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Overcoming Verbal Abuse in 5 Critical Steps

A woman in a public place at sunset watching the groups of people and wondering if overcoming verbal abuse is ever possible.

…And Rebuilding Your Life

Overcoming verbal abuse can entail a long and difficult recovery process, but it is possible with the right plan of action and support. When you seek professional help, practice self-care, create boundaries, build a support system, and practice forgiveness (not what you think it is!), you can create healthy relationships and allow your authentic self to shine. Here are five proven strategies for overcoming verbal abuse that will help you heal faster.

1. Seek Professional Help

One of the most important steps in recovering from verbal abuse is to seek professional mental health help. A therapist or counselor can provide you with the tools and support you need to heal from the emotional damage caused by verbal abuse. They can help you understand the dynamics of abuse and develop strategies for setting boundaries, improving self-esteem, and managing your emotions plus any other mental health issue you might have developed due to the abuse.

Professional mental health help, including addiction treatment, is more accessible today than in the past. By working with a therapist or counselor who understands trauma care, you can make huge strides forward sooner than you might imagine.

If You Have Insurance

If you have insurance, the process of finding a therapist can be quick and direct because of their network of providers. Sometimes your insurance company will require a referral before authorizing care. If that’s the case, your primary care physician, ob-gyn, or almost any doctor you see regularly can provide the referral.

Make sure to double-check with your insurance company about any copay and the length of time you will be authorized services before needing another referral (the second referral will most likely come from your therapist). You don’t want any unexpected expenses.

If You Don’t Have Insurance

If you don’t have insurance, there is help available to you, too. Many facilities offer sliding-scale payments based on your income. Others will give grant money for some or all of the treatment costs. Additionally, each state can offer financial assistance or cover the cost of treatment entirely.

Finding the option that will help you the most can be the tricky part. Fortunately, some websites can set you up for success.

My Experience Without Insurance

In my experience of finding treatment for my adult son who had no insurance, I had to talk to many different agencies before finding one that provided services that he could afford and was comfortable attending. I recommend keeping track of the

  • agency you contacted
  • their phone number
  • who you spoke with
  • the date you called
  • notes on the call

Sometimes you’ll find a circular referral of agency 1 referring you to agency 2, then agency 2 to agency 3 who then refers you back to agency 1. When you get back to agency 1, tell them your trouble and ask them to help you figure it out.

I mention all of that to say that the only one interested in helping you get the mental health treatment and help you need is you. Be persistent, don’t take things personally, and keep your eyes and ears open for new resources.

The Options Have Similarities

For either option, you might be required to have intimate conversations about your mental health needs with many professionals as you narrow down your options. If you don’t feel up to it, you can name someone authorized to act on your behalf.

Also in either case, if you are not comfortable with the first therapist you’re assigned to or choose, you can request a different therapist. Contact the organization that assigned you the first therapist to discover your options.

2. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is essential for healing from verbal abuse. It involves taking care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. This can include things like eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga. It’s also important to do things that bring you joy and fulfillment, such as spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies or interests, or volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about.

The Problem with Self-Care

Does self-care as described above seem impossible to you? If it does, you might be suffering from depression, a serious mental health issue that can result from abuse. Depression symptoms make you feel unable or unmotivated to care for yourself appropriately.

Depression Symptoms

To be diagnosed with depression, you must have five or more of the following symptoms of depression as given in the DSM-5, and they should be present nearly every day:

  • Depressed mood with feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite.
  • Insomnia or sleeping much more than the usual 8 hours.
  • Feeling restless or slowed down.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (could be delusional).
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for dying by suicide.

If the symptoms disrupt your life, you should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Treatment for depression is available and you can feel better.

3. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is a vital part of overcoming verbal abuse. It involves defining what behaviors are and are not acceptable in your relationships with others. You may need to set limits on how much time you spend with certain people or how much information you share with them. Setting boundaries can be difficult, but it’s essential for protecting yourself and rebuilding your sense of self-worth.

Short Guide to Setting Boundaries

See How to Set Boundaries to Protect Against Abuse for more information. Here is a shortened step-by-step guide to setting boundaries.

