< Lesson 1. Learn how to define verbal and emotional Abuse. >

Section 1: Defining the Problem

Earn your Verbal Abuse Defense Certificate

ANSWER THIS. Am I truly the Target of Emotional/Verbal Abuse? By the time you get to this tutorial, you probably already know about abuse and that it exists in your life--but we want you to review this material anyway.  Read each part (title) carefully and follow any links provided. Take as much time as you need to absorb the information. It is self-paced, so there is no need to rush.

At the end of each Section, you will fill out a Completion Form (there are 4) to demonstrate that you went through all the material and understand the basics of learning how to respect yourself. You will submit 4 completed Forms to earn your Verbal Abuse Defense Certificate. Now Begin:

Menu for Section One titles A through F

A. Define Domestic Abuse, Please
B. Define an Abusive Partner Please
C. Am I in an Abusive Relationship?
D. A Few Facts About Emotional Abuse
E. Has someone convinced you that this is normal?
F. We develop co-dependent behaviors around the abuse
Completion Form for Section One

Title A. Define Domestic Abuse Please

Domestic abuse is a term used to describe abuse by family members or intimate partners such as a spouse, ex-spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend,ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, or date.

Other terms used for domestic abuse include:

  • intimate partner abuse
  • elder abuse
  • child abuse
  • mental cruelly
  • emotional abuse
  • verbal abuse
  • stalking
Domestic abuse can take many forms, but involves using intimidation and threats or violent behaviors to gain power and control over another person. According to the Ohio University Medical Center and many other Centers for Women's Health, the abusive person is usually male, and women are often the victims; however, domestic violence occurs against males, too. "Child abuse, elder abuse, and sibling abuse are also considered domestic violence."

The forms that domestic (i.e. emotional) abuse takes are:

  • Verbal Verbal abuse occurs when one is attacked by words.
  • Psychological This type of abuse occurs when a partner's actions, undermining statements, or neglect causes mental anguish. This occurs when words, gestures, looks, or posturing create fear.
  • Isolation Isolation is when familial and social contact are limited or restricted by any combination of physical or psychological means.
  • Stalking Stalking behaviors include unwanted contact and surveillance
  • Spiritual Using any type of unwanted religion or spiritual belief to control and subjugate the target, including male privilege, is considered spiritual abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse This involves undesirable sexual activity used as a form of control or one-sided gratification.
  • Economic Economic abuse involves the use of money and resources for the purpose of control.

  • ASSIGNMENT Download this list and review it before continuing:

    A Participent shares

    about her experiences with 'spiritual' abuse:


    Abusers like quoting and using religious books to justify their abusive behavior. "The Bible says the man is the head of the household," "The Bible says that women are beneath men and you should submit to me", "wives, submit to thine husbands", "God says the male is the authority of the etc etc etc". Don't miss this symptom, it's a big one and was used against me. I was told as a child by my abusive father "God made the male better than the female." I am a girl. He said, "Your brother will always mean more to me than you. This is because God gave him a penis and you don't have one. The female is beneath the male. (If you) don't believe it, you need to read your Bible."

    Domestic Abuse Verses Domestic VIOLENCE

    Do not confuse domestic abuse with domestic VIOLENCE. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, violence often begins with non-physical, verbal behaviors such as name-calling, threats, belittling, and hitting or destroying property or belongings of the target.

    Domestic violence includes:

  • Battering, hitting, punching, shoving, choking, hair pulling, slapping, tripping, kicking, etc
  • Marital rape
  • Date Rape
  • Holding a weapon on you such as a gun or a knife or even threatening to do it
  • Trying to shoot, cut, spank or hurt you with any object
  • Physically injuring any animal or person you hold dear.

  • None of the above are considered "domestic abuse." They have crossed the line and are now considered domestic violence and thus are beyond the scope of this site. Get help immediately if you are experiencing any of the above. Call 1-800-799-SAFE or visit National Domestic Violence Coalition for your closet agency or use the DV Survival Kit. This survival kit tells you what you can do if you are threatened or hit by your spouse or partner.

