Yes, verbal abuse causes PTSD



By Caitlin Kelly


This is a must-read for anyone who has suffered repeated abuse, verbal or physical, from anyone in their life.



Abuse doesn’t always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.

I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, andPTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.

Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it’s been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.

When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.


It sticks.

It creates PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s real and it’s serious and you don’t have to be a combat soldier or get your nose broken by your partner.

Just getting yelled at a lot is quite sufficient.

It’s not “just words.”


I know.

For reasons I will never fathom, my father does this…and I’m no longer a child nor have I lived under his roof since I was 19.

In 2013, prompted by what he felt was my rudeness, (failing to clear the breakfast table), I was subjected to yet another volley of vicious verbal abuse — in front of my husband and my father’s partner.

He has money and health and, to my mind, no reason to ever be that angry with me, ever. This pattern has been going on for decades. I still remember, years later, other altercations with his ego.

I shook all day. I shook for a long time after that.

Last summer — six years later — a brat of an editor for a major magazine decided I was out of line when I dared to disagree with her scathing opinion of my story. She refused to let me even finish my sentences.

I hung up on her.

And shook for hours.

A best-selling author recently emailed me to say he’s included some of my USA Today essay about being bullied when I was 15 at my Toronto high school.

That was an unexpected honor.

But it’s why I took the risk of writing it — in a culture of “suck it up, buttercup”, as though being told what a piece of garbage you are is somehow…useful.

People must understand what effects this has, often for life.


I’m a confident, successful woman with a great life in most respects.

But the minute someone starts verbally abusing me now, that’s it.

I’m gone.


24 thoughts on “Yes, verbal abuse causes PTSD

  1. Louisa

    I completely validate what is said here, but I’m in a professional, situation that involves verbal abuse and am really interested in anyone’s input on the following situation:

    I coach a client who is an assistant manager of a local goernment department. She used to regularly interface with an elected official (EO). The elected official is a person known for her meltdowns and personal attacks on many people, and also known that she will retaliate by going to the Board or on social media. In an earlier situation my client, who then worked for the EO, filed a hostile workplace claim with a coworker, but nothing ever happened because the EO is answerable to no one except the voters, who can only demand a recall, a rare and complicated process.

    A few months ago my client was in a meeting with the EO, and, not to much surprise, the EO got into a rage and yelled at my client for a long period. Some witnesses say my client was non-verbally rude to her by gesturing her to stop. Although I was not present, I feel the facilitator erred in not establishing more specific ground trles around personal attacks and length of comments.

    I have been working with the client since August. After the meeting my client got the Risk Management department involved stopping the LO from having in-personal contact, only phone or email. Every five weeks she reports back to Risk Management and is asked if she is ready to have face-to-face contact yet. Every time she says no.

    At our weekly sessions, i ask her and she always says no, and sometimes say, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to be in the same room with her.”

    I tell her this is untenable, that I understand she is having somatic reactions, and she is not ready yet, but that the LO was not singling her out particularly–she is known to rage at many people–and that my client in a management position cannot go on indefinitely not being willing to see the LO. Any suggestion I make, including mediation, she rejects.

    I must admit, the fact that this one-time explosion occurred feels to me like something my client could get over, if she chose.

    It is not my job to decide what should be done about this situation, if anything. But I would liked to help my client get off the impasse, even if the LO also refuses to budge. I want this both for my client’s sake and for the departments involved– it’s a terrible way to do (or bteter, NOT do) business. Any ideas?

    1. This sounds almost impossible — but I’m not a labor lawyer or an HR specialist or a therapist.

      But, and you surely don’t want to hear this —- I think this woman (abuse victim) is fully within her rights to stay away from the EO, who is legitimately abusive. Just because the voters (blindly) chose her gives her no permission to behave so unprofessionally!

      I really understand the reluctance to be in the same room again. I had a boss like this back in 1994 or 1995. She was quite likely suffering from borderline personality disorder — and I lasted 3 weeks before quitting, and had no job nor a husband. I was losing my mental health and discovered that a coworker was only able to stay because she took medication to cope.


      And, not to be rude, bu why on earth should your client “get over it” — when she has been treated like garbage and with impunity?!

      I would advise her to quit.

      But that may not be her best option. Until the EO apologizes to her, I don’t see much solution.

      Anyone else?

      1. I’m right in the middle on this. She should both get over it AND quit, and both for the same reason. That being her own rational self-interest. Quit because it’s toxic and let go because it’s going to keep on poisoning you until you do. I’ve quit jobs before and really et ’em have it. I felt like Marshall Will Kane when I did it, but I didn’t want to let that go, either. It bent my instincts toward the defensive, but not a frightened defensive, rather a confident, “Don’t mess with me” attitude. Not a strong player in the workplace in general and certainly not a good way to advance in ones career or life.
        It’s a bit out of order but roughly half of my comment is here, so I’m going to knock it out here and save us all a scroll.
        I was told I had to toughen up. I eventually did, but I have always thought it really sucked to HAVE to. Why are there assholes? Why do some assholes require a beating before they figure it out? God help us all now, the stakes are so much higher since the whole world might be looking at your trauma. Think this might get worse? At least when you got you ass kicked in the day it was over.
        You’re right, Caitlin, about how it all adds up. It’s a different thing from the PTSD that comes from a sudden, intense trauma. One is like being branded and the other is like the death of a thousand cuts. Both can overwhelm your reason, just in different ways.
        I tried EMDR therapy because combat veterans were having such success with it, but it didn’t work for me that well. I think it’s because of the thousand cuts.
        Lovely post, it fills my heart with holiday cheer.

