Words as Weapons: Domestic Violence Series

Verbal, psychological, emotional, sexual and financial abuse often remain unrecognized or excused among victims of domestic violence. Let us eliminate any confusion that still lingers over this issue: Abuse is abuse is abuse. Many of the previously listed forms of abuse are precursors or supplements to physical violence. Let’s review the various types of verbal dominance and control that can be used over a partner:

Withholding: This is when the abuser refuses to share information, ideas, intimacy, thoughts, and dreams with the partner.

“If you want to have sex with me tonight, you’d better do the dishes like I asked.”

Countering: The partner’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and experiences are disputed  or ideas are argued.** Not the same as disagreement. Rather, it involves irrationality and a degree of anger because of the thought or feeling.

“How could you possibly believe that?! You have some of the most idiotic ideas I’ve ever heard!”

Discounting/Undermining: The partner’s accomplishments or experiences are minimized or dismissed as unimportant. The abuser may try to make the victim believe that they are “not good enough” or erode their partner’s self-esteem.

Spouse 1: “Guess what honey? My boss told me today that I may have a chance to be considered for a promotion next month. She is really pleased with my job performance, lately.”

Spouse 2: “They’re promoting you? Why? They don’t have anyone else to do that job?”

Hostile Humor: Anger disguised as joking or verbal humiliation of the partner in a “publicly acceptable tone”  in an attempt to embarrass or demean the partner.

Blocking/Diverting: The abuser prevents or “blocks” the partner’s efforts to communicate to others or changing conversation to gain control of the conversation.

Blaming/Shaming: The abuser excuses their own action by placing blame on their partner. This often occurs when the abuser is confronted.

Spouse 1: “It really hurts me when you speak to me that way.”

Spouse 2: “Well, if you just did what I said the first time, I never would have had to say it like that!”

Threatening: The abuser may imply harm to the partner’s well-being, should they not “obey” the abuser’s directions or orders. This may include aggressive out-bursts that may escalate to physical violence, if ignored.


Name Calling: Any act of stripping away dignity or identity from the partner by calling them by a profane or demeaning name. They may also make efforts to have their partner feel “crazy.”

Ordering: The abuser talks down to the partner, like a child. They may also speak harshly, in short command statements regarding the victim’s duty to the partner.

**Chronic Forgetting: This one often goes unnoticed. When the abuser regularly “forgets” requests of the partner or is regularly late for important events of the partner.

**Verbal Abuse by Omission: Ignoring, avoiding, silent treatment, physical intimidation without words, all fall into this category.  Abusers often want their partners to feel like they are without value and convey this by treating them as if they do not exist at all.

Recovery begins with recognizing when you’re in an abusive, and sometimes dangerous relationship. These are many of just some examples of verbal abuse. Many of the clients that we see are accepting of verbal and/or psychological abuse with the justification, “Well, at least he/she is not hitting me.” I always encourage clients to recognize that, while they are not visibly displaying a bloody lip or a bruised rib, the long-term damage to one’s self-esteem can be devastating. The effects may include:

Difficulty Making Decisions or Forming Conclusions

Irrational feelings of self-acceptance (feeling sensitive or “crazy).

Doubting their ability to communicate

Fear & Anxiety


Feeling misunderstood and unimportant


Substance Abuse

Delinquency & Social Problems in Children

Review your relationship. Are you in an abusive relationship? Call 1-800-799-SAFE to ask more questions and find out how to safely proceed. You can also call us at 770-742-9676 to set up an appointment and review your options.


Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel (2013)

When Words are Used as Weapons: The Signs of Verbal Abuse (2007)