5 Types of “Quiet” Verbal Abuse

What do you think of when you hear someone talk about verbal abuse?

Most people associate verbal abuse with shouting, yelling, and violence. They imagine someone talking angrily, loudly, and in a high pitch. However, in reality, verbal abuse can be quiet and subtle. In some cases, it can even be complete silence. Speaking to Psychology Today, one woman shared her experience growing up with a verbally abusive mother:

What you have to understand is that my mother never raised her voice and when I confronted her about her treatment of me—her put-downs and criticisms, how she said I was the problem because I was too sensitive—that was the first thing she said: ‘How can you accuse me of that when I never raised my voice, not once, to you or anyone else?’ Well, abuse can be very quiet.

— Kaitlyn, 45

There are 5 types of quiet verbal abuse

1. Ignoring someone

Complete silence can sometimes be the most hurtful type of verbal abuse. Being ignored and dismissed can make you feel like you do not matter at all. When parents ignore their children, they make them feel neglected and worthless. Unsurprisingly, they grow up to have low self-esteem and no confidence. When parents are attentive, on the other hand, they send a clear message to their children: “You are important and you are loved for who you are.”

2. Eye-rolling and laughing

If a child comes back from school and tries to tell their family what a day they have had, they expect to be heard and supported. A verbally abusive parent will not offer support; instead, they may begin to roll their eyes or laugh at them. In other words, they mock them and make them feel like they are unimportant. What is worse, by doing this, some parents encourage the child’s siblings to do the same. In turn, the child becomes the scapegoat who is mocked and bullied.

3. Gaslighting

This is a common manipulation tactic that many abusers use. The term gaslighting comes from a play in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she is crazy by gradually dimming the gas lights in their house and then denying that the light is dimmer when the woman notices. In this way, he makes her doubt her sanity and question what is real. Gaslighters will deceive you by telling you that you do not remember things clearly and/or that something happened differently.

4. Hypercriticism 

There is a fine line between constructive criticism and hypercriticism. While it is completely acceptable and appropriate to give criticism and advice from time to time, it can become hurtful and abusive if it is too often and too cruel. Usually, the people who hypercriticize will tell their children, friends, or partners that they are doing it because they care about them. Therefore, they will not only make them feel as though they are not good enough but they will also make them feel guilty.

5. Lack of praise, support, and love

Parents who do not verbally express their love and support risk having their children doubt whether they are loved at all. All children need to hear that they are accepted and loved unconditionally. Otherwise, the child can grow up to feel unworthy of affection. What is more, they may become adults who feel incapable of expressing their own emotions.

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