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170+ Verbally Abusive Things Too Many Moms Say

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

“Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else.” - Maya Angelou

This blog post will probably ruffle a few feathers. I can hear it already. I’ll be called a “snowflake therapist” and an “entitled millennial” (which of course is delightfully ironic given that name calling is one of the twenty-one verbal abuse subtypes I’ll be going over in this blog post).

I imagine the Pain Police will also make an appearance to accuse me of not knowing what abuse is and of “cheapening its meaning.” You’re in the presence of the Pain Police when you come across comments like:

  • “Grounding a kid to their room without supper is abuse now? Wah Wah! What's next? Yelling at your kid is abusive too?”

  • “Umm my parents beat me with a belt. Spankings are abusive? Come on now. Getting a spanking is nothing.”

  • “I tell my kids they’re annoying me all the time. They know I don’t mean it. My mom used to say she wanted to kill me. Now that’s actually abusive!”

Apparently the Pain Police are in charge of telling all 8 billion of us what we are and are not allowed to have trauma from. In case you know someone perfect for the job, prospective Pain Police must demonstrate nonexistent empathy, a persistent belief that the world revolves around them, and extensive experience in one-upmanship. That person you know who sees themselves as the gold standard? They'd be a total shoo-in.

Trying to prove a negative

And don’t even get me started on the abuse apologists who happen to be related to me. I know they’ll appreciate mistaking this blog post for yet another piece of “evidence”:

Them: See! Stephi doesn’t even know what abuse really is because she’s calling things abuse that aren’t even abuse! Stephi couldn’t possibly have been abused by her mom (aka my daughter/mother/sister/aunt) because she doesn’t know what abuse even is!

Of course none of them know the full story of how Mom abused me (they didn’t believe me about the small stuff so there was no point in telling them the big stuff). But this hasn’t stopped them all these years later from maintaining that I'm the baddie for going no contact with her.

It’s an odd take, for sure. I mean just typing that out made me cringe for these extended family members. Unfortunately such thinking is just another Tuesday in dysfunctional families. As a counselor who specialize in the mother wound, I see it all the time: the dysfunctional family expects members to deny their own well-being in order to prop up the false family narrative.

Why write this blog post then?

If I’m not writing this blog post in pursuit of serene comment sections, and if I know it will be seen as a “win” by my abuse apologist family members who’ve cut me off because I cut off my abuser mom (it’s okay to laugh at the irony), why am I writing it?

I’m writing it because I want to put myself out of business.

Look, healing the mother wound is amazing. I’ve experienced it in my own life, and I love witnessing it in the lives of my clients. Life-changing stuff. But you know what’s even better?

Preventing it in the first place.

And how do we prevent the mother wound? We prevent it by listening to mother wound survivors.

Listening to mother wound survivors

I have the incredible privilege of sitting in sessions with mother wound survivors each and every day. I'm right there in the front row as these courageous adult children heal trauma from their abusive mothers and other abusive parents/caregivers.

I'm someone who's studied the effects of parenting academically, professionally and now personally. What I can tell you is this: it’s the work with my counseling clients that's taught me more about how to parent than any graduate course, textbook, or popular parenting book ever has.

Something I’ve learned is that it’s one thing to read in a book (or peer-reviewed study) that x parenting practice is fine and another thing all together to sit there with a real live person as they tell you between heavy sobs how x parenting practice was not at all fine.

One of the first things my new parent clients want to know is if their own parenting is hurting their children. Put more succinctly, they want to know if they're repeating the cycle of parental abuse or breaking it. Their question usually goes something like this, “So I know you talk to a lot of people who’ve been hurt by their parents. I do x with my kids. Have you ever had a client say x hurt them?”

When my answer aligns with the parenting choice the client was already making, it comes as a welcome relief. When it doesn't, when my answer isn’t so reassuring. There are often tears followed by courageous questions about how to best be accountable as a parent, rectify the damage and ultimately move forward.

How this blog post works

In this blog post you’ll find 170+ verbally abusive things real mothers have said to their children. These phrases aren’t included here because I personally find them to be abusive. This isn't an opinion piece. They’re here because I’ve sat with real people who heard these very words from their own mothers and were deeply hurt by them.

If I were to write every abusive word or phrase down for you that my clients have shared with me, I’d need books, not a blog post. Since this is a blog post, what I did is decided to only include those phrases that have been categorized as abusive and/or traumatic by several different clients.

