Is It Possible for a Verbally Abusive Person to Change?

Written By

Helen Kaminski, MSc

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When we’re faced with repetitive verbal abuse, it’s natural to wonder if the abusers can change and become loving and supportive people. The truth is, the answer varies depending on the individual and their dedication to embracing change.

In an ideal world, there would be no abuse or hurt to worry about. Unfortunately, our lives are full of imperfect relationships and situations that aren’t ideal.

I, for one, have experienced verbal abuse in my home life for years, and people on the outside looking in had no clue of my circumstances.

My abuser managed a friendly outside persona, and I always believed they would never change.

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But I also had a family member who was known to be verbally and physically abusive in the past. However, this individual was able to maintain positive, healthy relationships with many others in their older years.

They examined their behavior and permanently changed how they acted toward others.

I didn’t know this individual as an abuser and had a terrific relationship with them.

However, I am not naive in that I don’t believe they were capable of verbal abuse. With these two people in my life that I know used verbally abusive tactics, one was able to change, and one wasn’t.

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It’s Time to Talk about Psychological and Verbal Abuse | Lizzy Glazer | TEDxPhillipsAcademyAndover

How can an abusive person change?

For those who want to change, there are ways to break free from abusive behavior. The following points can help individuals recognize their harmful habits and turn their lives around:

  • Admit and accept your wrong behavior: Recognizing the harmful effects of your actions is the first step to change. Accepting that you need to make a change in your behavior is crucial.
  • Pause and reflect before responding: Verbal abuse is often a knee-jerk reaction to a situation. Take a moment to pause and reflect before responding to avoid making the situation worse.
  • Seek help from therapists or support groups: Changing behavior isn’t easy, and it’s okay to ask for help. A therapist or support group can provide guidance and support on your journey toward change.
  • Visit our resources page for tools and local support: Our website provides tools and local support to help individuals overcome abusive behavior.

A study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that individuals who engage in verbally abusive behaviors often lack effective communication skills and may benefit from learning communication and conflict resolution skills.

The study found that interventions that focus on teaching practical communication skills, such as assertiveness training and active listening, can help individuals reduce their use of verbally abusive behaviors (source: Gelles, R. J., & Straus, M. A. 1988. Intimate violence. New York: Simon & Schuster).

Is verbal abuse fixable?

a young woman is sitting on porch and sad

If you know your words and actions hurt those close to you, there is help available. It is possible to turn your life around and have healthy, meaningful relationships without using verbal abuse.

It’s essential to understand that changing abusive behavior is a challenging and ongoing process. It requires dedication and commitment, but it is possible. Seeking help and support is a crucial step toward change. With the right mindset and resources, anyone can change their behavior and become a better person.

It’s worth noting that while some abusers may change their behavior, it’s not always the case. If you’re in an abusive relationship, it’s essential to prioritize your safety and seek help from professionals.

One study found that individuals who engage in verbally abusive behavior often have negative beliefs about themselves and their relationships.

These negative beliefs can lead to feelings of anger, frustration, and insecurity, which can contribute to the use of verbally abusive behaviors.

The study found that therapy and counseling can be effective in helping individuals to identify and challenge these negative beliefs, leading to a reduction in verbally abusive behaviors (source: Babcock, J. C., Waltz, J., Jacobson, N. S., & Gottman, J. M. (1993).

While the answer to whether verbally abusive people can change is not black and white, it’s possible with the right mindset, resources, and support.

Recognizing the harmful effects of your actions, seeking help, and reflecting before reacting are essential steps toward change. Remember, change is not easy, but it’s worth it for healthier and more meaningful relationships.

Recognize verbal abuse tactics

When it comes to verbal abuse, it’s important to understand the different tactics used and how to identify them. For example, the abuser may use negging – making backhanded compliments designed to undermine confidence.

Or they may gaslight – manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity and memory. Other common tactics are mocking, criticizing, belittling, and more.

Recognizing these signs of verbal abuse is the first step in addressing the problem.

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Establish strong personal boundaries

It’s also essential for the abused person to establish strong personal boundaries. Make it clear which behaviors are acceptable and which are absolutely not, and stick to those boundaries consistently.

