Verbal aggressiveness, like hostility, is considered a trait of neuroticism, and is a subset of hostility. Verbal aggressiveness means a tendency to attack the self-concepts of others, rather than, or in addition to, their positions on issues. Attacks on self-concepts are expressions of verbal aggressiveness.
Research shows three main areas of self-concept attacks: group membership (your family are all liars and cheats), personal failings (you totaled your car three years ago), and relationship failings (maybe your ex wasn't actually the problem). Attacks on another person's positions are considered argumentative, while attacks on another person's self-concept are considered verbally aggressive.
There are several types of attacks in verbally aggressive communication. The first of these has been identified as competence attacks, or attacks on another's ability to do something (you can't do anything right), which can instill hurt, pain, and embarrassment. Competence attacks focused in one area can indeed lead that person to diminished competence in that area and weaken that person's desire to continue to perform that task.
The second type of attack is character attacks, such as, "You're a liar." These also result in embarrassment, hurt, and psychological pain. Profanity is ubiquitous in verbally aggressive communications and often involves the use of obscene words, epithets, and vulgarities. Calling someone a cheap bastard fits in this category.
The third area of attack is teasing and ridicule. When people tease, they make fun of, or playfully mock, someone else. It is a more playful form of verbal aggression, yet it can inflict psychological harm and damage, thus fulfilling the objective of verbal aggression to inflict harm and pain on another. Some teasing episodes are so painful that we remember them years later, along with the hurt and embarrassment they evoked.
Ridicule is closely related to teasing, and involves using words or deeds to evoke condescending laughter directed at someone else. Teasing can be affectionate, thus strengthening a relationship, or aggressive, which is destructive. Aggressive teasing is a masked expression of anger or hostility.
Maledictions are wishes for someone's ill-being and provide the next category of aggressive behaviors. Examples are, "get lost," or, "drop dead." Threats are another form and explicitly suggest an intention to inflict physical or psychological pain, injury, or some other harm on another. Siblings engage in this all the time with examples such as, "If you tell dad I'll kill you."
The next area of verbal aggressiveness is nonverbal and verbal aggression. These include gestures, such as flipping the bird, or making an L with your thumb and forefinger placed on your forehead to symbolize loser. Additional categories of verbal aggressiveness include personality attacks, such as, "He's a jackass," negative comparison, such as, "You're not as pretty as your sister," attacking the significant others of the target, such as, "Your kids are so ill-mannered," blame, "You are the reason I'm broke," and disconfirmation, which means completely ignoring another person or making like they simply don't exist.
Five causes have been identified as explaining verbal aggressiveness: psychopathology, disdain, social learning, argumentative skill deficiency, and genetics. Psychopathology means an individual expresses hostility that was previously repressed. Disdain is severe dislike or hatred for another. Social learning suggests that we learn verbal aggressiveness from those around us. Finally, verbal aggressiveness might be genetically inherited.
-In dating relationships, research suggests that the use of verbal aggressiveness begets verbal aggressiveness.
-Within families, verbal aggressiveness is most often destructive, while argumentativeness is most often constructive.
-Within marriages, work by Gottman suggests that hostility leads to relational dissatisfaction and, quite often, a breakup.
-From parents to children, some countries have recognized verbal aggressiveness as so damaging to children's healthy development, that they have banned the use of parental verbal aggression by law. These countries include Austria, Denmark, Germany, Israel, and Sweden. These laws were instituted in the recognition that verbal aggressiveness is a form of violence that inflicts psychological injury on children.
Most parent-child verbal aggressiveness comes in the form of threats of physical violence and swearing. Research shows that when parents use verbal aggressiveness with their children, children commonly develop depression, antisocial behavior, and eating disorders.
Three major parenting styles have been identified: autonomy-love, which supports and encourages the child's individuality; control-hostility, which is highly demanding and not responsive to the child's needs; and control-love, in which the parent gives in to the child's whims, uses ridicule, and love withdrawal. Parents high in argumentativeness and low in verbal aggressiveness reported autonomy-love behaviors, while parents low in argumentativeness and high and verbal aggressiveness reported control-hostility behaviors. Verbally aggressive communication in parents to their children characterizes a potentially destructive parenting style.
Some research has shown that levels of argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness in both sons and daughters correlated highly with their mothers' levels of these traits. Further research has found that children of verbally aggressive mothers have more difficulty in interpersonal relationships later in life, and tend to use more verbal aggressiveness within their own romantic relationships. As their mother's use of verbal aggression increased, these adult children reported less emotional support and interpersonal solidarity in their own romantic relationships.
These researchers suggest that maternal verbal aggressiveness creates a cycle that leads to less satisfying and less productive adult relationships. Also, verbal aggressiveness may not be a cause of physical violence, but is always present in physical violence.