Verbal Abuse Leaves Deep Scars

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse is hateful talk. It’s talk that demeans or overly criticizes. It’s talk that aims to make another person feel bad. Like all forms of abuse, verbal abuse wounds. The wounds are mostly emotional. But there can be physical consequences, too. And the  impact can be quite long-lasting. Whether it’s of the emotional, mental, or physical variety, abuse leaves scars.

Victims of verbal abuse often experience the gaslighting effect. And it’s one that’s difficult to overcome. (See: Overcoming Gaslighting Effects.) Abusive relationship partners are often relentless. They hate to miss an opportunity to denigrate and dominate. Over time, their victims can begin to see themselves in the same negative way their abusers cast them.

Verbal Abusers

Verbal abusers are disturbed characters who use language as a means of power and control. They don’t just want you to feel bad. They want you to feel bad about who you are. Accordingly, they want you to feel inferior. That way, you’ll see them as both powerful and important.

In essence, verbal abusers are bullies. (See also: Why Narcissistic Bullies Really Taunt.) And used to think of bullies as always inwardly insecure. We thought they belittled others only to make themselves feel better. But we now know differently. Most bullies simply like hurting others. And what drives them is the sense of power and control they feel.

Verbal abusers will often trivialize the seriousness of their actions and intent. But they don’t do so to assuage inner feelings of guilt. Rather, they want you to feel even worse for reacting to their taunts. This enhances any gaslighting effect associated with their abuse. (See: p. 115 in In Sheep’s Clothing.)

Forms of Verbal Abuse

Some forms of abuse can be quite subtle. For example an abusive relationship partner might engage in frequent name-calling. Such name-calling is usually quite derogatory. But when called on this they might say they were “only kidding.”

Verbal abusers also often speak in a condescending or sarcastic tone. They constantly send the message that you’re not worth very much. They want you to feel like your only value stems from being associated with them. But they make you feel this way without looking so monstrous themselves.

Other forms of verbal abuse are definitely not so subtle. The most egregious form is severe belittling. The most vile verbal abusers can make you feel like you shouldn’t have even been born. And sadly, some victims of this kind of abuse have indeed taken their own lives.

Revisiting the 9th Commandment

The “9th commandment” is about treating others with civility and generosity. To be civil is to embrace the golden rule: to treat others as we would appreciate being treated. This takes mindfulness. But it also takes a commitment to something beyond mere self-interest. To have a kind and generous heart, one must first be profoundly grateful. And that gratitude can only stem from a profound sense of indebtedness. (See also: p. 144 in Character Disturbance and pp. 7-8 in How Did We End Up Here?.)

From a spiritual perspective, all of us are inherently deeply indebted. This is profoundly true whether we know it or not or appreciate it or not. As I muse about in The Judas Syndrome, this life we enjoy is an unearned gift. And we’re all destined for the same eventual fate, too. When, in the depths of our souls, we stand in awe of what the universe has granted us, we can’t help but feel both beholding and grateful. And it’s only then that we can engage others with an kind and generous heart. That’s the point I’ll be doing my best to stress in my re-write of the 9th commandment of character.

Special Notes

Weekly posts have almost always been published on Friday afternoons. But henceforth, they will usually be published on Sunday evening or early Monday morning.

Also, recording will begin soon for a series of podcasts that will replace the old Character Matters program. Stay tuned for details.

19 thoughts on “Verbal Abuse Leaves Deep Scars

  1. Dr. Simon,
    I want to sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for being one of the very few who states the behavior for what it is;

    It makes them feel good to make someone else feel bad. Period. Full stop.

    I left a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship almost 5 years ago, and I still look to your articles to validate that what I experienced was not ‘crazy’ or an ‘overreaction’ or ‘too sensitive’ or ‘exaggerating’.

    He was a master at it. The abuse, and digs and jabs were so subtle and covert that yes, I did question myself as to whether I was over-reacting. And that confusion was amplified whenever I would desperately try to seek some validation for my feelings by sharing the event with someone, only to be told ‘Oh I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.’

    When I knew deep down, that was exactly the way he ‘meant’ it.

    Especially when I would be the only one who would see that very slight smirk on his face, every time he felt he succeeded in making me feel terrible. I could literally see his posture improve when he succeeded in diminishing me. He felt proud of this accomplishment.

    Nothing would drive me to even more confusion than when I would read about narcissistic behavior, desperately trying to learn and understand what on earth is happening and why that once ‘knight in shining armour’ is now treating me like garbage.

