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How abusive speech is used

How Far Does Abusive Speech Go?

The tongue has no bones but it can break bones. Sometimes maybe something more than just bones.

Real life event in a supermarket: two women argue about who has priority at the cash register. In a minute, a bitter argument erupted between strangers, hurling vulgar insults at every creature that was around them as well as the “rival” who jumped the queue. They hurled verbal threats and statements that bordered on the absurd. The audience included children, teenagers and several elderly people.

Some tried to calm things down but only the voice of a grandmother made the difference with one simple question: “What is exactly your problem? Since you are in a hurry take my place and farewell!” The voices died down and calm was immediately restored.

But there was a hard and frozen expression on the people’s faces as if a wasp had stung them on the arm, filling the atmosphere with muted tension. The younger children were crying for no reason and the older ones were posting comments on social media as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Finally, the younger received reprimands because they were “tiring” their parents.


The Elephant In The Room Is Verbal Abuse

Verbal violence has many different shades but is difficult to prove. By malicious talk or verbal abuse (also known as verbal bullying), we define direct or indirect negative statements aimed at intimidating or threatening or insulting or reducing the value of a person and/or a group of people.

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Within 24 hours we can become recipients or even bearers of abusive speech under the guise of stress and pressure in our lives. As much as we want to exonerate this “outbreak” tactic, it is in no way justified. Here it is necessary to emphasize that the consequences of abusive speech naturally do not disappear with the well-known phrases: “Come on, baby, I didn’t mean it” or “Come on, don’t be so sensitive” or “That’s me, I just call a spade a spade” and so on.

Just because almost everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s right or normal to act like a bum just because we can or because we need to vent somewhere.


Social Mobbing

We regularly hear reports of workplace mobbing. Mobbing is the psychological pressure exerted on employees by supervisors and employers, either through words or actions. How is it different from bullying? I would say mainly in the context of what happens and the indirect exercise of power that sustains it. In recent years we have noticed that this form of abuse has taken on storm proportions in our social environment and on social media.

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In my humble opinion, social mobbing and abusive speech are intimidation tactics to enforce a person’s beliefs in order to gain recognition and/or demonstrate the extent of power they have within a group or society. It is little different from common bullying but more subtle in its application practices as it concerns the belittling of the recipient.


The Lernaean Hydra With Invisible Bites

Abusive speech and psychological abuse have many heads that all leave deep wounds in people’s psyches.

Let’s look at this short story that happened in Athens some time ago. Maria S. has her own company in the field of digital marketing with a very successful course and a great circle of clients. She decides to volunteer, in her spare time, within a digital technology group to strengthen other people’s skills in the industry. She knows the subject in depth and has every good intention to offer her knowledge.

Within the first trimester, she discovers (to her horror) that the team she has chosen is made up of people who shamelessly curse those who hold different views. Gossip and taunting were their primary means of communication, and professional exclusion was their primary tactic. 

When she attempted to disengage from her obligations to the team, she became the recipient of verbal attacks, insults and threats against the professional viability of her company. So she waited patiently for the semester of voluntary cooperation to be completed in order to leave this toxic environment.

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Much to her surprise, she learned (in retrospect) that they had tarnished her name in the market, characterizing her with vulgar expressions, because she had left the particular toxic team. She had to put in a lot of effort to repair the damage and of course, she’s not even discussing the possibility of volunteering her services again anywhere. This woman has lost all appreciation for the value of volunteering. The damage was done for good.


What are the most common forms of abusive speech and behavior?

Some of the known tactics are:

  • Being rude or unfriendly for no reason.
  • Derogatory comments and mockery towards others.
  • Raise the volume of voice and shout to cover the voices of the people around.
  • When speech is full of swear words and innuendos usually around sex.
  • To think that the only appropriate way of communication is profanity.
  • To humiliate people who do not want to follow a certain attitude.
  • To belittle and exclude people belonging to sensitive social groups simply because they enjoy it.
  • Block access to business development opportunities when someone disagrees with them.
  • To leave insinuations in the air that offend those people who are considered a threat.
  • Gossip and slander those who they don’t like.
  • To think that they are always right because they play the role of the senior.
  • Blaming those who disagree with them and protecting those they consider “their tribe”.
  • Criticize without argument but accept no criticism.
  • To place obstacles and stumbling blocks for those who are more efficient & productive.
  • Not to provide adequate resources to facilitate the work of those they dislike.
  • Cultivate a climate of physical or social isolation for those people who have different beliefs.
  • Masterfully making life and communication hard in every way in order to comment on people’s performance. The so-called capsules.
  • To convey information selectively so that there is confusion and material for conflict.
  • Not to keep their commitments and agreements.
  • To “forget” what exposes them and to falsify facts for their benefit.


Don’t get me wrong, I know that it is perfectly normal for people to have disagreements and conflicts. But under no circumstances is it acceptable to consider that there is an excuse to verbally and psychologically abuse those who are in our surroundings. Especially when we are in a position that gives us room to exercise power and impose our point of view.


De parvis grandis acervus erit

The consequences of abusive talk damage a person’s psychology and often lay the groundwork for serious mental health issues. At the same time, they form a communication model that we often see on social media. The wave of verbal intimidation and abusive speech against whatever or whoever we don’t like is the easy solution to those who accumulate this toxic dynamic in communication.

Don’t forget that for every abusive word we utter and for every abusive behavior we allow to happen, we have two options:

  • Option A: We can stop at that moment and reflect on what exactly we are doing. Surely there must be some other gentler way to communicate. Let’s take a deep breath before we blurt out the first thing that pops into our heads.
  • Option B: We choose to surrender to the vicious circle of abusive behavior and abusive speech as clueless and unintelligent creatures.

In other words, the power of free will is in our hands: we choose how we react. 

So next time we publicly share our disapproval of what is happening on social media and in our social environment, let’s take the trouble to enter into deep introspection, starting with the basic question: What is the example that I set today with my own behavior?


The Root of the Problem

To make a long story short, we conveniently shift the blame to the new generation and society. In no way do we hold ourselves responsible for the shaped reality we experience. There is always a vague and impersonal object that receives our curses: “society” or “the other people”…

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As if we are something outside of this indefinite notion. But the whole of this complex concept is made up of the units (us) and the course we take step by step, choice by choice and with each individual action we do or don’t do.

Simply put, we lead the life we choose as units and as communities. In all areas and aspects of reality. After all, the quality of life is shaped by everything we do when no one is watching. The same applies to the example we set with our behavior and reactions. Morality and character develop one stone at a time.

Those who wonder why young children respond to musical stimuli full of abusive language and admire the “new stars of the music scene” most probably do not have mirrors in their homes.

Areti Vassou

Areti Vassou is the Digital Strategy Director at IDEADECO SEO Copywriting Agency and the Founder of the Greek Online Content Creators Association – GOCCA. She loves to make ideas happen through SEO, Copywriting, Blogging, Branding, Social Media, and Email Marketing. With her laptop and her Digital Nomad spirit, she has traveled to 191 countries, has published books, and participated as a Speaker in several Conferences. She adores music, cats, great food, books, and painting.


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