Narcissists use Subtle Verbal Abuse to Control You

Part I: Examples from my former husband

Man and woman at sunset
Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Abuse is abuse even when we excuse it with a chuckle, while the abuser attempts to win our favor by acting like a loveable, but unruly child.

Things he said

“I’m sorry for yelling with you.” My former husband made this faux apology after we had a blowout because of some abusive thing he had said or done. I usually did my best to ignore his maltreatment but occasionally I would be angry enough to call him on his crap, which would start an argument. His apology was an attempt to be funny so I would be happy with him again. By the end of the marriage, there were no real apologies even if he was clearly wrong. Earlier in the marriage apologies were used as tools to get me back to the role he wanted, doormat.

“PMS is just an excuse so women can get away with being emotionally out of control.” I received this gem after I told him I wasn't feeling well and was doing my best to carry on. Everyone in the family was expected to keep it together at all times. He was the only one allowed to express his anger or moodiness. The rest of us had to pretend we were always happy and content with our lives which he controlled and provided for.

“I’m sorry you were cranky yesterday.” I received this apology for my attitude after he had been a jerk and I hadn’t taken it with a smile on my face. If you act like a big toddler throwing a hissy fit often enough your wife will lose her patience with your behavior occasionally.

“The kids don’t respect you because you aren’t a good leader.” He said this in front of our children after I asked for his help parenting our children. Having to take time out to help discipline and guide our children was not what he wanted to do when he was home. He would overreact or verbally abuse the children to make me regret asking for his help. I was left with any parenting duties he didn’t enjoy.

“Julia, blah, blah, blah, you are a horrible person, etc.” He often treated me like a naughty child in front of our children. The only time he called me by my actual name was when he was angry with me and usually at the beginning of a lecture. The worst thing I could do in this situation was to call him by his name in my response which I did a couple of times a year at most. I actually enjoyed using this secret weapon to get back at him even though it would take our argument to the nuclear level. I don’t like being called by my name now and after I left him I asked to be called by a nickname when I met new people. Working with people who respect me has helped me heal and learn to like my name again.

“You’re a true piece of work.” This is his new favorite insult to use now that we are divorced. He uses it every time I call him on his crap and ask that he follow the parenting plan, stick with proper boundaries, or refuse to take his abuse. Any time I hold him accountable it will result in a personal attack on my character or name-calling. He has very few tools to use so goes on the defensive, complete with nasty words and raised voice to get people to back off before the truth about what he is doing is exposed. I won’t back off anymore. I don’t have to. My role as the mother of our children is to advocate for their health and safety.

Becoming aware of verbal abuse

I share these little tidbits of innocent-sounding abuse to help others be more aware of how someone who is abusive can use words in a subtle way to keep you under control. If someone speaks to you in a way that doesn’t feel right even though it sounds okay you should trust your instincts.

Don’t make the mistake I made and let years go by before you decide to get help. I know we pick up bad habits from the way we are raised and the trauma we suffer but that is no excuse to continue once we know they are wrong. People who actually love you will be working on themselves so they can love their friends and family better instead of settling with intentionally hurting them over and over.

A loving future

The more we know about abuse the more we are able to raise healthy children and break the cycle we have lived in. Being aware of subtle tactics of abuse helps us identify those people who should be held at arm’s length and not allowed in our inner circle of trust.

Abuse is abuse even when we excuse it with a chuckle, while the abuser attempts to win our favor by acting like a loveable, but unruly child.

Part II

Thanks for reading,

Julia Freeman, an anonymous survivor

I write from my experience of being raised by a narcissist and being married to an abusive narc for over twenty years. I hope my experience helps others live free.



Julia Freeman, Trauma Recovery Coach

I believe survivors of narcissistic abuse and domestic violence deserve to live in freedom and peace.