For ease of reading, I then sorted the phrases into 21 verbal abuse types. One final thing. Since this is the Mother Wound Project I’ve opted to focus on verbally abusive phrases said by mothers. You can learn more about this choice here.

If you’re reading as a parent, I hope you’ll have the courage to listen. And if you’re someone who’s been hurt by a parent with any of these verbally abusive words, I hope you’ll know just how not alone you are.

1. Ableist Verbal Abuse

The stigma in our culture against disabled people is a stigma many of us first experience not from other kids out on the playground but at home from our own mothers. There’s a lot of talk about bullying by peers at school, but what if you’re being bullied at home by one of the most influential adults in your life? Where’s all the talk about that?

Examples of ableist verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “You’re mentally ill. What do you know?”

  2. “You’re borderline.”

  3. “Are you really this dumb?”

  4. “I’m not getting you therapy. Therapy is for weaklings.”

  5. “If you’re so depressed you should kill yourself.”

  6. “You’re crazy/mental.”

  7. “You’re so narcissistic!”

  8. "You're acting like an idiot."

  9. "You need therapy."

More examples found in the wild

2. Body Shaming Verbal Abuse

It used to be thought that we experience body shaming first from our peers at school and the media, but studies are showing this isn’t always the case. For many of us, mom is the very first person to shame us about our bodies, and the damage can be severe enough to result in eating disorders, sexual difficulties, or sometimes even suicide.

Examples of body shaming verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Are you seriously going to wear that?”

  2. “Your hair’s all stringy and greasy.”

  3. “Your real hair color is too dark.”

  4. “You look like a fat cow.”

  5. “You’re so ugly.”

  6. “Eww. You smell nasty.”

  7. “I can’t be seen with you when you look like that.”

  8. "Do you live to eat or eat to live."

  9. "Is [your name] big and ugly or ugly and big?"

  10. "You're a but-her-face."

  11. "Well it looks stupid."

  12. “Just look at how you look.”

More examples found in the wild

3. Bandwagoning Verbal Abuse

Bandwagoning verbal abuse happens when a mother uses the real or imagined opinions of other people to sway her child’s choices or actions. Bandwagoning effectively says, I'm right that you're so bad/wrong because all these other people agree with me." As social animals, we humans care about what others think about us, so it makes sense that bandwagoning can be very persuasive. A good counter to bandwagoning is the fact that sometimes what’s most popular is actually the least moral or ethical.

Examples of bandwagoning verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Everyone agrees that you’re the problem.”

  2. “Nobody likes you.”

  3. “The common denominator is you.”

  4. “No one’s ever going to want you.”

  5. “You don’t belong in this family.”

  6. “The whole family hates you.”

  7. “No wonder you don’t have any friends.”

An example found in the wild

4. Blame-Shifting Verbal Abuse

Blame-shifting happens in mother-child relationships when abusive mothers redirect responsibility for their actions onto their children. As a result of maternal blame-shifting, children often blame themselves for their mother's own poor choices, including the abuse of them. This self-blame can last into adulthood.

Examples of blame-shifting verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “It’s all your fault!”

  2. “I wouldn’t have to spank you if you would have listened.”

  3. “Having you made me get fat!”

  4. “You’re the reason your father committed suicide.”

  5. “Your stepdad left me because of you!”

  6. “I got fired from work because you made me late.”

  7. “I yelled at you because you pissed me off.”

  8. “I wouldn’t have said it if you would have…”

More examples found in the wild

5. Comparative Verbal Abuse

Comparative verbal abuse by mothers can be absolutely brutal, so it’s no wonder those who experience it often remember it decades later. Mothers who engage in this type of emotional manipulation compare their children with others such as an absent father or a more successful sibling in order to alter, change, or control something about their child.

Examples of comparative verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “You’re just like your father!”

  2. “Why can’t you be like your sister?”

  3. “But your cousin could afford to buy a house.”

  4. “I’ve always loved your brother more.”

  5. “Other kids your age can figure this out.”

  6. “Your twin sister is my favorite child.”

  7. “Your cousin doesn’t act like this so why do you?”

  8. "Why can't you be normal?"

  9. "Your sister can do it and she's younger than you."

More examples found in the wild

6. Contemptuous Verbal Abuse

Mother doesn’t always mean sunshine and roses. For some, mother means contempt in the form of intense disdain or scorn. Mothers who engage in contemptuous verbal abuse communicate to their children the belief that they the child are inferior or unworthy. Needless to say, contemptuous verbal abuse incredibly painful.

Examples of contemptuous verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. "You're miserable to be around."

