Abuse Definitions: Signs of Verbal,
Emotional and Spiritual Abuse

NOTE: Many times throughout these definitions, the abuser refers to "he or him." This web site is devoted to married woman in abusive relationships so the abuser is often the husband. The term "he" is not meant to be exclusive because woman can also be abusers

Abusive Anger: Definition -  Expresses condemnation or disapproval, anger and harshness going together, defamation, constant shame and disgrace. Abusive anger is when the abuser uses verbal attacks or behaviors in his anger.

Abusive Body Language: Definition - The abuser uses body language to ignore, show disapproval, show lack of a response on purpose, give a certain look that is demeaning, smirk, roll the eye (or various other negative facial expressions), and never give any indication of how the abuser feels. Abusive body language is used by the abuser when he/she doesn’t say anything at all. The partner knows what the abuser is saying by his/her body language.  It is meant as a form of control. Additional examples include: the abuser facing away from the partner while sitting or standing, making the partner walk behind instead of beside, acting as if the abuser doesn’t know the partner when they are in public, etc. Abusive body language lets the partner know his/her behavior is not welcomed without the abuser saying a word.

Accuse: Definition - find fault with, hold responsible, blame. The abuser will often find fault with everything the victim does, or doesn't do. Nothing is right and even when it's obvious the blame belongs to the abuser, he/she won't own up to it. This occurs often by saying something like, "Had you not done ____, I wouldn't have reacted that way!" In essence, the abuser is holding the victim responsible for the abuser's actions.

Definition - Hold responsible by putting responsibility on the other partner, make feel guilty, hold accountable. A verbal abuser will accuse his partner of some wrongdoing. He/she will hold the partner accountable and expect him/her to take responsibility for things in the relationship that are not his/her doing. Finding fault with everything the partner does is the key in this type of abuse.

Block: Definition - hinder the passage, progress, or accomplishment of by/or, as if by interposing an obstruction: a) to shut off from view, b) to interfere with, or c) to prevent normal functioning or action.  The abuser will keep the partner from accomplishing his/her goals.  He/she will obstruct or do things to interfere with the partner’s normal plans.

Bullying: Definition - aggressive behavior (generally among school aged children) that involves making threats, accessing and then advertising embarrassing personal information, attacking physically or verbally, exclusion from a group, and any other form of showing "power over" another student. Bullying can also be seen in adults.  If this is generally a childhood issue, why is it here? Bullying is a form of abuse, which almost always starts with verbal attacks. Children who bully often turn into adult abusers if the behavior isn't dealt with in childhood. Adults who bully simply do it with more sophistication where it isn't as obvious. 

Control: Definition: Have power over, dominate, oppress, dictate, rule, be in command, demand submission, manipulate, want influence over, restrain, keep in check, hold back, or rein in. The abuser wants to ultimately control the partner. He/she wants to dictate what the partner does and how it’s done. All the forms of verbal and emotional abuse are “controlling behaviors.” The abuser feels out of control over his/her life, therefore, tries to control the partner.

Counter: Definition - Oppose, contradict, argue against, defy, act in opposition to.  The abuser is constantly countering and correcting everything the partner says and does. The partner’s view is different than the abusers, and he/she doesn’t like it, even though he/she may never voice it. Discussions are often cut off in mid sentence so the partner’s thoughts cannot be finished. The partner is not allowed to have his/her own ideas or thoughts.

Crazymaking:  Definition:  double bind, or requiring two separate things. A “crazy maker” will constantly change the requirements for a given situation.  He/She will make you feel like you’re going crazy because the terms keep changing. Several of the abusive behaviors listed can go hand-in-hand with crazy making. Crazymaking typically causes the victim to question whether he/she really did do/say something. The abuser is really good at making the victim feel that he/she is wrong.
Denial: Definition – rejection, dissent, veto, refusal, disclaimer, contradiction, defiance, denunciation, turning down. Although all forms of verbal abuse have serious consequences, denial can be very insidious because it denies the reality of the partner. In fact, a verbal abuser could read over this list of categories and insist that he/she is not abusive.

Discount: Definition - Reduce, lower, disregard, overlook, ignore, pass over, write off, disbelieve, minimize the importance of, or to view with doubt.  This is like taking an expensive item and reducing its price to one cent. Discounting denies the reality and experience of the partner. It denies and distorts the partner's actual perception of the abuse.

Divert: Definition - Deflect, redirect, reroute, switch, distract, sidetrack. The verbal abuser refuses to communicate, establishes what can be discussed, or withholds information. He can prevent any possibility of resolving conflicts by blocking and diverting. Blocking is a form of verbal abuse in which the abuser controls discussion, withholds information, or diverts his or her partner's attention to something else. Blocking comes first, followed by the diversion.

Forget: Definition -  Not remember, overlook, disregard intentionally, neglect. This may involve both overt (open) and covert (secret) manipulation. The verbal abuser consistently forgets. Verbal abusers may "forget" incidents that were upsetting to his/ her partner, arguments, and discussions. He/she may also "forget" important commitments, dates, and promises he/she made to his/her partner.