      2. Thanks for sharing this….

        I was stunned and ashamed that this appalling baby editor rocked me so badly — and it really shook my confidence in working with anyone new to me after that as well. And with our $20,000 a year health insurance, I can’t just hide in bed and curl into the fetal position. —- but keep putting myself OUT there.

        So this is a matter of many issues: 1) your own personal mental health, which is KEY to our thriving in life; 2) our self-confidence that we are, in fact, lovable, skilled people — and THAT bullying person is just a shitty little outlier; 3) Finding (and this is tough for me) the TRUST that the next boss or client (anyone with authority over me) will not also be a brutal asshole.

        My next editor, for a major American magazine, (thank heaven) has so far been great: older, smarter, calm, communicates clearly…imagine! But it took a lot for me to feel like this would not (and still could) happen again.

      3. Something I left out that I didn’t mean to is isolation as a contributing factor. ‘Nuff said there.
        Congratulations on the major American magazine gig. When you have an article coming out, let me know so I can read it and express my outrage to the editor. Give ’em Hell.

    2. You’re making it sound like the fault lies with your client, when that clearly is not the case. Why should she ‘get over it’? I’m guessing that your client has been exposed to other peoples’ tirades in the past – maybe in childhood – and has been deeply affected by that. We don’t know peoples’ histories, they can be traumatic. In my opinion, the spotlight should be shone on the despicable EO. She needs to be NAMED and SHAMED!

      1. Agree completely — which was the point of this post.

        Bullying is deeply toxic behavior and those who get away with it do so because of impunity — this EO sounds like a piece of garbage.

        Adults have no more need of being bullied than children, even though some fantasy suggests otherwise.

      2. This lady sure isn’t getting any points with me but the question remains: Who gets to hand out the scarlet letters? Human interaction will turn into trench warfare and don’t even think you’re safe. You can be shamed for things that aren’t even true. I’m not a white supremacist but I do think it’s OK to be white. How easily would that label stick to me if enough people, not knowing anything else about me except what I said, offered their affirmation by slapping it on my back? Then let’s not forget the infamous ten-second cell phone video clip. The audio is exceptionally bad, so guess what? The loud one is the bad guy because loud is scary. Some bullies are never loud. They’re condescending, adept at verbal fencing and facile at dealing out ridicule. Go off on one of these jerks in the wrong place and you are going to get what he deserves. I think shame is best kept personal.

  2. Jan Jasper

    I had a real eye-opening experience lately when I was cleaning out some decades-old papers and I went through journals I had written 30 years ago. I reviewed what I’d written about a man I was involved with, for 6 years, when, was in my early 30s. I recall him as difficult and obnoxious. But reading my old journal now that I’m much older, I now realize that this guy was an extreme emotional abuser – constant put-downs, manipulations, and gaslighting. And then after I finally left him, he stalked me. I was too young to see all this at the time. But it was just shocking to look at it now that I’m older and realize how incredibly toxic this charismatic and impressive man really was.

  3. I so get this, sadly. having experience with this, I still have triggers too, that take me right back, and it takes a lot to overcome it. sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. yes, your retelling of your feelings and the impact all this can have on someone, is both brave and helpful to others who may read your words.

    1. Sorry to read this…It is horrifying to me how long — decades — this stuff lasts and the power it still has. The day that editor (a child!) was so rude to me I shook…and Jose knew right away what was up.

      NO manager, NO one with power should ever abuse it. That’s exactly why they do; listen to (if you dare) Jim Jordan and his LOUD voice during the current impeachment hearings, Pure bully.

  4. An important post. I only really experienced verbal bullying at school but it scarred me. Even now at 53 the sound of children laughing triggers panic attacks. The damage is indeed very real and prevents people reaching their potential due to self confidence issues.

    1. Thanks for sharing that…I am sorry to read it, but not at all surprised. This stuff is very scarring and if ANYONE tries the bullshit line “kids will be kids” I say — right, and if they HIT you or your child, you would react the same way? Well, that’s different.

      No. It’s just less visibly hurtful — and may heal faster.

  5. Perfect timing. I had just sent an email to my friend in London recommending a soon to be published memoir written by a well-known British journalist and award-winning columnist for major newspapers. Her name is Deborah Orr. Sadly, she recently died at the young age of 57. Already, her memoir is receiving praise and it’s not even out yet! In it, she writes about the very subject you mention in your blog post. Constant battling with her abusive mother gave her PTSD. The book is called Motherwell which is almost funny because a lot of it talks about her mother, but Motherwell is actually the name of the town she was born and brought up in.

    “MOTHERWELL is a sharp, candid and often humorous memoir about the long shadow that can be cast when the core relationship in your life compromises every effort you make to become an individual. It is about what we inherit – the good and the very bad – and how a deeper understanding of the place and people you have come from can bring you towards redemption.”

  6. I was in a relationship and at one point experienced verbal abuse. I’m healing from it. It happened almost 10 years ago. I never thought that would be me. I questioned who I was after that it was a difficult time. I’m healing from it. Yes PTSD is real.

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