  2. “I can’t stand you.”

  3. “I’m ashamed of you.”

  4. “I’m disappointed in you.”

  5. “You ruin everything.”

  6. “I raised you better than this.”

  7. “You’re so f*cked up.”

  8. “Get out of my sight.”

  9. “You make me sick!”

  10. “You make me want to kill myself.”

  11. “You’ll never amount to anything.”

  12. “You aren’t worth it.”

An example found in the wild

7. Disowning Verbal Abuse

For young children, disowning verbal abuse can be particularly traumatic because at this age we are dependent on our parents/caregivers for our very survival. It’s important to remember that a mother doesn’t need to disown her child in the legal sense for her disowning comments to be hurtful to her child. Even knowing that your mother doesn’t want to acknowledge, accept, or associate with you can erode away at your self worth.

Examples of disowning verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “I should have put you up for adoption.”

  2. “I wish you’d never been born.”

  3. “I never should have had kids.”

  4. "You’re a mistake.”

  5. “I can’t wait till you graduate.”

  6. “I should have gotten an abortion.”

  7. “You’re dead to me!”

  8. “Giving birth to you was a mistake.”

  9. “I’m disowning you.”

  10. “Get out of my house. You don’t live here anymore!”

  11. “I wish I wasn’t your mom.”

More examples found in the wild

8. Entitlement Verbal Abuse

Mothers who use entitled verbal abuse send the message to their children that they—“But I’m your mother!”—are deserving of special attention, privileges, care, benefits, etc. Children who grow up with self-important, entitled mothers can think Mom’s selfish behavior is normal because they’ve become so accustomed to it. This of course can make the problem difficult to recognize.

Examples of entitlement verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Because I said so.”

  2. “Grandparent’s rights! I deserve a relationship with my grandkid!”

  3. “I’m the mother, and you’ll do as I say.”

  4. “You owe me grandchildren.”

  5. “It’s my way or the highway.”

More examples found in the wild

9. Gaslighting Verbal Abuse

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading about the mother wound or about any other form of relational or developmental trauma, then you’re likely already familiar with gaslighting. Gaslighting is right up there amongst the 10 most common problems I talk about with my clients who were raised by abusive parents and caregivers.

One of gaslighting’s biggest yet least acknowledged hurdles is just how “normal” it is. Many (most?) of us grew up in families where gaslighting was just as common as any other form of communication. Because of this, we can easily fail to recognize it for the problem that it really is.

Examples of gaslighting verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “I never did/said that.”

  2. “It’s all in your head.”

  3. “I was just joking.”

  4. “You’re confused.”

  5. “You’ve got it all wrong.”

  6. “You’re crazy.”

  7. “You’re not remembering it right.”

  8. "Where's your sense of humor?"

  9. "Lighten up."

  10. "That didn't happen."

  11. "I don't remember it that way."

  12. "You're exaggerating."

More examples found in the wild

10. Guilt Trip Verbal Abuse

Guilt trip verbal abuse is a destructive form of emotional manipulation. Mothers who guilt trip try to get their children to feel guilty or a sense of obligation in order to ultimately alter their decision-making or behavior.

Examples of guilt trip verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “After everything I’ve done for you…”

  2. “But I spent all that money on you!”

  3. “When you act up at school it makes me sad.”

  4. “You world doesn’t revolve around you.”

  5. ‘But what about my feelings?”

  6. “I guess I’m just the worst mom ever!”

  7. “If you loved me you would…”

  8. “If you don’t hug me I’ll cry."

  9. “I was just trying to help."

  10. “I'll just move away so you’ll never have to see me again.”

  11. “I sacrificed everything for you.”

More examples found in the wild

11. Indifference Verbal Abuse

Indifference in mother-child relationships can be extremely damaging. Mothers who engage in indifference verbal abuse communicate a lack of interest or apathy towards their children. In healthy mother-child relationships mothers are actively engaged and interested in their children.

Examples of indifference verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “I don’t care about you.”

  2. “I don’t care what you think.”

  3. “Who asked you?”

  4. “I don’t want to hear about it.”

  5. “Why should I care?”

  6. “Tell someone who cares.”

  7. “That’s not my problem.”

  8. “Are you still talking?”

  9. "Tell that to someone who cares."

  10. “Do whatever you want. I don’t care anymore.”

  11. "Do I look like I care?"

