Signs of Verbal and Emotional Abuse

I was looking for something else on my external hard drive the other day when I stumbled across something I wrote probably in 2008. My now-husband sent the list to me. I copied and pasted the questions from a website into a Word document, and changed all references from “partner” (it was aimed at battered partners in relationships) to “dad,” and fixed pronouns accordingly. Then I answered the questions. The website said that if I answered ‘yes’ to more than a few, then the relationship merited a closer look. I went back to link to the website, but it doesn’t exist anymore.

It’s interesting to see the difference between then and now. I was superficial in my answers, still in a subconscious mode of whitewashing/minimizing what he did and my own emotions. Surely it wasn’t that bad, I kept telling Jeff. “He’s doing better,” was the party line. When I was done answering the questions, I was struck with the overwhelming evidence. I made an appointment with a counselor at my undergraduate university. It was a safe and free place to go, because I could schedule counseling at times when I was already at school–so my parents wouldn’t know. I feared dad’s reaction. He was always suspicious about anything that might paint him in a negative light, even coaching us what to do if/when child protective services came to the home. (It’s a common fear among certain circles of homeschooling. CPS coming to force kids into public schools.)

Anyway. I present it here, changing the names of siblings.


  • ignore your feelings?  Sometimes he does sometimes he doesn’t.
  • disrespect you? Depends on your definition of disrespect. He’s more concerned about being treated with respect than treating others with respect, though.
  • ridicule or insult you then tell you its a joke, or that you have no sense of humor?    This is what Bro#1 does. And Bro#1 is a lot like dad.         
  •  withhold approval, appreciation or affectionMore like he will give approval, albeit in a stilted manner. Appreciation he can’t show. If I give him gifts, he acts really strange, and Christmas and his birthday he’s always in a weird mood where anything can set him off. I don’t know if he even knows how to show appreciation. Same for if you do something nice for him. If Mom makes a dinner he doesn’t like he’ll starve himself—he just says he’s “not hungry” and won’t eat but will be easily set off by something. If he is set off, he yells and makes silly or extreme pronouncements that makes life difficult for like a few days to a week  or more until he swings back to a slightly happier state.  And yet if Mom makes a steak dinner, he doesn’t say ‘thanks’.  (By ridiculous pronouncements, it is a lot like the time he took off all the doorknobs in the house when Sis#1 ran into one. He was angry at Bro#2 for racing with her. And was mad at Mom and Bro#1 and me for not preventing it or preventing them from running. ) 
  • give you the silent treatment?   Favorite of his. Like yesterday he barely talked to me except when I said something to him—all he did was “mm” make a small noise that he heard me. Same for today. Silent treatments means pretty much pretending you don’t exist, which can be awkward while you’re both getting breakfast in the kitchen. He’ll “own” the kitchen, so if I’m in a place where he needs to access, that means I need to try to read his body language and step away on pretense of something else, so he can use that area. All this involves no eye contact. I will try, to see if maybe he’s just tired or something. But he’d avoid looking at me. So I do likewise. If I do make it known that I’m conceding a space to him in the kitchen, he acts all weird, and to do so would feel like a victory on his part. So I like to keep him from having victory by pretending it doesn’t affect me.                            
  • walk away without answering you? Sometimes, when he’s angry. Usually he prefers a confrontation, though, to throw his weight around and affirm his power. If he doesn’t answer me it’s usually the silent treatment. So I don’t talk to him when he’s doing that, so there’s really not a chance for him to leave without answering me. Not that he would leave—it’d be me who’d have to move.                               
  • criticize you, call you names, yell at you? Criticize and yell. Hasn’t really called me names. Usually it’s that I’m too whiny or complain too much or am too sensitive or picky, or to say that I’m stupid and phrases like “what the hell were you thinking?” Yelling is just what happens when he’s angry or upset or just pissed off.                     
  • humiliate you privately or in public? I hate it when he criticizes me—that’s humiliating to me as it makes it feel like that my ideas/thoughts aren’t worth anything, especially when compared to his. So I guess if you call that humiliating, then yes. In private. Never out in the public—so sometimes I will interject my opinions or do a friendly conversational style interruption (pretending that it is like when I talk with others—you know how when you get to talking you tend to talk over each other?). I know I’m pushing the boundaries, and it will make him more tense later at home, but he can’t do anything about it in public.                              
