Here, the body finds no way to flee the situation (which is often the case in any type of abuse, as the victim is often threatened with life-changing consequences if they leave the abuser) the body’s sympathetic system will be activated, displaying symptoms like sweating, hot and cold flashes, dry throat, increased heartbeat – which are absolutely natural when faced with an alarming stimulus.
Over time, your body is getting accustomed to this kind of anxiety triggering stimuli.
After repeated abuse, you have learned through experience and vigilance, the signs of an upcoming abuse cycle. So, now every time, the abuser speaks to you in a higher tone, starts getting a little aggressive or defensive, you will start to apprehend a negative outcome (maybe another episode of abuse is on the way).
Hence, the body starts displaying symptoms similar to that of an anxiety attack like palpitating heart, shortness of breath, sweating and dizziness, even when there is no relevant trigger. It’s merely the perceived probability of abuse that starts bringing about these anxiety symptoms now.
You see, the abuse is not just messing with your mind, but is making you anxious over time.
When this verbal abuse continues for a long period of time (which is often the case), It will leave the victim jumpy throughout the rest of the lifetime. They might acquire social anxiety due to the fear of getting repeatedly socially insulted and bullied. They might even become extremely vulnerable in relationships, as the fear of facing similarly abusive people isn’t eliminated.
Research shows that perceived parental verbal abuse in childhood and peer-related verbal abuse in adolescence has been associated with a risk of depressive mood, anxiety, anger-hostility, suicidality, dissociation, or drug use in young adults. (2,3,4,5,6)
According to psychology Professor Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, people who were verbally abused had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused and were twice as likely to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder over their lifetime. (7)
Verbal abuse is not less impactful as compared to other forms of abuse.
It might seem to be of no significance but prolonged periods of being verbally abused have even been linked to many mental health issues like delinquent tendencies, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation in adolescents, alongside depression and anxiety.
Teicher, M. H. & Samson, J. A. Childhood maltreatment and psychopathology: A case for ecophenotypic variants as clinically and neurobiologically distinct subtypes. Am J Psychiatry 170, 1114–1133 (2013) Teicher, M. H., Samson, J. A., Polcari, A. & McGreenery, C. E. Sticks, stones, and hurtful words: relative effects of various forms of childhood maltreatment. Am J Psychiatry 163, 993–1000 (2006). Teicher, M. H., Samson, J. A., Sheu, Y. S., Polcari, A. & McGreenery, C. E. Hurtful words: association of exposure to peer verbal abuse with elevated psychiatric symptom scores and corpus callosum abnormalities. Am J Psychiatry 167, 1464–1471 (2010). Schalinski, I. et al. Type and timing of adverse childhood experiences differentially affect severity of PTSD, dissociative and depressive symptoms in adult inpatients. BMC Psychiatry 16, 295 (2016). Polcari, A., Rabi, K., Bolger, E. & Teicher, M. H. Parental verbal affection and verbal aggression in childhood differentially influence psychiatric symptoms and wellbeing in young adulthood. Child Abuse Negl 38, 91–102 (2014). Khan, A. et al. Childhood Maltreatment, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation: Critical Importance of Parental and Peer Emotional Abuse during Developmental Sensitive Periods in Males and Females. Front Psychiatry 6, 42 (2015). Invisible Scars: Verbal Abuse Triggers Adult Anxiety, Depression