    Title B. Define an Abusive Partner Please

    Definitions of Abuse are Lagging

    Only recently has violence against women been universally condemned in our culture here in the United States.

    The recognition of domestic verbal, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse issues has sadly lagged behind in the human rights arena. Attitudes and behaviors that are easily recognizable as unacceptable, immoral, humiliating, and even illegal out in society are often tolerated at home--in marriages and other domestic relationships. These behaviors include:

    • anger directed toward and acted out on you (do you accept anger from store clerks?)
    • cutting remarks about your appearance, domestic skills, parenting, or personality (would you let a taxi cab driver treat you this way?)
    • orders on how to drive, wash dishes, wash clothes, clean house, what to wear (past the age of 15 no one should take these liberties with you)
    • sarcasm regarding your personal faith, values, politics, or any personal beliefs or preferences (would you let your employer treat you this way?)
    • constant criticism of your parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and you (would you allow this from your neighbor next door?)
    • humiliating demands and being the butt end of "jokes" in public (would you let the security guard at the mall humiliate you?)
    • rage and tearing up your home and belongings (imagine the gardener or maid acting like this)
    . The Open Encyclopedia tells us:
    Yet, these - the lack of empathy, the aloofness, the disdain, the sense of entitlement, the restricted application of humor, the unequal treatment, the sadism, and the paranoia - do not render the abuser a social misfit. This is because the abuser mistreats only his closest - spouse, children, or (much more rarely) colleagues, friends, neighbors. To the rest of the world, he appears to be a composed, rational, and functioning person. Abusers are very adept at casting a veil of secrecy - often with the active aid of their victims - over their dysfunction and misbehavior.
    Many women have allowed themselves to be treated badly and may have even been told by parents, their religious leaders, and society that this is the way to be a "feminine and nurturing" woman. We have also been told that if we are "good enough" that we can get our man to treat us well. Women have accepted behavior from their men that they would not tolerate from a stranger. In the past, we had no name for the way men treated their "property." Today, we say that woman who are mistreated and disrespected are verbally or emotionally "abused."

    The words we use to identify abuse are

  • The one who "abuses" is often called the "perpetrator" and the recipient his "victim." These are legal terms. Domestic violence groups and therapists call them "abusers" and "survivors."
  • Mary Jo Fay, Author of "When your 'Perfect Partner' goes Perfectly Wrong" calls these abusers narcissists and gives them the DSM IV stamp of a personality disorder. She based this information on Sam Vaknin's work who, in 1997, was the first to associate narcissism with abuse in relationships - years before anyone else suggested this linkage.
  • Patricia Evans, author of "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" says these guys are "Controllers" and writes of them having to have "power over" their mates in all situations.Addicts are often abusers and Patrick Carnes describes how Sex Addiction can be an underlying cause of partner abuse and narcissism (as well as all the other addictions)
  • Some professionals will discuss the megalomaniac, the antisocial personality, and the psychopath as root causes of abusing and violent spouses.
  • The "Borderline Personality" is also a cause of abuse and forces the target to act from a state of hyper-vigilance at all times.
  • Many therapists and courts today refer to the "rageaholic" and send clients for anger management classes, (which generally serve to teach the abuser how to be more covert rather than overt with their spouses).
  • My mom uses the old-fashioned term, "bastards."
  • It really doesn't matter what we call abusers

    If you are being maltreated on a regular and ongoing basis, you are with an abuser. The symptoms are what define these people, not the label.  Read the list of symptoms (click here) to see if your partner fits the description of someone who abuses.

    more Comments on the 'signs and symptoms' sent by our readers:

    From Carol:

    How about stealing, or better yet, putting jewelry in odd places, and then blaming YOU for putting it there. No, he doesn't steal. I'm the one that's nuts.

    This is from a reader in CT who explains how her partner tries to abuse her.

