Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can hurt just as much as physical abuse and will wear you down emotionally and mentally.  What constitutes verbal abuse? It can include cursing, offensive language, yelling, sarcasm, derogatory remarks, and inappropriate comments.

You’ll notice that some of the causes discussed here also ring true for Demanding and Controlling Behavior.  Are you struggling with any of the behaviors listed here?


Angry outbursts. Sometimes  they seem to come out of nowhere for no apparent reason. They could be over something you perceive as trivial, but it can set the tone for the rest of the day.

Derogatory remarks. These may be directed at you for the purpose of hurting your feelings and might be boldly stated or carefully worded so you’re not quite sure how to take it.

Sarcasm.  This is a passive form of aggression. There is a smugness to being sarcastic, and they may find it entertaining to get a rise out of you. Then they’ll blame you for over-reacting.

Comments with sexual overtones.  When they know it makes you uncomfortable, it is a form of verbal abuse.

Short, snippy responses.  This type of behavior removes the possibility of having a constructive or pleasant conversation. Anger is usually at the root of it. Shutting you down gives them a sense of control.

Argumentative and confrontational statements.  This is  another means of control by wearing you down. It might even be used to get out of doing something they don’t like.  They’ll continue with this until you’re so exasperated you just give in.


If they’ve acted abusive throughout their life, it will probably become more pronounced now.  Those who are ill, disabled, or facing the end of life can experience fear and extreme frustration at the loss of their independence, which might be expressed through verbally abusive behavior.

Mental health issues such as dementia, bi-polar, paranoia, and the like may be at the root of this type of behavior.

Anger regarding their current health issues may be vented by yelling and sarcasm.


Your knee-jerk reaction will be to strike back when they’re being belligerent.  If you do this, you might feel a brief release of tension, however it will likely make matters worse, only serving to contribute to a dysfunctional relationship.  This is the last thing you need or want. Their doctor might prescribe medication to keep them mellow, but here are some things you can do to help manage this behavior.



Engagement: Remain calm and speak in a quiet voice as you tell them firmly you find their language or remarks offensive.  Make it clear you will not tolerate being spoken to in that manner. If they continue, walk away out of sight. Get a breath of fresh air or a bit of quiet time to calm your nerves. When you return, speak to them in a cheerful, or at least, a casual manner. This will give them the opportunity to do the same without losing face. You don’t want to turn it into a win or lose battle. Just remove yourself when they’re verbally abusive. If you’re consistent, they’ll soon catch on that they won’t have an audience for their rants.

Stimulation: Limit caffeine, clutter, and noise, all of which can be over-stimulating. Soften the lighting, whether it’s dimming a lamp or pulling a shade, to promote a calming atmosphere. Soothing music may also have a quieting effect.

Attitude: Keep a positive attitude. I know it’s difficult, and if you haven’t yet read the post on finding perspective, please do that now. You will find it helpful for many situations you’ll face as a caregiver.

Response: Acknowledge you understand they’re upset. Think of a small child who’s crying over a minor scrape. If you don’t take a moment to address it, they will become louder and more frenzied until you do.

Distraction: Divert their attention by talking about happy memories, plans for an outing, favorite people in their life, etc. Did they have a favorite activity or hobby? Offer a magazine subscription on that topic. This gives them something to look forward to and will keep them occupied for several days or longer.

Encouragement: Offer a gentle touch throughout the day; the power of touch can go a long way in keeping them calm and feeling loved. This will alleviate some of the underlying causes such as fear and loneliness.

Routine: Maintain structure within their environment and their scheduled care. Explain the reasons for any changes, and encourage their input by offering choices. This will foster their sense of dignity and inclusion.

Empathy: Even if their remarks are directed specifically at you, try not to take them personally. This doesn’t mean you accept them, but realizing it’s a sign of frustration or fear takes some of the sting out of it.

Self-care: Be kind to yourself! Make time for simple pleasures that help you unwind. You’ll be able to handle these challenges more easily if you are refreshed and feeling good about yourself.

Note: It’s important to realize there are some conditions, such as Tourette Syndrome, where the person afflicted has little to no control over their muscle movements or speech. If this is the case, you should not ask them to stop because it will only add more stress which will in turn intensify their symptoms.

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