How Verbal Abusers Control Your Conversations

Not answering you or only answering what they want are two of the tactics verbal abusers use during their conversations. Here, you can learn how to identify this violent type of communication.
How Verbal Abusers Control Your Conversations
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Would you know how to recognize a verbal abuser? As a matter of fact, 99 percent of people will answer this question with a resounding “yes.” However, in reality, many of them may actually be suffering from this abusive dynamic and not even be aware of it.

Most of the time we tend to assume that this form of abuse manifests itself in shouting and insults. Nevertheless, the truth is very different. In fact, verbal abuse tends to be a more devious and hidden type of abuse. In other words, it’s not as clear-cut as physical abuse or bullying.

One example might be having a partner who questions what you say or regularly uses sarcasm. These comments may well make you feel stupid or inadequate.

This form of manipulation and violent communication appears most frequently in romantic relationships. It’s also often present in family and work relationships. Indeed, bosses and colleagues frequently deploy this abusive weapon that progressively increases your anxiety and psychological discomfort.

One way to recognize these people is knowing what mechanisms they use to take control of your conversations. As a matter of fact, this is one of their favorite tricks, as it gives them power over you.

A common resource that the verbal abuser uses to invalidate you while you speak is to try and alter your emotions. They use expressions like “Stop being so edgy” or “Calm down, you’re getting angry”. These are ways of manipulating you.

Man arguing with his wife representing Verbal Abusers

How verbal abusers control your conversation

Conversations are a decisive and fundamental element of all human experience. With them, you exchange ideas, thoughts, and feelings, solve problems, strengthen ties, and even fall in love. However, there are those who don’t know how to respect the principles of a good conversation.

Verbal abusers are people who seek to exert control over their victims through violent communication. Furthermore, these mechanisms aren’t always easily identifiable. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology conducted research that highlights the progressive impact that this dynamic has on people.

This study stated that with this kind of communication, there’s obvious damage to self-esteem as well as feelings of guilt. In fact, it’s a silent and persistent boycott of the other person’s identity, of what they feel, express, and need. This craft, that’s based on abusive communication is exercised in the conversational process.

Let’s take a look at how these people manage to control you:

1. Attack on the conversational quality: lying

One of the pillars of a quality conversation is the use of the truth. Being honest and not using lies to control or denigrate the other is essential. However, verbal abusers don’t hesitate in lying in order to defend things that have never happened or are unproven.

With these argumentative fallacies, they seek to question what you express and they invalidate you. It’s a type of gaslighting. In other words, the manipulation of your perception of reality.

Sometimes, rather than seeking to directly contradict you in some aspect, they prefer to subtly plant doubt in your mind. In fact, if they manage to make you doubt yourself, they’re at a distinct advantage.

2. The use of irony, ridicule, and trivialization

There are many couples who use affectionate teasing in their conversations. “Look how clumsy you are, darling”, “You just can’t help it can you?”, “What a disaster you are, you can’t do anything!” However, these communicative resources, far from being signs of affection, are ways of eroding the partner’s self-esteem.

Likewise, verbal abusers also tend to underestimate the opinions and reasoning of others. They don’t directly criticize or show contempt. It’s hidden. What they do is use sarcasm to trivialize the other’s opinions.

Verbal abusers don’t always raise their voices, yell, or swear. In fact, their favorite strategy is slow attrition. It’s contempt camouflaged by sarcasm and emotional manipulation.

3. “Don’t be angry, don’t be like that”. Emotional manipulation

People who’ve been acting as emotional abusers for a long time know what strings to pull to throw you off balance. In fact, they take away your inner calm and make you nervous.

You feel worse having had a conversation with them. Furthermore, they might block you in such a way that, almost without knowing how, you stop being competent when it comes to expressing what you want to say. They do this by manipulating your emotions.

  • Verbal abusers make use of linguistic and expressive devices to interrupt the thread of your conversation. They might tell you at any given moment “Don’t yell ” when you’re not even raising your voice or “Stop carrying on like that, you’ll only end up getting angry”.

4. They decide the topic of the conversation and ignore your comments

You might be talking about what happened to you at work. You want to explain to your partner, friend, or relative what you consider to be important. However, verbal abusers will deflect the topic if they’re not interested, ignore it, and seek to turn the conversation around to focus on them.

Gradually, you become aware of whatever concerns you is irrelevant. All that matters is what they want to talk about.

Man speaking candidly about Verbal Abusers

5. “It’s getting harder and harder to talk to you”. The projection of guilt

Verbal abusers are self-esteem snipers. The tricks they employ manipulate and invalidate their victims. For example, one strategy they resort to is telling you that it’s increasingly difficult to communicate with you, using expressions such as: “You’re just not listening to me” or “You just keep getting angry”.

This causes confusion, to the point that you can even come to doubt yourself. In fact, you might end up asking yourself  “Is it true, am I really behaving like that?” However, you must beware, because this is what the abuser wants. Their aim is to weaken you and override your judgment. When, in reality, they’re the ones who are hindering the communication process in order to harm you.

Finally, it’s always important to identify these damaging patterns of violent communication. If you allow them and normalize them, you’ll suffer immense psychological damage. Therefore, you must react as quickly as possible.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Iram Rizvi SF, Najam N. Parental psychological abuse toward children and mental health problems in adolescence. Pak J Med Sci. 2014;30(2):256-60.
  • Wei, Wen-Li & Wu, Chung-Hsien & Lin, Jen-Chun & Li, Han. (2014). Exploiting Psychological Factors for Interaction Style Recognition in Spoken Conversation. IEEE/ACM Transactions on Audio, Speech and Language Processing (TASLP). 22. 659-671. 10.1109/TASLP.2014.2300339.
  • Yun J-Y, Shim G, Jeong B. Verbal abuse related to self-esteem damage and unjust blame harms mental health and social interaction in college population. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):5655. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-42199-6

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.