    I would find long articles and explanations of inner child wounds, suppressed shame and guilt and his inner child pain.

    For an empathetic person like myself, all this did was add to my confusion and feed that feeling that maybe I wasn’t ‘doing enough’ to help his see his bad behavior, and maybe I just wasn’t doing a good enough job of ‘making him see’ how he was hurting me.

    And once I could get through to him, he would of course see the error of his ways.
    The day I realized, with the help of so many of your articles, that he in fact sees exactly what he’s doing and saying, everything changed for me. And I knew I needed to leave in order to save myself.

    He would have destroyed me. I became painfully aware that was the goal. And every step brought him tremendous satisfaction. I am grateful as well, that I came to the realization that his anger at not being able to destroy me with words was beginning to boil over, and he was beginning to look for ways to destroy me physically.

    Anyone who has had an experience with a psychopath/narcissist/sociopath/mean person knows that ‘look’ in their eyes. A blackness so intense that till this day I have a difficult time looking at people in the eyes for an extended period of time, as I could feel the anticipation of those eyes turning black.

    An example I’d like to share, only because I know that actual real life examples of the mean behavior helped validate my experience much more than explanations of the behavior.

    We had just moved into a new home we purchased together. It was beyond thrilling to me that I finally had a large backyard to make even more beautiful and a home that needed some work, so the ‘love of my life’ and I could work on it together. This was a second marriage for me, and being a child of an alcoholic parent, I thought finally, finally I would have that peace and simple love that I had wanted my entire life.

    But I soon saw that none of this made him in any way happy. And the more I would be excited about a simple renovation or planting some new flowers, his face would express a grimace and eye roll, that would question why on earth I would think of such a stupid idea.

    But I plugged on, thinking that maybe the ‘next’ thing I did, would make him happy.
    One day I had the day off from work and decided to tackle putting in new closet organizers. This was a big job as it required removing old closet bars from a 50 year old house with 50 year old walls.

    But I ripped out bars, and filled the holes, spackled and sanded them down, painted them and installed new bars and shelves. It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty darn close. I know I did a really good job.

    I couldn’t wait for him to come home and see this. With that hope that this would make him happy. Like that lifelong puppy just waiting for that pat on the head.

    Well he did come home, and no he didn’t crack a smile when he saw what I did. In fact, he came up very close to one of the walls, literally removed his glasses and stood about 5 inches from the wall as he ran his hand down one area that had a slight bump. He didn’t say a word but of course knew I was watching, as he grimaced, rolled his eyes and let out a slight sigh.

    I finally said, ‘that’s a pretty good job huh. I know there’s a slight bump there, but it is a closet, and a closet full of clothes are going to go in there in about 20 minutes.’

    He didn’t even look at me, as he put his glasses back on, and said, ‘well you know what they say. What’s the point of doing something if you’re going to do a shitty job at it.’… and walked away.

    Mission accomplished… my 8 hours of hard work he managed to knock down in 8 seconds and a few clever, carefully selected words.

    There was no inner child in pain, or some insecurity he was trying to mask.

    He felt great. Mission accomplished. And that smirk stayed on his face the rest of the evening as he watched the disappointment in my face grow.

    I have hundreds more examples, each one progressively more overt, meaner and meant to hurt deeper. And the explanation for the progression also became clearer.
    He would do it again, because he got away with it the last time.

    Again, Dr. Simon, thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have been doing, what you continue to do, and for this platform, that with each article gave me the tools to understand the bottom line.

    5 years later and I still continue to try to pick up the pieces, and move on with a new definition of what my ‘normal’ should be.

    This experience has changed who I am, how I view the world, my interactions with people, but also firm boundaries on what I deserve. I had to move from my beautiful home and garden to a one bedroom apartment, leaving just about everything behind, but I did gain peace.

    And I know that one day I can get that garden back, only this time I don’t need the validation of another to feel that joy I so desperately felt my entire life that I thought I needed another to provide.

    Thank you for the many tools that you have provided me. I use those tools often.

    The rest is up to me.

    With huge gratitude, and a conscious intention to pay that gratitude forward.


  2. Shermana,

    You are a fine example and motivator to all here who have suffered such as you have and that you’ve pulled through it with integrity, insight and the knowledge and boundaries set so that this type person will not become an important part of your life again. You’ve got full grasp of what happened and are now restoring your life, the good life, the life without the black cloud darkening each day.

