Defining verbal abuse

Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of verbal abuse:

the act of forcefully criticizing, insulting, or denouncing another person. Characterized by underlying anger and hostility, it is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotions. 

Verbal abuse is a maladaptive mechanism that anyone can display occasionally, such as during times of high stress or physical discomfort. For some people, it is a pattern of behaviors used intentionally to control or manipulate others or to get revenge.

A 2015 Psychiatry Investigation paper on verbal abuse in Korea offers this account of the harmful effects of verbal abuse:

the effects of exposure to verbal aggression on its victims have been commonly overlooked regardless of their seriousness and harmfulness. Young adults with a history of verbal abuse (VA) are susceptible to display various psychiatric symptoms, including depression, anxiety and dissociation; VA can also cause children to display negative cognitive styles including self-criticism and hopelessness, which are related to psychopathology.

The effects of VA on mental health are comparable to those of other types of abuse, sexual or physical, which are more commonly considered to be severe, and these harmful effects are persistent regardless of whether the abuse was perpetrated by parents or peers. Additionally, VA is thought to cause scars on the brain; reduction of fractional anisotropy of white matter tracts in sufferers, including corpus callosum, arcuate fasciculus, cingulum bundle, has been reported.

Verbal abuse is clearly very harmful. But what does it look like? The paper quoted above utilised a Verbal Abuse Questionnaire (VAQ) designed to measure and assess individuals’ experience of verbal abuse. While not exhaustive, it offers clear, practical examples of verbal abuse in action.

The following are the 15 items of verbal abuse from the VAQ.

For people raised in verbally abusive environments, such items can seem like normal components of human interaction. These are in fact extremely harmful, inappropriate, and abusive forms of communication.

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