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Sarcasm can be an indication of abuse

a lonely tear
a lonely tear
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Disrespect comes in different forms. There are the obvious ones like name-calling, public humiliation, throwing away your things, breaking important personal items, and mocking. Sarcasm is a form of disrespect that can slip under the radar.

The definition of sarcasm in the Merriam-Webster: the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny. It’s derived from the Late Latin word sarkasmos which means to tear the flesh. Tearing flesh? That doesn’t sound very funny.

Abusers use sarcasm as a weapon to injure or gain control. Verbal aggression is a message behavior that attacks a person’s self-concept in order to deliver psychological pain according to Infante, 1995.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you are making coffee in the morning for your partner and yourself. You set out two mugs and pour coffee into both. Forgetting your partner doesn’t like cream you add it to both mugs. As you hand them their coffee they look at you incredulously and say “Are you going senile in your old age? You know I don’t take cream!”

As an isolated incident this could possibly be comedic, even if in bad taste. But when these comments are doled out repetitiously and in combination with other abuse methods it’s extremely damaging and confusing to the target.

Sarcasm is delivered in this fashion leaves the target questioning their perception.

1. Was that statement meant to be funny?
2. Am I over-reacting to this comment?
3. Do I have a right to be angry?
4. Is there truth to that statement?

If the target decides to challenge the statement the abuser can hide behind the humor and place blame onto the target by saying they can never take a joke. If someone is just trying to be funny and you take great offense and call the person on their behavior you run the risk of looking like a joy-kill. Because sarcasm can be used in social situations for comedic relief it lends itself as a very convenient tool for abusers.

Display of anger by the target is used by the abuser as the blame of the problem in the relationship. Again causing the target to question their thinking and reasoning skills. It causes great confusion in the target and abusers know this. That, after all, is the goal. To make the target weak, confused, and easily controlled.

If you would like to learn more about abuse call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or go to They can answer questions and connect you with help in your area.

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