Verbal Abuse and How to Identify 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!

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 exceptions. 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?

  4. Wow! That’s really something, Patricia Evans finding no abusive women willing to change! Explains my marriage. A friend who marriage counseled us together with his wife observed that she got a measure of recovery and decided I was the problem all along. I came from a healthy family, dad passed when I was 48. My parents raised their voices to each other maybe twice that I ever heard- not really loud and over in 5 minutes. My ex- father in law was a verbally abusive alcoholic while my ex was growing up. I would really like to read more about what constitutes women abusing men. My ex is a wonderful woman and an excellent registered nurse, but was a horrible wife. Nothing I ever did was good enough except the money I made when I went back to long distance trucking to get away from the filthy house and her craziness. I simply could not keep up with the dirty dishes and laundry as fast as she could make a mess. I finally got her to keep the house orderly enough to bring in a housecleaning service. When I came off the road I told her she would have to step up & take care of the bills until I could establish an income to replace the trucking. That was quite an affront, although I had given her a household allowance to cover all the bills for many years, leaving her to have all the money she earned to be totally at her discretion. We went to a marriage counselor provided by her job and she saw no need for her to change. My assessment was she needed to do 90% of the change and I needed to do 10%. The marriage counselor apparently saw the writing on the wall as his efforts were less than enthusiastic. I came home one day to find some furniture gone, ran to the living room and exclaimed: GOOD! She took the TV!

    I had found a letter from my sister to her in which my sister was siding with her. And this, from a woman with years of counseling, who complained frequently about triangulation amongst her family! While married I never spoke a word to my family against her, so naturally they believed her skewed perceptions. After the divorce I told my mom & sisters what had really gone on and they remembered some unkind things my ex had said to me in their hearing.

    Am I crazy for wanting to meet a loving woman and start a family at age 62? Cuz I sure didn’t want to bring a child into that emotional maelstrom. By the time she got healed enough to consider a child, she had severe female problems and needed a hysterectomy. Unfortunately, her son, age 11 when we married, was an alcoholic at age 30 when we divorced. My ex was a compulsive overeater and I never saw her drunk, but a gallon of wine would mysteriously disappear.

    Contrast that one with abuser #2. I got involved with an alcoholic. However, gotta hand it to that one. She raised a wonderful daughter who graduated high school with honors, has a stable relationship, lives on her own, took a year off to work before entering college. Who says of her mom “when she’s not drinking she’s the most awesome person on the planet”, calling her “my hero and role model”

    How can a fairly well recovered woman raise an alcoholic and a drunk raise a normal, wonderful girl?

    Again, in both cases I assumed some of the behavior was simply woman stuff because of the neurological differences between men and women. One female author on relationships wrote about men being able to compartmentalize and can only focus on one thing at a time, while a woman’s mind has emotional things in her thinking all the time. Sometimes I can’t even identify what particular negative feeling I’m experiencing till days later when its over, I just know something has put me off base. I had a wonderful, great dad & a good mom. But my mom is rather passive and last born. I want a strong woman, not like mom, as I am first born.

    So reading what constitutes abuse would be helpful.

    I’m well aware of what constitutes some abuse, like physical abuse or name calling, making global statements (you always or you never), but emotional manipulation usually goes right over my head.

    The crazy making as a woman would do to a man in particular.

    • 1) Your wife was a wonderful woman and nurse – abusers are beautiful people in public, monsters at home (as your wife).

      2) Although PMS can be severe enough to be a disorder according to the DSM-V, the fact remains that no one deserves abuse even if their loved one is mentally ill (naturally or after a stroke or whatever). Mental illness is no more your fault than hers. I don’t know if she had a mental illness or not, and it really doesn’t matter – she could and would use her unpredictability to keep you off balance and not knowing what was coming, and that is emotional abuse.

      3.) Your first wife financially abused you. Some would say she “took advantage” but it means the same thing in this case. Just as you gave 90% to her 10% in counseling, you gave all financially and she gave nothing.

      4.) Marriage counseling does not work when you’re married to an abuser. Abusers do not admit they need to change anything about themselves. And if they do admit it and start to show change, they take it back as soon as they think they’ve sucked you back into the relationship. There is never any real change on the part of someone who uses you to make themselves feel better.

      5.) You being out of touch with your emotions is not a male/female brain difference. It is a hallmark sign of abuse. During the relationship, you are forced to focus on the abuser’s emotions and actions to protect yourself or get ready to defend yourself or prepare to explain yourself… Your emotions are dangerous to your abuser because if you feel them at the appropriate time, you might do something about your abuser’s horrid behavior. (Distraction, diverting and blocking are especially good techniques to separate one from their emotions.

      6.)Anytime there is substance abuse involved, you will most likely find domestic abuse. Go to an Al-Anon meeting for family members of alcoholics. You will identify with much more than her alcoholism as it pertains to both of your wives’ treatment of you.

      7.) Emotional abuse, by design, goes right over everyone’s head. It’s emotional, not mental. Compound it with society teaching men that their feelings are weaker than their thoughts and you have a crap-load of abused men who don’t recognize the abuse. It works the same with women – emotional abuse gives a mysterious, did-i-just-feel-that? internal reaction. By the time the thrust of the emotionally abusive incident passes, the victim is either twisted up in verbal games or alone to wonder if what they felt was real or not.

      8.) The child of your alcoholic wife is like many other children raised by alcoholics. Her daughter became her caretaker from a very young age. The roles got reversed, and when the roles between parent/child are reversed it is a sign of emotional and mental abuse. Whether her daughter sees this or wants to ignore it, you can’t give your 2nd wife credit for her daughter’s success. Her daughter succeeded in spite of her as does everyone involved with alcoholics. (Opposite side of the spectrum is the child acts just like the parent.)

      Those are just 8 things I thought of looking over your comment. There are surely many more. Although I know of few books about men being victims of abuse, there is a hotline that caters to men especially that you should call. The Domestic Violence Hotline for Men and Women can be found here: Call and talk to them. I am not convinced that women and men abuse “differently” – I think they abuse much in the same ways. They use the same formula because the formula works.

      Trust your instincts on how your wives abused you! If you think it was abuse, it probably has a name related to abuse. Once you can name it, you can see it, and you can avoid it in the future.

      I believe that sitting down and writing out what a “strong woman” is – exactly – will help you choose a strong one next time. Abusers give off the image YOU want to see (at first) and by the time they reveal their true selves, you already think they’re exceptional women everywhere but home. Meaning, you’re already brainwashed when you see the abuse that you don’t want to call abuse and would rather assume to be your fault because at least you can fix yourself…… Run-on sentence for sure, but that’s how thinking works when you’re with an abuser – there is no time to fricking THINK.

      And finally, I’m glad your mother and sister finally got their stuff together and defended you in court. Your first wife hoodwinked them, too – and that tells me she was very good at what she did – pulling the wool over other people’s entire freaking head so they couldn’t see her for what she was. She isolated you well.

      I am so relieved that you are out of both relationships. Try talking on the hotlines and see if you can get some individual counseling before stepping into another romantic relationship. You need to let your heart heal a bit.

What do you think? Tell us!