    And you have nailed it – that this type person does intend to cause harm and does derive joy from creating that harm. People who have not dealt with this type seem to always say “he needs to put you down to feel better about himself” or the hurt child or blah blah blah. Time and time again I’ve said there are types who enjoy harming. People just don’t get it. There are some evil, mean, disgusting people out there. Once you’ve become their target, it’s a lesson one will never forget.

  3. Since being horrifically abused, I’ve come to have a short fuse and I’m now prone to losing my temper and verbally lashing out… it’s terrible. And each time, I eventually regain my cool, and then I feel awful for what I said, how I raged, and the whole bit. I try to make a point of apologizing and going over how it was all my fault, nothing the other person did merited my harshness, that I was the problem, not them.

    Contrast such with actual verbal abusers.

    Dr. Simon’s post is right. They enjoy it.

    It comes from entitlement, sadism, overblown egos, and evil. They are evil. They enjoy being evil. They enjoy inflicting harm and damaging people. They are incorrigible. There is no way that the victim/target can stop it either. The abuser is going to abuse.

    In the Bible it tells of wicked men, and this world is going to grow worse and worse, so we should all reflect that wisdom in how we assess people. I’d argue that most people are wicked, although many would disagree. My years of experience tell me otherwise. It’s rare to find actually genuinely good people (instead of fake nice, manipulative people).

    And it’s like societal gaslighting that goes on, when victims are told these falsities about how the abusers don’t mean it, how the abusers had bad childhoods, how the abusers are wounded birds, how the abusers are supposedly provoked, how the abusers are insecure. No, no, no. These bad messages need to be stopped. It only aids the abusers and further harms victims by further eroding their reality.

    1. Isabelle,
      I agree with everything you stated.
      And the last paragraph is so important.
      “And it’s like societal gaslighting that goes on, when victims are told these falsities about how the abusers don’t mean it, how the abusers had bad childhoods, how the abusers are wounded birds, how the abusers are supposedly provoked, how the abusers are insecure. No, no, no. These bad messages need to be stopped. It only aids the abusers and further harms victims by further eroding their reality.”

      I had a co-worker tell me, when speaking of my X, “Well I feel sorry for him! He must be miserable living like that.”

      I was angered by that. I told her if she wants to feel sorry for anyone feel sorry for me who is the subject of his constant abuse.

      I cannot convince even my good friends that no, he’s not sad, he’s not miserable, he derive pleasure from the bad things he’s done. He does not like the consequence and fallout of his actions, but he’s not like us. For us, yes, that would be a miserable existence. But he’s not like us. He’s fine to abuse another as long as he gains from it.

      1. Lucy,

        Now that you say that, I’ve heard that very same thing — multiple times. Abusers are not miserable. The oft stated “hurt people hurt people” line does not hold true with abusers.

        Many churches spread that false message too — that abusers are miserable and it’s not true.

        Abusers are having the time of their lives abusing because the benefits of abuse are fantastic. Think about it. Abusers’ every whim is catered to and obliged, assuming they enforce it all with deadly force. And there are plenty of abusers out there eager to take their targets/victims to the brink of death — over and over again, if need be — in order to ‘submit’ her (terrorize her into total compliance, no questions asked, no hesitation, robot-like obedience, due to threat of severe harm or death).

        NPDs are supposedly miserable. NOT TRUE! Narcs are in playland when abusing with impunity.

        I’m in your corner, Lucy. He is not sad or miserable. He enjoyed abusing you. And he’d do it again today, if he thought he could get away with it.

        Have you heard about the Dunning-Kruger effect? If you google it, in the google images, you’ll find a graph illustrating the effect. When people don’t know what they are talking about, they don’t realize it. Their confidence is high, yet their knowledge is low. Then, with more knowledge and experience, comes a sinking of confidence levels as a person finds out just how little they know, with an increased awareness of complexities once unknown/hidden/unacknowledged.

        And I find that most people who have not been abused have little to no idea what it is like, the enormous complexity involved, the process of being targeted, setup, abused, entrapped, destroyed, etc. So, feel free to dismiss people who haven’t gone through abuse themselves. Block out what they say. (I have to give myself all this advice, too, which I find hard to follow.) And even those who have been abused might not have helpful words, since the ‘abuser is miserable’ theories are so prevalent. It’s appalling. It’s harmful. So harmful.

        Abusers are monsters. But the monsters wear masks and it’s hard to protect oneself even with knowledge, since evil is deceptive and abusers are master manipulators.