More examples found in the wild

12. Internalized Misogyny Verbal Abuse

Dysfunctional mothers express harmful attitudes and stereotypes about women and femininity to their children all the time. This type of verbal abuse manifests in varying ways such as forbidding specific feelings for children of certain genders, judging children’s abilities based on gender, or regarding particular toys as being “for” a child of one gender but not a child of another gender.

Examples of internalized misogyny verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Boys don’t cry.”

  2. “Real men don’t talk about their feelings.”

  3. “Men don’t like opinionated women, so keep your opinions to yourself.”

  4. “Smile! Good girls don’t get angry.”

  5. “Toughen up and act like a man.”

  6. “Get off your butt and clean! What kind of wife are you?

  7. “You’re a boy. You can’t play with that.”

  8. “Quit acting like a big sissy.”

More examples found in the wild

13. Invalidation Verbal Abuse

Invalidation happens when a mother dismisses, disregards, or denies her child’s feelings. People who experience invalidation verbal abuse from their mothers often report feeling unheard or unimportant.

Examples of invalidation verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “You need to grow some thicker skin.”

  2. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

  3. “Stop being so emotional.”

  4. “You don’t even know what real problems are.”

  5. “Why are you being so dramatic?”

  6. “You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

  7. “Quit being so sensitive.”

  8. “You have nothing to feel sad about.”

  9. “Stop crying!”

  10. “Why do you always have to get upset over nothing?”

  11. “If it’s so bad why haven’t you called CPS?”

  12. “Get over it already.”

  13. “You’re just looking for things to be mad about.”

  14. “You just like feeling sorry for yourself.”

More examples found in the wild

14. Name Calling Verbal Abuse

Being called names by our own mother can be incredibly painful no matter how young or old we are. And it’s also a type of verbal abuse that’s common amongst abusive mothers.

If you’ve asked your mom to stop name calling, and she responds dismissively by saying something along the lines of “It was just a joke,” this is not okay. Abusers will often say this exact thing to shift the focus away from themselves. And remember, it’s not a joke if not everyone is finding it funny.

Examples of name calling verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Bitch!”

  2. “You’re such a brat.”

  3. “You’re a monster.”

  4. “Dumbf*ck!”

  5. “Idiot!”

  6. “Little cunt!”

  7. “F*cker!”

  8. “You’re a loser.”

  9. “Mother f*cker!”

  10. “F*cking prick!”

  11. “Slut!”

More examples found in the wild

15. Playing the Victim Verbal Abuse

It’s important to think about these next few in the proper context: a mother-child relationship in which a mother abuses her child and then portrays herself as if she’s somehow the victim of her child. The problem is not necessarily the words themselves, but the context in which they’re said.

Why would a mother hurt her child and then act as if she is the one who was hurt? Something I’ve learned from my clients is that learned from my work with my counseling clients that these things are often said by abusive mothers after the abused child dares to speak up or attempts to defend themselves.

Examples of playing the victim verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “I’m not your punching bag!”

  2. “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

  3. “Why are you always so mean to me?”

  4. “You’re the one abusing me.”

  5. “As a child you terrorized me.”

  6. “I have to walk on eggshells around you.”

  7. “You’re twisting my words.”

  8. “I can’t believe you would say that to me.”

  9. “Sorry I’m not perfect.”

  10. “You abused me when you said I was abusive.”

More examples found in the wild

16. Scaremongering Verbal Abuse

Scaremongering verbal abuse is used to incite feelings of fear or panic with the ultimate goal of influencing decision-making. It’s a control tactic that too many mothers use that can result in their children having anxiety disorders and phobias long past the time the hurtful words were said.

Examples of scaremongering verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “You’ll get kidnapped if…”

  2. “I’m giving you until the count of three.”

  3. “I’m taking you to the orphanage.”

  4. “If you don’t come with me right now then I’ll leave you at the store.”

  5. “That mean man over there will take you away if…”

  6. “I’ll throw your toys out if…”

  7. “If I have to say it one more time…”

  8. “I’m going to call the police and ask them to arrest you if…”

  9. “If you don’t shape up I’m canceling your birthday.”

More examples found in the wild

17. Sexual Verbal Abuse

Sexual abuse isn’t always physical. Sometimes sexual abuse is verbal. Mothers who engage in sexual verbal abuse say things that are sexual in nature to their children in an effort to demean, harass, mock, shame, or humiliate them.

Examples of sexual verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Stop walking like that. It’s seductive.”

  2. “Whipping your boobs out to breastfeed in the middle of the family room is the same thing as a man whipping out his penis.”

  3. “You’re wearing that top to get your stepdad’s attention, but he’s my husband!”

