

      • Why would you quote something if you don’t know the full meaning intended? It’s a valid question to ask what was meant by “it’s the women who do not change.” It sounds as if she’s blaming women for what is a mostly a men’s issue. And if Patricia Evans actually said that abusive women are so damaged psychologically that to turn them around from “acting like men” to acting “like women” is too difficult, I don’t think I have any interest in reading anything she has to say. What exactly constitutes “acting like a woman” as opposed to “acting like a man”? (Rhetorical) Neither group owns the right to act in any specific way. Here’s what I know for certain: If you’re an abusive relationship, get out of it any way you can. People don’t change, only circumstances change. Change your circumstances.

      • The meaning intended is quite clear. When someone says out of the thousands of people she’s spoken to that not one abusive woman has given her a call back so she can coach their change, it means that women do not change. Men will.

        Men’s main hormones are testosterone which makes them act out more violently (in plenty of situations) than women. If you do not believe there is a fundamental difference in men and women, then there are problems ahead for you. Women do not “act like men” as a whole. Men do not “act like women” as a whole. Two genders, two general sets of actions and reactions. Speaking in generalities, women act like women and men act like men. For healthy men and women, this is as it should be.

        No one said any group “owned the right to act in any specific way”. THere are ALWAYS exceptons. Therefore, women who are less likely to change after becoming abusers do not “own that way to act” and should change. But why don’t they?

        And what exactly are you arguing about? You seem so hostile. Are you a woman who needs to change?

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