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Emotional Abuse and Verbal Abuse: What Is the Difference?

verbal and emotional abuse by Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
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We often hear the terms emotional abuse and verbal abuse used interchangeably, as though they were one and the same. It's more accurate to say the two expressions of abuse do indeed overlap.

Verbal Abuse versus Emotional Abuse

Verbal abuse is the use of specific language to demean, belittle, or outright slander and harm another person.

Whereas, emotional abuse is the use of manipulation, deception or deprivation intended to violate the emotional or psychological integrity of the abused.

Where they overlap is when verbal abuse is emotionally abusive, or when emotional abuse is delivered in the form of name-calling and/or verbal character assaults.

Now you may think this is all a matter of semantics. That is true and false. I liken the distinction that I'm drawing here as is noted in the identification of two kinds of batterers.

Core Distinction between Emotional and Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can often be merely sloppy bully-like strikes of aggression. They are crude, impulsive and hurtful.

Emotional abuse, on the other hand, carries more of an underlying premeditated sociopathic evil ring to it. However, it is true that some emotional abuse evolves out of a lack of empathy, without there being associated control issues.

When the control factor is operative, verbal abusers act like "pit bulls" and emotional abusers more like "cobras." Should either walk into your home as an intimate partner, beware!

You are not dealing with something that is "only" verbal or "not physical," as we often hear people describe both emotional and verbal abuse. You may be dealing with classic intimate partner violence.

If you encounter either verbal or emotional abuse as a pattern in your relationship, you will want to know everything you can learn about recognizing it, coping with it and arresting its insidious flow before it spirals out of control.

For more information on verbal emotional abuse, visit, and get Free Instant Access to your survivor success eInsights. . Dr Jeanne King, Ph.D. helps individuals and families recognize, end and heal from emotional verbal abuse. Copyright 2009 Jeanne King, Ph.D.

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Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.
Abuse and Recovery
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verbal and emotional abuse

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