Indifference: Definition - Lack of interest, unresponsive, lack of concern, coldness, lack of sympathy, apathy, lack of importance or significance, and lack of care. Indifference is when the abuser takes no interest in his/her partner. It’s as if the partner is a stranger.  There’s no effort on the part of the abuser to engage in activity or conversation with the partner. This can take place in private or public and is often demonstrated by the abuser ignoring the victim in some manner.

Isolation:  Definition:  segregation, loneliness, seclusion, segregation. The abuser makes it difficult for the partner to see family or friends. During isolation, the partner rarely associates with anyone but the abuser.

Joke or Tease: Definition - Tease, pretend, trick, make fun of, provoke in a mischievous way, disturb, annoy or pester by persistent irritating.  Although the abuser’s comments may masquerade as humor, they cut the partner to the quick. The verbal jabs may be delivered crassly or with great skill, but they all have the same effect of diminishing the partner and throwing him/her off balance.  Joking can also be used as a form of correction.

Judge and Criticize: Definition - Disapprove of, find fault with, reprimand, strong disapproval, condemn, pass judgment, overly critical, feel they are the expert and they have the authority.  The verbal abuser may judge the partner and then express judgment in a critical way. If the partner objects, the abuser may tell him/her that he/she is just pointing something out to be helpful, but in reality he/she is expressing his/her lack of acceptance.

Lying: Definition – being deceitful, dishonest, insincere, and untruthful; normally done with intent to be untruthful. Lying is often included in with other categories.  However, I believe lying deserves its own category. Lying becomes a way of life for the abuser, constantly keeping the partner just outside the realm of those lies.

Minimize: Definition – reduce, diminish, lessen, curtail, decrease, make light of, underestimate, and play down the extent or seriousness of something. The abuser may understand how important something is to the partner, but will play down that importance.  The abuser may also lessen his/her reaction to an event or circumstance.

Name-calling: Definition – using slang or vulgar terminology to refer to a person or to his/her actions. The abuser may continually call the partner "stupid, klutz, dummy, etc." for whatever reasons he/she feels warranted in doing so. Name-calling can also be more covert, or not as obvious.  Sometimes, the “lack of” calling the partner by the appropriate name, can also be considered name-calling. Various “pet names” that we have for our spouses can be considered name-calling, especially if the spouse doesn’t appreciate it.

Order: Definition - Command, direct, instruct, tell, demand.  It denies the equality and autonomy of the partner. When an abuser gives orders instead of asking, he/she treats the partner like a slave or subordinate. When one partner in a relationship orders or demands another person to do something, he/she is telling the partner to be ready at any moment to meet the abusers needs, desires, and wants. Furthermore, the abuser denies his/her partner the right to make his/her own choices.

Sabotage: Definition – damage, disrupt, interfere with, interrupt, harm, impair, incapacitate. The abuser deliberately damages property or disrupts the partner’s life, job, or business dealings. This is very closely related to undermining, but with sabotage, the abuser will go beyond the act of undermining. It’s the next step to destroying something the partner cares about.

Spiritual Abuse:  Definition – spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority, the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, and equip, misuses that authority. They place themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly Godly purposes, which are really their own. Spiritual abuse in marriage is when the husband uses religious values to “rule over” his wife.  Instead of ruling over a group of people (as in the definition), the spiritual abuse is between husband and wife.  There are some faith’s that believe a husband has authority over his wife and will use religion to keep her in line.  Some religions require that the wife submit to the husband in everything. It’s forcing the wife to submit at all costs based on the beliefs and/or teachings of his religion.

Threaten:  Definition - Intimidate, bully, pressure, warn, terrorize, make threats, jeopardize, put at risk. The abuser manipulates the partner by bringing up his/her biggest fears. The abuser may threaten to expose something personal, or bully him/her into doing something his/her way. The abuser may include threaten to leave or get a divorce. In some cases, the threat may be to escalate the abuse. It’s usually an “either/or” scenario.

Trivialize:  Definition - Makes the person feel unimportant, small, and insignificant, of little worth or importance, makes things that are important appear small, trivial or minor. It is an attempt to take something that is said or done and make it insignificant. When this is done in a frank and sincere manner, it can be difficult to detect. Trivializing is where an abusive partner makes light of his/her partner's accomplishments, achievements, or event. The partner of an abuser may not feel the matter or incident is significant due to the abuser's trivialization of it.

Undermine: Definition - Weaken, dent, chip away at, challenge, destabilize, demoralize, undercut, damage.  Take away supporting material, to weaken or ruin by degrees, to weaken secretly, to reduce in intensity or effectiveness.  The abuser not only withholds emotional support, but also erodes confidence and determination. The abuser often will squelch an idea or suggestion just by a single comment.  To undermine a partner is to undercut or weaken anything he/she is doing or will try to do.

Withhold: Definition - Hold or keep back, refuse to give, deny, refrain from granting, giving or allowing. If a spouse withholds information and feelings, then the marriage bond weakens. The abuser who refuses to listen to his partner, denies her experience and leaves her isolated. Withholding occurs when one partner withholds affection, information, thoughts, and feelings from his partner. When one person in a relationship withholds, intimacy cannot be created.