    Is the administrator of the computer and sets his wife's usability level to a "mature teen" so not all web sites can be accessed.(No trust) or goes in to your email and reads it and accuses you of having affairs. Or makes fun of you because you volunteer at your child's school. Calls you a terrible mother and wife. Makes fun of you and says the kids must take after your side of the family. (Uses your maiden name as if it were derogatory). Asks you (at age 44) when you tell him you have cramps-- "aren't you too old to be cycling?".Tells you you're a lesbian because you want to go out with a friend rather than being with him.

    From Anonymous in Orange County.

    YAHOO PERSONALS HAS THIS AD: "ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS/ ONE OF THE FEW." Orange County, CA. STAY AWAY FROM THIS MAN! this guy claims he's a "good guy." There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
    1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest. IED..he threw his cell phone out the window at the person who tried to "run him off the road."
    2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure. Listed himself single then told me he was not & had a child with another woman.
    3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead - didn't return phone calls consistently or showed up and disappeared on different days. 4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
    5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others. Slashed someone's tires for parking in his "spot."..instead of calling a tow truck.
    6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations. Always said he had no money and was trying to get a new job.
    7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another. Never apologized - even when asked for any of this "wrong" behavior.

    There is ALOT more to the story...One of the things about abuse that I've realized..someone who's quick to attach has problems!!! When a man/woman comes on VERY strong..sometimes you think you're lucky..you've met the "one" of your dreams..but that's not real..most people that come on strong WANT something from you. That's when you become a "target" because you don't know what the "plan" is. Also, this man sexually caters to women - very hard to resist --that is the BAIT - because he just biding his time with you until he gets what he wants and then he'll be gone!

    Title C. Am I in an Abusive Relationship?

    Not just women are abused--it can happen to men too.

    You Defined an Abuser and Abuse

    Now find out what kind of relationship you have. Only you can decide.

    Now that you know what abusers do, you are in a better position to assess your own relationship. This question involves a complicating factor that makes it difficult to answer.

    FIRST: The crux of the answer involves how you feel about how you are being treated. If it distresses you, then you meet the first criterion of being abused. If you're not distressed by how you're being treated, then it is pretty hard to make a case that you need to change things. For instance, if someone is a masochist, and therefore enjoys being hurt, it's really their choice as to how they define their happiness. We live in a free society. I do not have the right to tell that person, "You are being abused."

    SECOND: The second criterion involves what was just covered above, the types of abusive things an abusive partner does. If your partner is doing any of these types of things to you, and it distresses you, then yes, you are in an abusive relationship. This being said, abuse can sometimes be very subtle. Carefully go over the lists and symptoms and don't jump to conclusions about your partner or yourself without seeking professional guidance and talking to more than one person. If you are only listening to yourself and/or your partner, you are not getting enough information.

    Pay close attention to this section as you will have some questions toanswer in the Completion Form at the end of this section.

    1) Download and print this exercise. Answer the questions to the best of your ability.

    2) ASK YOURSELF: Would I tolerate this kind of behavior from a stranger? 

    3) Why should anyone take such behavior from the person they love and who claims to love them?


    A good and decent man (or woman) will not treat another person, especially their spouse, with disdain, hostility and criticism. A good and decent man will treat his wife than he treats his best buddies. A good and decent man will not hide behind scripture or tradition to justify maltreatment of anyone, especially his wife.


    If you feel something is wrong in your life, you feel bad about yourself and your relationship but are not quite sure what is going on--read about Ambient Abuse by Dr. Sam Vaknin. This is emotional violence at its most subtle level. Often it goes on as an evil undercurrent in a relationship and is next to impossible for the spouse to understand until they are neatly entrapped.