  4. Isabelle,
    I’ll look that up, Dunning-Kruger effect.
    Your post is so well stated.
    I’ll try to set people straight at every opportunity I have about an abuser.
    The last time I tried to explain that abusers enjoy doing it, that they aren’t hurt little kids, my friend said, this guy did it to make himself feel better because he was small.
    So then you have that . . . . .
    And you’re right, ones who have not suffered through abuse have little to know idea what it’s about. It’s very complex.
    I’m so glad I got through it all with my heart and soul intact. But my daughter, still suffers through it trying to have a relationship with that man. At least she’s got me to try to alleviate some of the pain and confusion.

  5. I am so grateful for the knowledge Dr. Simon shares in his books and on this blog. I met someone at a church social meeting last night that I identified as having the signs of a narcissist – red flags were going up all over the place. I am so glad I don’t have to fall into these traps with narcs anymore, and once you know what to look for, its amazing how often you run into them. I took an art class, I identified a person as a narc in there, now in this group of folks at church. I am glad I know to stay away. I feel a surge of anger when I run into a narc, after dealing with my ex narc husband so long. I have to control myself and just know that interaction with them is just asking for it. This person certainly was relishing trying to dominate others, and I feel bad for people who don’t know about these people.

    1. Kat, JC, and All,

      I watched this sermon today which I am attaching a link to. Regardless, of being a person of faith I have come to the conclusion these individuals are demonic. I have family members that have such hate and evil intentions I don’t know of any other way to describe them.

      I hope some of you will enjoy this Youtube.

  6. I am doing well.
    Verbal abuse is what I suffered most at the hands of the mother. You are right about scares. They will never heal.
    I finished with the lady I ease seeing. She started to get a little controling.

    I wrote to the father. I will post the basic letter.

    There was a band in the 1990’s called the soup dragon’s there is a line in there lyric’s that says

    Don’t be affaid of your FREEDOM

    1. Joey,

      Nice to hear from you. I am sorry it didn’t work out but just remember there are lots of nice people out there, I am looking too.

      I will be interested on what you have to say to your father. Sometimes we need to take the first step on restoration of a relationship. Truly, when we can reach out it helps us grow and shows we are the better person. Many times people just don’t have the capacity to show their feelings.

      I know I had to reach out to my mother once, she was incapable of asking for forgiveness so I decided to take the first step and give forgiveness and let go.
      We have had a growing and good relationship ever since, though I had to make the effort. Truly you have nothing to lose. I sure hope you let us read before you send.

      Also if you get a chance watch the video link I sent, it may be of help to you. Joey, truly giving it all to Jesus and forgiveness always sets us free….

      Hugs dear one and always happy to hear from you. Yes, your right, I should never fear my Freedom.

      1. BTOV

        This is half the letter. The other half is personal stuff.

        Dear ( my fathers full name)

        I am writing to you to inform you, as I am your son
        What has happened to me, since leaving ( my mothers address). I have achieved a great deal. To use the words Fantastic, Marvellous and Brilliantly would be words that I would like to use. The quality of my life dramatically improved the moment I left.

        I work with some very Good People, One of them trained me to do the Job that I do. I would like to point out that there are some people, in this world, namely my mate, who are by rights complete strangers. That want to see that you do well in life. Unlike my own family.

        1. Joey,

          Before you send the letter, I would like to ask you what do you truly want to achieve by sending it?

          1. Most bullies simply like hurting others. And what drives them is the sense of power and control they feel.

            I was subjected to this treatment. All my life. I just want to inform my father, who will contact my brother. And tell my brother how “joey” is doing. And he is doing fine.

            The best revenge is to do well. And I am

          2. Joey,

            you gave me something here. I have to think about it as I am not all right now. How your life turnes out means a lot to me and I have some thoughts now more since I asked you this question. Just give me a little time. We may go back and for a bit but I want you to not be hurt in any way.

            Always, as I have offered in the past you can contact Dr. for my email. Above all, in your life, my life we have been hurt, injured, scared where we are left bleeding to death and I believe God lifts us up, puts others in our paths years before we will ever need them for his purpose.

            Be careful right now, emotional waters are full of sharks. At the same time emotional waters on this blog are a God send.

            Hugs dear one…..

          1. He wants the fathers money. He got the Mothers money.
            He is a narc. So he is going to be entitled . There will be some paranoia
            in there somewhere.
            And I am going to play on it.

            I am going on the 3rd-6th Sept to the County were the Father lives. I want to do some Fishing as well

  7. BTOV,
    I hope you are all right. Sounds like you are experiencing some problems. I send my be well prayers to you.

  8. BTOV,
    I hope you are all right. Sounds like you are experiencing some problems. I send my be well prayers to you.

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