  • roll his or her eyes when you talk? When I give some opinions, or talk, he’s just joking when he rolls his eyes, rub his head (as in facepalm) and mime pulling teeth, because he says that’s what it’s like, talking to me. Pulling teeth means it’s difficult to talk to me. It’s out of a joke, but still, it’s not really funny. But if I say so, he’d go off and “pout” as in my mom’s words for a couple of days. 
  • give you a hard time about socializing with your friends or family? I would avoid having my friends over because he would give me a hard time about it. He thinks he’s being funny, but it’s not. And if people come over, he’s always on edge. Especially so until they come and ring the doorbell, then he greets people friendly, but it’s still tense. He’d rather prefer not to meet with family except he understands it’s an obligation, otherwise people will think it’s weird. Plus he would tease me about spending time with my boyfriend—but I didn’t want to lose him so I just put up with Dad for months until now he knows I’m gone most of the time. (Gee, I wonder why).
  •  tell you that you are too sensitive? See above. Whenever he jokes—we all know it’s not really a joke but rather it’s a way for him to tell us he wants it to change. If he jokes that he can’t see my desk, it means I need to set aside all homework and clean it until perfect, and the rest of my room. It’s his way of saying things without making it always sound bad.                              
  • hurt you especially when you are down? By being insensitive. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but sometimes if I’m sad or upset or something, he’d say there’s nothing to be sad about, and to quit pouting. Like during senior year of high school, last semester, I was working 2 part time jobs and finishing up school and was involved in graduation and all that—I was so sad for a long time  I wondered if I was depressed. So I talked with Mom, who didn’t believe it, and told me to tell Dad, who started yelling at me that there’s nothing for me to be sad about, no reason to. If I wanted to go to counseling I’d have to do it all on my own. Gee, thanks, that was really helpful.                 
  • have unpredictable mood swings, alternating from good to bad for no apparent reason?    Big time ‘yes’. Sure, he is depressed, and diagnosed as such, which explains a lot of it. But he’s taking meds now and though it’s helping somewhat, it’s still wildly unpredictable. I almost wonder if it’s a form of mania. When he’s in a bad mood nobody really knows why, but we’re all sure it’s our fault. Like this recent 2 day silent treatment by dad (the longest one yet—usually he yells by then) I’m wondering if he’s pouting since I told him I can’t hear him very well as a fact. And plus I was trying to declare myself independent for tax purposes. Didn’t like that idea at all.
  • present a wonderful face to the world and is well liked by outsiders? Lots of people speak highly of my dad. Meet him and he’ll be friendly, but before and after you can bet that he was and will be tense toward his family.
  • “twist” your words, somehow turning what you said against you? That’s why I don’t talk to them too much. Even when he’s in a good mood. If I say too much I can bet that my dad will use my words against me, and lately Mom’s been doing more of that too, trying to support her husband. He’ll even twist it around if you’re talking to him—he’ll try to discount your opinion or say, “So you mean that—-?” and it’s not what you meant at all.        
  • try to control decisions, money, even the way you style your hair or wear your clothes? He says “Do what you want” but you know that his “advice” or “suggestion” is law and you’d better do what he advised, otherwise he’ll be upset for a while—depending on the severity of the instance, from a day to a couple of weeks. Like my hearing aid. When it broke I was thinking about replacing it since it’s old enough, But they wanted to repair it again. We had a disagreement going on, then when I went to Leisha, my audiologist, and my mom called her (she called me but I couldn’t hear—felt sorry to Leisha for having to be the go between). Leisha said that my mom said “do what you want—it’s up to you.” What an awkward situation. On the outside it looks like the decision is really mine, but really it’s not. If I don’t comply, it’s tense. So I went with the repair and it preserved the peace, but only for a short while. (Note: I don’t remember all how it happened, but I actually ended up working with Vocational Rehabilitation to get a brand new hearing aid since the state had money, and I clearly didn’t.)
  • complain about how badly you treat him or her? He seems to think that we all hate him. Bro#1 and Mom and I. I don’t. He’s still my dad and I love him, it’s just that I prefer not to be around his moods.              
  • threaten to leave, or threaten to throw you out? Whenever I was seriously in trouble about something or other—mostly ‘cause of difference of opinion or because he felt like he was being disrespected by me—he would say maybe I should move out, or if I don’t respect him I should leave and live on the streets where all the pervs are. And I was in middle school/high school/early college and I knew the heck that I could not move out yet—no financial base yet. And he knew that. It was to make me behave ‘cause I don’t want to live on the streets. (Note: I distinctly remember when he said that if I didn’t want to obey him, I could leave and go live on the streets where I’d be raped. But I was conservative when I filled this out at the time, and didn’t want to write it down). 