  1. Begin a sentence with “When you [say this, do this]”
  2. Complete the first sentence with, “I feel [how it makes you feel]”.
  3. Begin the second sentence with, “I want [what you want them to do instead]”
  4. The third sentence starts with “Because I cannot control you, I will [what you will do to protect yourself]”

An example boundary reads like this: “When you interrupt me when I’m talking, I feel unheard and disrespected. I want you to listen to what I have to say. Since I cannot control you, I will leave the room and the conversation until I feel comfortable enough to talk to you again.”

4. Build a Support System

Having a strong support system is crucial for overcoming verbal abuse. It can include social workers, non-profit organizations for domestic abuse, doctors, therapists, friends, family members, or a support group of people who have experienced similar trauma. Having someone to talk to and lean on during difficult times can help you feel less alone and more empowered.

Where to Find Support

These websites can help you build your support network:

  • DomesticShelters.org will help you find support groups and organizations in your local area. It is a great resource when you need help overcoming verbal abuse or help getting out of an abusive relationship.
  • Domestic Abuse Survivor Help (DASH) will set you up with a mentor who has left an abusive relationship. The communication is through email.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a one-stop start for finding local support. Plus, they will listen and validate your feelings, which is invaluable to your mental health.

5. Practice Forgiveness

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.”

Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Forgiveness is a powerful tool for overcoming verbal abuse even if the abuser never apologizes (which they probably won’t). Forgiveness involves letting go of anger, resentment, and bitterness towards your abuser. Forgiving does not mean forgetting how they treated you, trusting them, or condoning their behavior, but it does mean releasing the emotional hold they have on you.

Forgiveness can be a difficult and ongoing process, but it can lead to greater peace, freedom, and healing in your life.

How to Forgive Someone

Dr. Robert Enright of the International Forgiveness Institute and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is today’s forgiveness guru. He developed the Process Model of Forgiveness that outlines how to forgive someone. Below are the steps Dr. Enright outlined.

Uncovering Phase

Uncovering, acknowledging, and accepting the anger or hatred you feel. Doing this brings the pain into the open and allows you to start healing.

Decision Phase

Discovering that holding onto negative feelings takes more energy than it is worth. Holding onto the pain is no longer wanted, so you decide to forgive the person.

Work Phase

Doing what you need to do to empathize with or feel compassion for the person who wronged you helps you view the situation differently. You’re better able to let go of the offense because you can see the abuser as a human instead of a monster.

Outcome or Deepening Phase

Realizing that you feel much better without the negativity pulling you down and working through the process of forgiveness is working. You might find some sort of meaning in your suffering and want to share that with others.

*I abbreviated the explanation of the steps quite a bit. If you want to know more, read the article How to Forgive linked below.

Do You Have to Forgive the Abuser?

You do not have to forgive your abuser. Some people never do. Some think that withholding forgiveness gives them the power. In my case, I mostly have forgiven Will, but sometimes when I am reminded of him I get stressed, irritable, and teary-eyed. Those feelings are things I felt constantly when I was married to him, so it’s not a surprise the thought of him will evoke them. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) plays its part in that reaction: it’s called an emotional flashback.

I do want those feelings to disappear and not be triggered by thinking of him, but I’m not sure they’ll ever go away completely. At this point, I’m not certain that completely forgiving my abuser will help. However, the work I have done to release Will, to forgive him, has helped me feel much better because I think of him and what he did less often. When I’m ready, I’ll continue the forgiveness process.

The Power of Forgiving Those Who’ve Hurt You

The video below presents topics relating to forgiveness that include knowing when you’re ready to forgive, how reconciliation and forgiveness differ, whether something is ever unforgivable, and how to forgive a person who can’t or won’t apologize or is not sorry for what they did.

From the American Psychological Association YouTube channel (@TheAPAVideo)

Information about and written by Dr. Enright can be found at:

Overcoming Verbal Abuse Is Possible

Overcoming verbal abuse is a challenging journey, but it is possible with the right strategies and support. By seeking professional help, practicing self-care, setting boundaries, building a strong support system, and practicing forgiveness, you can overcome the emotional damage caused by verbal abuse and rebuild your life on a strong foundation of self-worth and resilience.

If you or someone you know is experiencing verbal abuse, know that help is available and recovery is possible.

Featured photo by Pawan Thapa