This is part three of a three-part series in communication. In part one of this series we looked at the three different communication styles: passive, assertive and aggressive. If you missed it or would like to review it, click here. In part two we discussed the difference between observations and evaluation. If you missed it, click here. In this third part, verbally abusive communication, or also called emotional abuse, we discuss what it is and how to recognize it. There are many forms of abuse, such as physical, financial, sexual, and spiritual. These are not the focus in this piece. The common thread in all types of abuse is that the person doing the abusing (perpetrator) wants power and control. The abuser doesn’t have a specific “look” either. They are either male or female, from various ethnic groups or religious groups, or cultures, etc. Below I have listed various resources if you are a victim of abuse. No one deserves to be abused. Period

Patricia Evans has written several books discussing verbal abuse. These include the topics: being a survivor of verbal abuse, teens being verbally abused at home or at school and identifying controlling behavior. She has helped raise awareness of how emotional abuse affects us, what behaviors to look for in an abusive relationship and what you can do to stop verbal abuse. Emotional abuse can happen anywhere at home, at school and even at the workplace. 

Evans states ten general characteristics of verbal abuse on pages 81 to 84 in her book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond”:

  1. Verbal abuse is hurtful
  2. Verbal abuse attacks the nature and abilities of the partner
  3. Verbal may be overt (angry outbursts and name calling), or covert (very, very subtle, like brainwashing)
  4. Verbally abusive disparagement may be voices in an extremely sincere and concerned way.
  5. Verbal abuse is manipulative and controlling
  6. Verbal abuse is insidious
  7. Verbal abuse is unpredictable
  8. Verbal abuse is the issue (the problem) in the relationship
  9. Verbal abuse expresses a double message
  10. Verbal abuse usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency, and variety

You might be familiar with accusing and blaming, judging and criticizing or threatening, but how about these other categories Evans lists?

Categories of verbal abuse:

  1. Withholding (passive communication was discussed in part one of this series. Click here for a refresher.)
  2. Countering
  3. Verbal abuse disguised as jokes
  4. Blocking and diverting
  5. Accusing and blaming
  6. Judging and criticizing
  7. Trivializing
  8. Undermining
  9. Threatening
  10. Name calling
  11. Forgetting
  12. Ordering
  13. Denial
  14. Abusive anger

Evans states on page 89 that countering is, “…one of the most destructive to a relationship because it prevents all possibility of discussion, it consistently denies the victim’s realty, and it prevents the partner from knowing what her mate thinks about anything.” If you are doing any of these behaviors, you can stop them. The more we are aware of our thoughts and emotions, the more we can change our behaviors.

So how do you stop the abuse? Evans, and many others, has repeatedly given the empowering phrase, “Stop.” Again you do NOT deserve to be abused and you have the right to tell the other person to stop. If they continue to use abusive language Evans gives examples in each category of what more you can say. You also have the right to tell the person if they continue to speak to you in that way, you will walk away. You have the power over yourself to do what is best for you, not the other person.

You can stop the cycle of emotional abuse. Be the change that you want to see in your family, in your community and in our world.

As Amelia Earhart stated, “No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

So keep being the best person you can be.


Books by Patricia Evans: “The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond”, “Teen Torment”, “The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change?”, “Controlling People”, and “Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out.”

“Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bandcroft

The National Domestic Violence Hotline:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

The Power and Control Wheel:

Local Resources for domestic violence the Indianapolis area:


Coburn Place:

The Julian Center:

Nicole Burgess is a licensed marriage and family therapist located in Indianapolis, IN. She works with children, adolescents, adults and families who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma or life transitions. She is located close to Fishers, Lawrence, Noblesville, and Greenfield.