  • say things that make you feel good, but do things that make you feel bad?  He’d say that he’s proud of me at one point, and then he’d disagree with an opinion and I’d be in trouble at another point. Or he’d say things that make me feel good, and then say things that make me feel bad. It just depends on his mood.
  • seem to stir up trouble just when you seem to be getting closer to each other? We never will get “closer” to each other. When I got older we got more distant. But as a corollary, it seems like he’s upset with something just as soon as it seems like all things are getting mended from the previous incident.
  • compliment you enough to keep you happy, yet criticize you enough to keep you insecure?   See above.
  • manipulate you with lies and contradictions?  I swear, he’d say something one time, and then if you try to hold him to it later he swears he never said anything like that. It’d be over little things, but still its enough to make you wonder if your memory is faulty.                  
  • drive like a  road-rage junkie? Yes. When he’s in a bad, strange, or weird mood, he drives somewhat unsafe. Mom told me about the time he was in a bad mood as they drove out to the [antique mall] on the highway, that they nearly got into several accidents. He’d speed up, then brake before hitting somebody in front of him since they were too slow, yelling that everybody was driving like a maniac and they were all stupid, and forget to check before switching lanes and squeeze into too small a spot, or come close to sideswiping people. Worse his mood, worse his driving. But it’s not all the time. When he’s in a good mood, or when he’s pouting, he drives a bit more normally.
  • act immature and selfish, yet accuse you of those behaviors? Yep. He’d accuse me of pouting when he’ the one pouting. I wouldn’t be, since I know he’d be angry if I pouted. Or like I’m whiny and complaining about things. Or being manipulative, like when Mom came out and seriously thought I was talking to Sis#1 outside their door, just to get them involved. (Her dog had bit my new skirt that I’d bought making tooth holes in it, and I was telling her about it and asked her to please watch her dog—then they came out and got mad at me. I don’t think Mom believed me when I told her that was not my intent at all. Then later Mom relayed to me that Dad wanted me to stop whining every two seconds.         
  • question your every move and motive, somehow questioning your competence? Yep. My decision to be a history major after being in English for 2 ½ years was very much called to question. And that was just when I was telling them I was thinking about it. Haven’t told them I’ve already switched. They’ll find out when I graduate. (Note: I’m not sure they ever found out I switched majors. I think they did eventually–after I moved out.)
  • interrupt you; hear but not really listen?  I need to listen to him, not him to me. And yes, both Dad and Mom will interrupt me but I can’t interrupt them. And if I say something they didn’t really listen to, they’ll make the same point I did. Or if I say something that they were about to say, they have to do a double take because they assumed I’d say something else. They always assume I’m going to pout or complain or be unreasonable, like how Mom was really surprised that I was already going to conceed 2008 taxes though I’m technically independent. She was going on and talking to me about it and telling me it’s simpler not to do 2008, though I tried to interuppt and tell her that was my thought—she wouldn’t let me talk since they think they know what I’m going to say. (Note: this was about claiming me as a dependent. It was just easier to let him claim me than it was to deal with weeks-long anger.) 
  • make you feel like you can’t win? damned if you do, damned if you don’t? Self explanatory.
  • try to convince you he or she is “right,” while you are “wrong?” Won’t give up the argument until I at least conceed the argument. They think that I admitted that they’re right, when really, I just shut up to end the argument and preserve the peace. Like with the being independent on taxes—I am. The law says I am, but my parents disagree—big disagreement. So, I’m going to be giving up the argument just to have a sense of happiness again (after Dad finishes pouting.)
  • frequently say things that are later denied or accuse you of misunderstanding? Just like what I said in “manipulate you with lies and contradictions?” And yes, usually it’s me “misunderstanding” than a mistake on his part, or owning up to what he said. Like I swear that Dad said he won’t be paying for my wedding—said that since I was little. It, like college, will be up to me financially. But then later I was telling Mom and she was certain Dad was just “joking” and then later Dad said “I never told you that. I was just teasing.” (Note: this was before Jeff and I got engaged. It was brought up again later.)

