Responding to Verbal Abuse in Family Situations

March 25, 2021 Cheryl Wozny

When you face the onslaughts of verbal abuse, it can be hard to find your voice amid the chaos and stress. It can be especially complex when it happens in gatherings of family members. Verbal abuse in family situations can make many people feel awkward and unsure how to deal with the abuser and the victim.

I have been in several situations where family members had no idea how to react as I was the recipient of verbal abuse. Every circumstance is different, and I did not handle them both with the same approach. There is not a perfect solution to dealing with every instance of public verbal abuse, but with knowledge and practice, you can help yourself get better at dealing with it if it happens. 

Difficult Family Situations and Verbal Abuse

There are two main areas where it can be awkward to deal with public verbal abuse. They include: 

  • Immediate family
  • Extended family

Quite often, family abuse situations will go on much longer than verbal abuse in the workplace or personal relationships. This dynamic is due to the predetermination that you should love your family no matter what, or you should just accept how your family is rather than address problematic behaviors.

Verbal Abuse with Immediate Family

In one situation, my father was insulting and patronizing me in front of my mother, aunt, and cousin. I was referred to as fat and lazy because that morning, I ran a half marathon in two hours and 17 minutes, while my younger cousin completed it 18 minutes earlier than I did. My aunt was shocked and just sort of gasped while my mother looked on.

As an adult who has faced countless verbal abuse situations from my father during my life, I coped by trying to ignore it. I told my aunt not to worry, that is just how he is, and to ignore his comments. In retrospect, I am glad that someone acknowledged the horrible comments, but with my instant dismissal, life carried on without any repercussions. 

Verbal Abuse with Extended Family 

Another time that verbal abuse was against me was in my own home when some extended family was visiting. My father-in-law was criticizing me and being overly condescending. I did find my voice with this personal attack. I retorted with many facts and answers to his ignorant comments about my profession.

Unfortunately, the other family members in the room did nothing to speak up and correct this man about his disparaging comments towards me. Later on, I confronted my husband. I asked him why he did not speak up when it happened and if he agreed with his father. He assured me that he didn't agree with his father's comments and felt awful that he did nothing at the time to correct the abuse

Since then, my husband is aware of how to effectively support me on my healing journey and what is necessary for difficult situations. 

Find Your Voice

Being able to find your voice can be exhausting. It will not happen immediately, and you may have situations where it is easy to do, and other times you will retreat into yourself. With the support of family or friends, it is easier to deal with when these circumstances happen. 

It is essential to ask those around you if you need a hand diffusing a verbal abuse situation. Often, others want to help when they witness verbal abuse, but they do not know how to proceed. This awkward environment makes it tough to navigate, but if you know how to ask for reinforcement, you and the other parties will grow and continue to do better in the future. 

Have you experienced verbal abuse in a family situation? What was it like? Were you able to do anything about it? Share your stories in the comments.

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2021, March 25). Responding to Verbal Abuse in Family Situations, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 27 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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