The Connection Between Verbal Abuse And Anxiety (That No One Talks About)

The Connection Between Verbal Abuse And Anxiety

The following are the short term and long term impacts of verbal abuse on a person:

Short-term impacts:

  1. Lack of motivation.
  2. Feelings of worthlessness.
  3. Overthinking.
  4. Indecisiveness.
  5. Lowered self-esteem. 
  6. Diminished social interactions.
  7. In extremes, self-harming behaviors.

Long term impacts:

  1. Anxiety.
  2. PTSD.
  3. Depression.
  4. Suicidal ideation.
  5. Eating disorders.
  6. Sleep disturbances.
  7. Gastrointestinal problems.
  8. Migraines.
  9. Physiological pain.
  10. Difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
  11. Dissociation.
  12. Substance abuse.
  13. Anger and hostility.

Related: Parental Emotional Abuse: The Unseen Scars Left Behind

How is anxiety associated with verbal abuse? 

Verbal abuse brings about reactions in the victim, which is almost similar to stress and anxiety. To explain how verbal abuse can lead to anxiety, it is important to know how verbal abuse usually functions. 

Verbal abuse, like other forms of abuse, comes in three distinct phases: 

Phase I – Tension building phase
Phase II – The Violence Phase
Phase III – The Honeymoon phase


The first phase (tension building phase) is where the abuser gets very demanding, emotionally unstable, moody, controlling, critical and starts applying his manipulative techniques like threats, explicit, yelling and shouting to trigger fear and terror in the victim. 

The victim is often baffled, caught on guard as the attack is typically unpredictable.

Unsure of how to handle the situation, the victim applies all his/her resources to minimize the problem and bring the situation under control. The victim may start to pacify the abuser but the tension intensifies and culminates into the next phase. The efforts of the victim to bring the situation under control are rendered useless as he/she, himself or herself, starts getting more and more under control.

In the second phase (The violence phase) the behavior of the abuser escalates and reaches a peak where the victim feels to have no control over the situation altogether. The control amplifies, sometimes leading to more complex types of psychological abuse like guilt-tripping, gaslighting, blame-shifting, and useless accusations. When the victim gradually gives in to the manipulation, the abuser starts to get physically violent, often using means like hitting, thrashing, biting, or grabbing the victim, alongside verbal threats. 

The victim here fails to comprehend the entire situation and why it blew up. As the violent phase occurs as a result of the emotional state of the abuser or other external triggers, the victim here has nothing to do other than plead with the abuser to “get it over with.”

The third phase (the honeymoon phase) brings about a sudden change in the behavior of the abuser, as he/she starts to be more considerate, apologetic, and remorseful of the entire situation. Some abusers will feel extremely miserable for their actions, beg for forgiveness and shower the victim with love, affection, and sympathy. They will even end up blaming, harming, or punishing themselves to gain back the victim’s attention, promising to “never repeat it” again in the future. 

Other abusers will simply walk out of the mess and ignore it as nothing happened. The victim is readily convinced and forgives the abuser to “bring the situation under control” and ‘restore harmony between the two’. This is where, the victim gives himself up for another, inevitable, cycle of abuse. 

Related: Covert Verbal Abuse: Is Someone Telling You How You Should Feel?

Now stop and imagine the entire scenario. 

If this keeps happening to you on a regular basis, without any genuine fault of yours, how will you react to it? 

Abuse typically is recurrent in nature. Once it happens, it will happen again and again.

When a person is attacked with harsh, demeaning words, the “Flight or fight” mode is automatically activated. Our brain simply perceives the situation as extremely provoking and unhealthy for the self. 

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