your situation is critical if the following applies to you:

  • You express your opinions less and less freely.  Yes. I just shut up in order to keep a semblance of normalness.
  • You find yourself walking on eggshells, careful of when and how to say something. Pretty much all my life.
  • You find yourself making excuses for your dad’s behavior. I guess I do. I talk about him, then I say he has depression, that’s why. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t think what he’s doing bothers people. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know. He’s just tense from work. It’s my fault, not his.
  • You feel emotionally unsafe. I just know not to let my emotions show.       
  • You feel its somehow not OK to talk with others about your dad. I had friends, but never told them anything about the bad side of my dad. Sure, he does pay for half my car, sometimes he pays for all of it, sometimes he gives me money for clothes, but he also holds it over my head… (Makes me feel guilty if I think about complaining about him.) I never felt like I could talk about it with them. I just say Dad’s kind of tense, or something mild like that.
  • You hope things will change…especially through your love and understanding. Yeah, I do. If I be nice, he’ll change. But I’m realizing that’s not going to happen. So I feel like I need to move out to protect my own sense of well being—so I’m not always tense about going home or worrying if Dad’s in a good/bad mood.
  • You find yourself doubting your memory or sense of reality.     Just like I said before, sometimes I wonder if I’m remembering these things about Dad correctly. I’m worried that I’m grossly wrong, so I’m careful about what I say.
  • You doubt your own judgment.  Sometimes I do. That’s why I don’t tell my parents things, so they won’t call into doubt my judgment, making me feel stupid.            
  • You doubt your abilities.                 
  • You feel vulnerable and insecure. I’m always too careful around other people, cause I seriously thought that what Dad did was normal until I started answering these questions. So that’s why I didn’t talk to many people and was always afraid of making then angry.       
  • You are becoming increasingly depressed. If I think about my future, trying to live on my own and all that—boy do I feel worried. Especially as a deaf person.  
  • You feel increasingly trapped and powerless. I used to think that the only way I could leave this situation is to get married, cause there’s no way in heck I’d be able to support myself. But now I know that’s not the case, but I am still feeling rather trapped because I’m trying to make sure I’m going to make enough money to move out. But I just don’t know if I’ll get jobs or whatnot.
  • You have been or are afraid of your dad.  Why do you think I stay away from home? I don’t like his moods. And when I don’t know how he’ll react to this or that, or what kind of mood he is in, I get some sort of visceral pain—I just hurt all over and my stomach hurts, too, whenever I don’t know if he’ll be in a bad mood or not. Anticipatory fearfulness, I guess. The thing is, he’s slightly better than he used to be now that he’s taking some meds, but the pattern of his behavior is still the same, so I still am somewhat afraid of what he might do.

If you feel your relationship may be verbally and emotionally abusive, talk to people you trust. Talk to clergy, call your local battered women’s shelter, educate yourself, seek professional help. Do not allow verbal and emotional abuse to escalate to battery!


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