  • Inform the abuser of clear consequences if those boundaries are violated, such as immediately removing yourself from the situation.
  • Holding firm to your own limits can empower you while also motivating the abusive person to change their harmful ways if they want the relationship to continue.

Watch for warning signs

When an abusive person claims they want to reform, it’s wise to watch for certain warning signs that the change may not be genuine.

  • For instance, if they continue to blame you or get angry or defensive when confronted about their behavior, they may not have truly accepted responsibility.
  • Promises of change or gifts could also simply be a manipulation tactic.
  • Keep a realistic perspective when evaluating if true change has occurred.

Practice healthy communication

To truly change abusive habits, the abuser needs to actively practice healthy communication strategies on a daily basis.

  • Simple techniques like taking deep breaths, counting to 10, or walking away when feeling angry can make a big difference.
  • Other tips are using “I feel” statements, listening without interrupting, and expressing needs calmly.
  • Role-playing with a counselor can help prepare for challenging situations. With time and consistency, these new communication tools can replace unhealthy knee-jerk reactions and foster positive change.

The key is being mindful in the moment and putting in the hard work of transforming ingrained verbal patterns.

References

  1. Power and violence: The relation between communication patterns, power discrepancies, and domestic violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(1), 40–50).
  2. Psychology of Abusive Human Behavior. https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=116357

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About the author

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Helen Kaminski, MSc

Mindful living for a happier, healthier you. I’m a medical writer, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and a mental health advocate in Warsaw, Poland, with nine years working as a therapist. I hold a Master's in Clinical Psychology degree from the University of Warsaw. I specialize in writing about mental health, using my experiences and academic background to educate and inspire others. In my free time, I volunteer at a Disability Learning Center and go for nature walks. My writing aims to break down mental health stigma and help others feel understood. Social connections are vital to mental well-being, and I am dedicated to fostering communities of support and empathy. By sharing knowledge and personal insights, I strive to create a more compassionate world. Social

6 thoughts on “Is It Possible for a Verbally Abusive Person to Change?”

  1. This is a thoughtful analysis on a heavy topic. Verbal abuse can deeply damage relationships and self-esteem. However, providing resources for abusers to acknowledge patterns and make changes can inspire hope. Anger management courses, counseling, rebuilding trust – the road is long but not necessarily impossible. A nuanced look at how supporting change where possible benefits individuals, families, and communities. But ultimately the choice lies with the abuser to pursue that difficult personal growth. A compassionate approach focused on rehabilitation where feasible while maintaining realistic expectations. Much food for thought.

    Reply
  2. Verbal abuse stems from deeper issues. For meaningful change to occur, ruthless self-reflection is required from the abuser.

    Reply
  3. Lasting change from verbal abuse seems unlikely without extensive counseling and authentic self-examination by the abuser. Surface-level efforts fail to address the deeper roots that fuel abusive speech and patterns. True rehabilitation requires owning harm done, developing empathy, learning new coping mechanisms, and vigilant self-monitoring to change entrenched habits.

    Reply
  4. The author points out how abusive words can deeply wound a person’s spirit and sense of self-worth. Verbal aggressors frequently diminish and control their victims through cruel put-downs, name-calling, and manipulation. Their words can inflict lasting damage. It’s important for targets of verbal abuse, as well as outside observers, to recognize these harmful behaviors so steps can be taken to end the abuse. This thoughtful article encourages greater empathy and understanding. May it help promote healthier relationships free of the darkness of verbal cruelty.

    Reply
  5. While change is possible, it requires acknowledgment of harmful behaviors from the abuser and a true commitment to alter ingrained habits. Counseling could help, but an abuser must earnestly work to retrain thought patterns. The damage done makes it hard for victims to trust that real change occurred. A long process, but perhaps achievable if the abuser is willing to put in the difficult effort.

    Reply
  6. Can an entrenched verbally abusive person fundamentally change? It’s a profound challenge requiring brutal honesty, counseling, apologizing, and replacing abusive patterns with healthy relating. Persisting when one’s identity is invested in denial and hostility is unlikely.

    Reply

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