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The Connection Between Verbal Abuse and Anxiety Everyone Ignores

Verbal abuse is abuse just like any other. It is damaging to your mental, emotional, and physical health. Whether you are on the receiving end of verbal abuse as a child, teenager, or adult, it can affect you for the rest of your life. In fact, many victims of constant verbal abuse become long-term sufferers of anxiety. This is the link between verbal abuse and anxiety that few people talk about.

What Is Verbal Abuse?

Before diving into the connection between verbal abuse and anxiety, it is important to understand what constitutes verbal abuse. After all, everyone loses their temper from time to time and says something they don’t mean. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are being verbally abusive. Rather, verbal abuse is something more chronic that has a lasting impact on the person receiving the abuse. (1)

Verbal abuse is more than just yelling, belittling, and name-calling. It can be those things, particularly when they are used to control, demean, or intimidate someone. Often, however, it is much more subtle than that. Whether they are yelling or not, if they are speaking to you in a way that constantly puts you down in order for them to gain power, it is verbal abuse. It can look like:

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  • Blaming
  • Condescension (even if it is supposedly in a “humorous” way, such as sarcasm)
  • Criticism
  • Gaslighting (when the abuser makes their victim question reality/convinces them that they are the problem)
  • Humiliation 
  • Judging (holding someone to unrealistic expectations or looking down on someone/not accepting them for who they are)
  • Manipulation (usually used to control someone or get what they want)
  • Name-calling
  • Ridicule (ex. You are always the butt of your abuser’s jokes)
  • Threats
  • Withholding (includes refusal to give affection or attention, including the silent treatment)

Though it may seem obvious when reading this list, often it can be hard to determine if someone is abusing you in this way. This is also partly because, more often than not, it comes from someone close to us. A parent or guardian, a sibling, a romantic partner, a co-worker, or even a “friend”.

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How To Spot Verbal Abuse

It often isn’t quite obvious that someone is verbally abusing you, at least not right away. This is especially true if it is coming from someone who is supposed to love and care for you, like a parent or a romantic partner. In the case of children, they often don’t realize that they are being abused because to them, this is just normal communication. There are signs, however, to be aware that you are experiencing verbal abuse. (2) These include:

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  • You don’t feel like you can share things about yourself with them for fear of backlash/ridicule
  • You’re afraid of going out in public with them for fear of humiliation
  • They overreact about something small, then blame you for the ensuing argument, and/or they yell at you before telling you that you are too sensitive and have no sense of humor.
  • You are afraid of them, feel threatened by them, or feel as though you have to walk on eggshells around them
  • They make you feel inferior or ashamed about who you are (how you look, think, act, dress, talk, etc)
  • They always play the victim and try to make you feel guilty about things that aren’t your fault (and are often theirs)
  • When you are with others, they hide this behavior so that no one else sees it but you, making those around you think that they are great/charming/funny/etc.

One of the biggest reasons why people stay with people who verbally and emotionally abuse them is because they don’t necessarily act like this all of the time. Often, these people can also be loving and gentle with their victim. This makes the victim forget about, make excuses for, and even “forgive” their behavior. For example “Oh, it’s just because they’re going through a difficult time and are really stressed out”. What everyone needs to understand is that, no matter what someone is going through, if they love and care about you they won’t treat you that way. (3)

Read: The Body Language Which Will Reveal the Truth About Your Relationship

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The Damage Done By Verbal Abuse

Often victims of verbal abuse suffer for a long time because they either don’t realize it is happening or they don’t consider it “real” abuse. Verbal abuse, however, is just as damaging to someone as physical abuse can be. It is emotionally traumatizing and can leave a person with a whole host of mental health problems, which can eventually manifest themselves physically, as well. There are both short and long-term effects of verbal abuse, including:

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  • Anxiety and depression
  • Chronic stress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, shame, and guilt
  • Mood changes
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Problems trusting others
  • Emotion management issues

Verbal abuse can have a lasting and profound impact on someone’s life. It can affect their relationships, including their ability to be part of a healthy romantic relationship or to maintain friendships. Victims may also struggle to feel worthy of success or incapable of achieving what they want in life, simply because they were told for so long by their abuser that they couldn’t.

Read: Posting a lot on social media can make you a jerk, study finds

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Verbal Abuse Changes The Brain

A study shows that verbal abuse over time actually does change your brain. It affects the connection between the right and left sides of the brain. This is particularly true if the victims suffered verbal abuse during their middle school years, when their brain is developing at the highest rate. These victims are much more likely to develop anxiety and depression later in life than other, non-abused teens. (4)

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What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Verbal Abuse

If you are a victim of verbal abuse, the first thing that you should know is that it is not your fault and that you don’t deserve it. You did nothing wrong to make your abuser feel like they can treat you the way that they are. Accepting that will help to bring you at least some peace, as well as to begin to take steps to move forward and heal. (5)

The first step is to set boundaries. This is difficult and you will have to be quite firm with them. Let them know that you will no longer accept or engage with their behavior. If they yell, scream, call you names, belittle you, threaten you, or more, tell them that the conversation will be over and you will leave (the room, the house, etc). The most important aspect of this step is that you actually follow through with your boundaries. For example, don’t tell them you will disengage and leave if that is not what you are planning to do or if you are not able to do so.

The next step is creating space between you and that person. Take time away from them to be by yourself or with people you love and trust. Use that time to reevaluate your relationship with that person. This can be tricky if that person lives with you. If that is the case, see about finding somewhere else to spend the night or a couple of days at someone else’s, for example, a friend, a sibling, or another trusted person.

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Finally, end the relationship and seek help. This is often the hardest step. They will try to make you feel guilty about it, however, remember that there isn’t a single person on Earth who is allowed free access to you while abusing you like that. Not friends, family, acquaintances, or lovers. Once you are finally free of that person, it is time to heal. You do not have to do this on your own.

Seek the help of a licensed therapist who can help you to work through that trauma. Even if it has been years since you broke off from your abuser, if you still need help, go get it. Don’t allow that person to continue to affect your life even after you remove them. Speaking to a professional will allow you to properly heal, have healthy future relationships, and stop the cycle of abuse once and for all.

Keep Reading: Research Shows These 6 Habits Predict The End of a Relationship 

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Sources

  1. What is Verbal Abuse?.” Day One Services
  2. Emotional and verbal abuse.” Womans Health
  3. 10 Patterns of Verbal Abuse.” Domestic Shelter.  Amanda Kippert. September 23, 2016.
  4. Why Verbal Abuse Can Do So Much Damage.” Psychology Today. Peg Streep. December 8, 2020. 
  5. How to Deal With Verbal Abuse.” Psychology Today. Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D. September 5, 2020
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