We can develop anxiety from how we are talked to and how we are treated by others.  We tend to minimize the role that verbal abuse plays in anxiety, but it’s a big one.

I’m not sure how that old saying of “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you” came to be, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Verbal abuse is demeaning, condescending, hurtful, and can have life-long consequences. Verbal is a form of trauma.

The definition of verbal abuse is when a person forcefully criticizes, insults, or puts down someone else. Someone who is verbally abusive typically has underlying anger and hostility. It is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotion. Verbal abuse is a way of communicating that some people do occasionally, particularly 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.

Whether it’s bullying at school by peers, by a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, in the work place, cyber bullying or a repeated behavior within a family, verbal onslaughts can be so hurtful that they distort how we think of ourselves and others.  Just as with other kinds of abuse such as neglect, sexual abuse or other kinds physical abuse, verbal abuse can change how our brain functions and therefore how we perceive the world.

Brain research now indicates this change affects the connection between the right and left hemisphere of the brain and confuses how to think and process information clearly.  In a recent brain study, scientist’s observed young adults between 18-25 through a brain scan. The scientists were able to tell the difference between those who suffered from anxiety and depression compared to those who did not. The young adults who had suffered from anxiety and depression were also former victims of verbal abuse. Interestingly, the individuals who experienced verbal abuse went through this trauma during middle school years which is a time when the brain is developing at a high rate. For many people, even if the verbal abuse was from a long time ago, such as in middle school, it had lasting effects into adulthood.

Verbal abuse/emotional abuse

Verbal and emotional abuse are similar. When someone is verbally abused, it affects them emotionally. Harsh words even used passively, can cause severe damage to our self-esteem. This can act as a domino effect, causing disruptions in our work, relationships and home life, even years later. There are many symptoms associated with verbal abuse.  Emotional and physical pain can show up in our body from it.

Some of the effects on our brain can look like:

Trouble communicating our thoughts and needs

A sense of restlessness and hard time being still with ourselves

Chronic Depression and a lack of enthusiasm for life

Overanalyzing situations

Having unhealthy habits that give a false sense of control such as drinking, smoking, eating behaviors,

Limited trust in our self and others

Doubting ourselves often



Shaming ourselves

Impaired decision making


Some of the effects on our body can look like:


Chronic pain

Digestive disorders

Tense muscles

Hives or rashes


Want to know how to recognize verbal abuse?

Check out this list of some indicators.

Name calling  –  Verbal abusers use name calling as a way to shock, mock, degrade, control, instill fear and create a sense of doubt in their victims. They can attack your character, what you wear, how you do a chore, who you hang out with, etc.

Behind closed doors – Most often, verbal abuse happens behind closed doors. This is because the abuser often knows that it is wrong and that others will recognize this abuse. Also, when a victim is alone they are easier to manipulate this way.

Surprise abuse – Many times the verbal abuse will occur when you are starting to gain a little confidence and enthusiasm. If you seem happy, notice if the abuser will swoop in and start criticizing you.

Attacking a person’s interests – The abuser might attack the things that the victim loves to do. If you are enjoying something of your own such as a friendship, a hobby, etc., the abuser will degrade what you do. Notice if your abuser never likes the things that you are interested in and puts you or the activity down often. That can be a clue.

No apologies – Unlike most other disagreements or fights where both parties apologize, the abuser will doesn’t admit to any wrong doing. When the abuser is proved wrong and there’s really no way for them to deny that fact, they might respond with, “Just drop it” “Just forget about it” and “It’s over”. This shows that they cannot win but they will not lose control.

Isolation – The victim of a verbal abuser often feels isolated from other people, namely family and friends.

If you recognize some of these symptoms in someone you know, you may have experienced verbal abuse. You don’t deserve that. No one does. If it’s still happening, what needs to be different for you to put a stop to it? Let’s make it feel doable. Contact me and let’s figure it out together!