    Title D. Facts About Emotional Abuse from Virginians Against Domestic Violence

    • Emotional Abuse is often disguised as a way of "teaching you to be a better person."
    • Many experts believe that emotional abuse may have longer-lasting effects than physical abuse.
    • Emotional abuse often leads to poor health, especially sleep disturbances.
    • Emotional abuse affects children too.
    • Abusers may try to make excuses by saying "I lost control," but emotional abuse is really a way for them to gain control.
    • The goal of emotional abuse is to destroy the victim's self-respect and feeling of self-worth.
    • Emotional abuse starts slowly and the woman may adapt and be abused without knowing it.
    • It is often hard to believe that it won't get better because there are cycles of abuse and after an incident has occurred the abuser is usually really nice and convinces you it won't happen again and that he is really sorry. And if he's good, he will convince you that you somehow caused him to behave this way and you may end up apologizing to him!

    Title E. Has Someone convinced you that this is normal?

    That being said, your abuser and society may have convinced you that this is normal, needed, justified, or your fault for not behaving. None of which are true. The truth is, there are few excuses for treating the one you say you love, badly. For our own crazy reasons, us partners often stay (read about the Stockholm Syndrome) and accept this behavior and even excuse it. Shelly kept making excuses for her husband's constant anger and criticism by saying, "he's trying to quit smoking, he just changed jobs, his boss is on his back, his mother is sick, his mother just died, his ex is trying to move his son out of state, I am not spiritual enough, I haven't proved to him how much I love him, if I get it right, he will stop treating me this way." She always gave him an excuse for being mean to her, for humiliating her, and for discounting her, even if the excuse was to put the blame on herself. Society or religion don't need to convince women that mal-treatment is their fault because often the target of abuse will do a good job of that themselves!

    The truth is, that you are only being abused because you consent. {More about this in Section 2} People only walk over you if you lay down. If you do not allow someone to abuse you, you can not be abused--period. Eleanor Roosevelt put it succinctly when she said, "No one can insult you without your consent."

    Title F. We develop co-dependent behaviors around the abuse

    Because abuse begins slowly and we adapt over time, it is often very hard to recognize. In addition, some aspects of our culture, and our desire to be good and compliant wives and mothers (i.e. good women) have had us accept the unacceptable. Usually we have developed patterns of behavior that are called "co-dependent" where we try to earn the love and respect of our partner by manipulating them--so in a convoluted manner we try to control them, by trying to control how they think and treat us. We are sure that if we just get the right combination of behaviors that we can somehow make this turn around and create a happy relationship. Codependents generally do most of the giving in a relationship and the abuser does most of the taking. If you didn't start out as a co-dependent (which many woman don't), your reactions of trying to please and placate the abuser often lead to codependency. Interestingly, according to Dr. Irene from her Verbal Abuse web site"Much of this abuse acceptance occurs without the codependent individual feeling abused! More accurately, these individuals do not feel OK enough to expect respectful treatment at all times, and to notice when it is not forthcoming."

    Codependent behavior (giving and giving and trying to earn their love) seldom works to change the abuser's behavior. In fact nothing you do to them will make a happy marriage or loving relationship if you are dealing with a guy who makes you a target of his bad attitude. They will take all your attempts to get them to stop treating you badly and twist it to make you the culprit and appear wrong. They will always win, as explained in Patricia Evan's "Controlling People: How to Recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You " (a must read for anyone on this site).

    Now is the time to change YOURSELF because you won't change them, ever. The only one that can change is you. By learning what co-dependent behavior is and how you came to practice it, you can change what you do, what you think of yourself, and what you are willing to accept in your life.

    Lookup codependent behaviors.

    Go to Dr. Irene's page on recognizing codependent behaviors and make a list of the main behaviors that describe you. Once you have made this list, fill out the Completion Form below (there is a separate form for all four sections of this online workshop). You will be listing your top 5 co-dependent behaviors on the form.

    Fill out this form completely. Scroll up the page to review answers. Click "SUBMIT" when you are finished.
    Now that you know what verbal abuse is, and have come to recognize it if it exists in your relationship, the next step is to come to an awakening that you have the power to stop it

    Completion Form for Section One

    Note: You may save this form and review the Titles above before continuing--submit the form when you are done.