  4. “You’re such a slut!”

  5. “Sitting with your legs open makes you look like a hussy.”

  6. “Look at those cute little titties of yours! You’re going to make a man very happy some day!”

  7. “I’m so glad my boobs aren’t as big as yours.”

  8. “I’ll pull your pants down right here in front of god and everyone and whoop your @ss.”

  9. “Do it again and I’m taking your door off the hinges.”

More examples found in the wild

18. Shaming Verbal Abuse

Shaming someone is very different from holding them accountable. Shaming says, “Something’s wrong with you,” whereas holding someone accountable says, “You did something wrong.” One is about who you are, and the other is about a choice you made.

Being shamed is so incredibly damaging because it brings us to question our entire selves and to doubt our very worth. But it gets worse. The effects of shaming are exponentially more harmful when the person shaming us is a parent or caregiver and we’re a child.

In her bestselling book Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “Shame is so painful for children because it is inextricably linked to the fear of being unlovable.” When we’re shamed as children, our brains read this as a threat to our very survival—for our not-so-distant ancestors being unlovable meant being left behind which meant being a saber tooth tiger’s lunch.

Examples of shaming verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “What’s wrong with you?”

  2. “You’re a bad kid.”

  3. “You’re hopeless.”

  4. “All you ever do is complain.”

  5. “How many times do I have to tell you?”

  6. “You’re so annoying.”

  7. Why did you say THAT?"

  8. “You’re such a pain in the ass.”

  9. “Why are you such a burden?”

  10. “All you are is a screw up.”

  11. “You’re a waste of space.”

  12. “You just want everything handed to you.”

  13. “You’re so lazy.”

  14. “You’re spoiled.”

  15. “You’re so ungrateful.”

More examples found in the wild

19. Silencing Verbal Abuse

There are many different forms of silencing verbal abuse. A mother can work to suppress her child’s voice verbally by interrupting them, dismissing their perspective, or actively preventing them from speaking or sharing their thoughts. Healthy mothers encourage open communication even when they have a different opinion.

Examples of silencing verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “Shut up!”

  2. “If you talk about this the police will take me and Daddy away to jail.”

  3. “Who cares what you think?”

  4. “Nobody will ever believe you over me.”

  5. “Who do you think you are?”

  6. "Do us all a favor and shut up."

  7. "Would you be quiet?"

More examples found in the wild

20. Threatening Violence Verbal Abuse

Studies show that threats of violence can be just as harmful as violence itself. What’s more, it’s not unusual for trauma survivors to describe threats of violence as more psychologically damaging for them than acted upon violence.

Still, however, the myth persists in our families and in our broader culture (and sadly even amongst some mental health professionals) that threatened violence is nothing compared to acted upon violence. Perhaps we’re taught this because humans want to live in a world where words can’t be hurtful. Whatever the reason, as Aldous Huxley rightfully once said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored."

Examples of abusive mothers using verbal abuse to threaten violence that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”

  2. “I’ll give you something to cry about!”

  3. ”I’ll bust your @ss.”

  4. “I’m going to beat the shit out of you.”

  5. “I’m getting the paddle/spoon/shoe/belt!”

  6. “I can knock your teeth out.”

  7. “I’ll smack that smile right off your face.”

  8. “Do it and I’ll smash your face in!”

  9. “I’m going to kill you.”

  10. “Wait till your dad gets home.”

More examples found in the wild

21. Withholding Positive Regard Verbal Abuse

Mothers who withhold positive regard do so by intentionally not showing or expressing approval, appreciation, or positive emotions toward their child. This can include things like downplaying a child’s achievements, dismissing their efforts, or denying their skills/talents. People who experience this form of verbal abuse from their mothers talk about feeling rejected, inadequate, and unloved.

Examples of withholding positive regard verbal abuse by abusive mothers that my mother wound clients have shared with me include:

  1. “I don’t love you anymore.”

  2. “I never loved you.”

  3. “I should have punished you more.”

  4. “I love you, but I don’t like you.”

  5. “I can’t stand you.”

  6. “Why are you always so negative?”

  7. “I hate you!”

  8. “I’m ashamed of you.”

  9. “I don’t believe you.”

  10. “I knew you couldn’t do it.”

More examples found in the wild


Meet Reclaim!

Stephi Wagner, MSW's 60-day mother wound healing journal is here! If you like what Stephi shares on Instagram, you won't want to miss this. Mother wound recovery here you come!

reclaim - 60-day mother wound journal


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