How to Identify Verbal Abuse and Act

Nobody has the right to insult, disparage, or denigrate another human being. Effectively, interpersonal relations should be based on respect. For this reason, if verbal abuse happens, you should limit it or report the situation.
How to Identify Verbal Abuse and Act
Bernardo Peña

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Verbal abuse is, as the name indicates, a type of abuse, or aggression. Because of this, it should not be allowed. In fact, when you identify verbal abuse, you should take measures and report it. In fact, as a type of emotional abuse, it should be eradicated since it attacks the dignity of the victim.

What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse is defined as an “excessive use of language to undermine the dignity and safety of someone through insults or humiliation, either suddenly or repeatedly.”

This definition shows us that it can appear in different forms. That is, it could be an insult, a rude comment, etc. Through this, the dignity and self-esteem of the abused person are affected by the abuser, who thinks they have the “authority”, or “privilege” to be able to attack another person this way.

Verbal abuse, as a kind of emotional abuse, can occur in any situation and affect anyone. Because of this, it can happen to children, adolescents, adults, or older people. Additionally, it can happen in different environments, like between couples, among friends, at work, etc.

How to identify verbal abuse:

Woman yelling at man, verbal abuse in a couple.
Verbal abuse means insults and demeaning behavior towards other people.

Verbal abuse doesn’t leave bruises or wounds, but it’s a type of mistreatment and aggression. However, it’s more difficult to detect.

It can include:

  • Aggressive outbursts (insults and humiliation)
  • Accusations
  • Blaming the other person
  • Judging or criticizing in a humiliating or rude way
  • Minimizing or belittling the victim
  • Scorn or contempt
  • Ordering or demanding things, yelling
  • Threats
  • Humiliating or degrading nicknames

At times, anyone can lose their cool and “cross the line”. However, if that happens you should reconsider and ask for forgiveness, recognizing the damage caused to the other person. Nevertheless, verbal abuse is a repeated and conscious practice to humiliate and denigrate the other person that the abuser considers to be inferior.

Examples of verbal abuse

We’ll list some examples below:

  • In a relationship. One of the members of the couple “demands” things instead of asking for them. Additionally, they yell arrogantly, humiliating the other. The abuser thinks that the other person is there for whatever they want and that they aren’t worth anything. In addition, they think that the other person has to “serve them”.
  • In a friend group. The abuser uses humiliating and hurtful nicknames. Additionally, they could even threaten or demean the victim in front of everyone.
  • At work. The boss gives orders using rude comments – including in front of everyone else – to talk to an employee or their work. There are public or private insults. The criticism is constant, humiliating, and not constructive.
  • Older people. For example, a caretaker insults their patient and orders them to do things without respecting them, demeaning and humiliating them.
  • In parent-child relationships. The parents use demeaning nicknames for their child, they insult him or deride him saying that he doesn’t know how to do anything or is useless. Especially in the case of children, the marks that abuse leaves can last until adulthood.

What can you do about it?

A woman covering her face with her hands, protecting herself from abuse.
When faced with an abusive situation, you should put a stop to it or report it.

The first step is to be able to identify verbal abuse when it happens. Indeed, the main thing is to identify the problem, because if you don’t do that, then you won’t be able to do anything to avoid it.

Secondly, you have to put limits on it. In fact, these limits should exist even before the relationship starts; in that way the abuser understands they don’t have the privilege or right to humiliate you.

On the other hand, if putting limits doesn’t stop the abuse, then you have to look for help, which will depend on the environment in which the abuse is happening. So, for example, if the verbal abuse is happening in a relationship, then a therapist or trusted person could intervene. If there’s mistreatment, you should always report it.

Nevertheless, if the verbal abuse happens among minors at school, the victim should let the school and their parents know, that way they can put into effect the protocols against bullying at school.

In any case, asking for help or reporting it are surely the most important steps. It isn’t easy, and many times the victim, due to their low self-esteem, falls into a relationship of dependence on their abuser.

Other times, fear of consequences keeps victims from reporting it or asking for help. In fact, the abuser could threaten them if they do something like that (for example, a boss threatening to fire you for reporting them).

Therefore, the most important step is to overcome your fear and report this type of abuse. Only then will it stop and the victim with be able to, finally, recover their dignity and self-esteem.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Castillo Rocha, Carmen, & Pacheco Espejel, María Magdalena. (2008). Perfil del maltrato (bullying) entre estudiantes de secundaria en la ciudad de Mérida, Yucatán. Revista mexicana de investigación educativa13(38), 825-842. Recuperado en 07 de febrero de 2021, de
  • Claudia Lorena Herrera Roda et al. “El abuso verbal dentro de la violencia domestica”, Med. leg. Costa Rica vol.21 n.1 Heredia Mar. 2004
  • Herrera Rodas, Claudia Lorena, Peraza Segura, Carmen y Porter Aguilar, Hugo. (2004). El abuso verbal dentro de la violencia domestica. Medicina Legal de Costa Rica , 21 (1), 45-90. Obtenido el 7 de febrero de 2021 de
  • Patricia EvansThe Verbally Abusive Relationship, 2010.
  • Paravic-Klijn, Tatiana, & Burgos-Moreno, Mónica. (2018). Prevalencia de violencia física, abuso verbal y factores asociados en trabajadores/as de servicios de emergencia en establecimientos de salud públicos y privados. Revista médica de Chile146(6), 727-736.
  • Sharon W Stark, “Verbal Abuse”, Psychology and Behavioral Health, Edition: 4th, Chapter: Volume 5 Essay: Emotional Abuse, Publisher: Salem Press at Greyhouse Publishing, Editors: Paul Moglia, pp.1975-1977

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.