Verbal abuse is a favorite tactic of narcissists. It very quickly intimidates the target while simultaneously establishing their dominance and superiority. The attack usually catches the target off-guard thus assuring victory. All of this is done to gain control and manipulate a person into doing something.
The pattern is similar whether the narcissist is a spouse, parent, employer, coach, manager, or preacher. It first begins in secret, is infrequent, is mild in tone with minimal use of abusive language, and sometimes is followed by a shallow apology. Then it escalates to public humiliation, is more frequent, shifts blame to the victim, and is excessive in tone while denying abusive words.
Narcissists use the volume and tone of their voice to subconsciously establish dominance. They do this through two extremes. One way is to increase the volume by yelling, screaming, and raging. The second is equally effective through complete silence, ignoring, and refusing to respond. Their tone reiterates the abusiveness by combining petulance and pompousness.
Words have meaning beyond their definition.
For a narcissist, words are used to instill fear, intimidate, manipulate, oppress and constrain. Swearing and threatening language comes easily to the narcissist when the person refuses to do what they want. But if the victim tries to use the same method, the narcissistic verbal assault will amplify.
The manner of a narcissist’s speech is argumentative, competitive, sarcastic and demanding. They will frequently interrupt, talk over a person, withhold key information, bully and interrogate. Many times the verbal assault will be so rapid that the victim does not have the time or energy to fight point by point. This is precisely what they want.
Mixed in with the assault will be personal attacks such as name calling, mocking responses, defaming character, berating feelings, and judging opinions. To further add to the confusion, the narcissist will mix some truth with a lot of criticism. This condemning tactic leaves the victim feeling inferior and defeated.
A narcissist will do anything to avoid embarrassment, including going on the defensive over minor infractions by blocking and diverting casual remarks. Their self-inflated perception is so skewed that they frequently accuse the victim of making them look bad. When they perceive an attack, they refuse to take responsibility, become hostile, invalidate or dismiss feelings, lie, and conveniently forget promises or commitments.
Narcissists are masters at the blame game; anything that goes wrong is the other person’s fault. They accuse the victim of being too sensitive, are overly critical of other’s reactions, “one-up” feelings and oppose opinions. In essence, the victim is to blame for the negative condition in which they find themselves.
Typical sayings include: “I’m critical for your own good,” “I was only joking when I said that…,” “If only you would…, then I won’t have to be this way,” “You don’t know how to take a joke,” “The problem with you is…,” and “That (verbal abuse) didn’t really happen.”
As a result of the verbal abuse, the victim feels they can’t ever win, are always in the wrong, have a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, constantly walk on eggshells, are fearful of their response, and are embarrassed by their behavior.
Verbal abuse is real and can leave a person confused and frustrated. If you are suffering from being in a relationship with a narcissist, there is a good chance therapy may help you learn coping skills and about creating healthy boundaries.