Insult to Injury

One of the least talked about forms of abuse is intellectual abuse. Most often thought of in terms of belittling one’s intellect to make them feel ignorant or shame them with perceived stupidity, intellectual abuse is far more varied than simple name-calling. It is a combination of both emotional and verbal abuse which targets the victim’s intellect.

Bullies and abusers often exercise their superiority complex by calling the victim pejorative names:

  • Idiot
  • Moron
  • Fool
  • Ignoramus
  • Retard

Abusers take unintended or bizarre consequences and use them as a weapon against their victims. For example, Victim is driving and a tire blows out, damaging the vehicle and leaving Victim stranded on the side of the road. Abuser will leave (work, gym, social engagement) to retrieve Victim. In the ensuing berating, Abuser will tell Victim:

  • how stupid driving without checking the tires is.
  • how Victim’s stupidity could have killed someone (not Victim).
  • how long Abuser will need to work to pay off the damage.
  • what both will have to sacrifice in order to pay for repairs.
  • Victim should have known better.

The reasonable arguments against these ludicrous statements will not manifest for Victim. Instead, Victim will be convinced to forevermore check tire pressure and tread depth before getting into any vehicle. Victim will wrack the brain looking for things to do without to save money to repair the vehicle. Victim will grieve for those who were put in mortal danger from such a stupid action.


A more sinister application of intellectual abuse is when Victim must choose to abandon basic beliefs and tenets to sustain the abusive relationship. The most common scenario is making Victim choose between a life where religion plays a predominant role or a life with Abuser.

The attack begins with Abuser belittling the congregants. Once Abuser gets Victim to agree their behavior is ignorant or stupid, Abuser sets to work. Abuser will associate Victim with the people they now agree are stupid. Using guilt-by-association, Victim will distance from the congregants to escape the abuse.

Not going to happen.

Abuser will out one tenet at a time as the cause of the stupid behavior. Victim’s faith will be shaken or will disassemble under attack. If Abuser senses the slightest doubt, exploitation of the doubt is inevitable. Without insecurity, Abuser has no leverage.

Having someone dismantle the core belief system is detrimental to self-worth. Victim’s character is rooted in belief, both of the world and of spiritual matters. Emotional abusers take away the beliefs about the world. Intellectual abusers destroy the beliefs about spiritual matters.

It hurts like being stabbed in the brain.

The Inverse Is True

The opposite of the superiority-complex-driven intellectual abuse is inferiority-complex-driven. Abuser is not as smart as the victim, and must undermine Victim’s intellectual level.

How can an abuser destroy the intellect of someone who is blatantly smarter? Threats. Shame. Blame. Guilt.


The simplest weapon for intellectual abuse is the threat. Abuser threatens to leave the relationship because they are not on the same wavelength. This is code, which means:

I do not understand what you are saying because you are using terms and concepts I do not know or cannot understand, but an unwilling to attempt to learn or admit there is something I do not know.”

Victim is smart enough to know which subjects and approaches warrant this behavior. Victim will knowingly approach guiding Abuser away from detrimental or harmful situations by framing in such a way Abuser believes the solution is not Victim’s idea.


The most complicated intellectual abuse comes via outsiders. Abuser will use others’ reactions to Victim rather than admit not knowing.

If you have to explain it three times, it is not funny.

Nobody understood what you were talking about.

Do you have to be a pompous ass everywhere we go?

Did you hear your friends whispering about how you make everyone feel stupid?

Who do you think you are? Why can’t you just talk like everybody else?

Even my brother-in-law could see you treat me like an idiot.

Victim begins to believe having intelligence and using it is a handicap, precluding others from identifying. Victim will intentionally dumb down conversation. This is a win for Abuser on different levels.

  1. Abuser can understand the simpler terms, even on more complex topics.
  2. Victim alienates smart friends who think Victim is condescending.
  3. Victim is unlikely to admit being abused by a less intelligent person to anyone.

By employing others’ reactions, Abuser is convincing: The problem is with Victim’s use of the language and intelligence. Victim will weigh the inconvenience of using monosyllabic terms over the potential loss of friends and Abuser. The inconvenience often wins.


When things go horridly awry, Abuser will blame Victim. While this is commonplace no matter which form of abuse Abuser engages, it is a large part of the arsenal of intellectual abuse.

Abuser will question why Victim did not foresee disaster and do everything possible to circumvent the fallout. Regardless of the situation, one fact surfaces in every instance:

Victim is not at fault.

This blame is for consequences to Abuser’s actions. Abuser goes out with friends, loses a paycheck at a casino and comes home to blame Victim for letting Abuser go out with those friends and the paycheck. Absent are the facts:

  • Victim had no idea Abuser was going out or with whom until after the fact.
  • Victim would not have known the paycheck was in Abuser’s wallet.
  • Victim credited Abuser with the common sense to not behave this way.
  • Abuser does not seek Victim’s permission…ever.

Abuser is getting as close as possibleto owning the fact, without speaking it, Victim is smarter, has more common sense or both. Victim bears the blame for not protecting Abuser from the natural consequences to Abuser’s bad behavior.  This abuse evolves when Abuser asks:

Why didn’t you stop me?



Turning the tables on the Victim is Abuser’s plan of attack. Whether trying to get out of looking stupid for bad behavior or out of a fear of showing ignorance, Abuser gets Victim to feel guilty.

 How stupid do you think I am?”

Abuser makes Victim look like the abuser. Abuser will claim Victim speaks and acts intelligently to insult Abuser’s intelligence. Often, the rhetorical question is merely a bluff to get the Victim to admit to something or to use a different approach to a subject Abuser does not understand. By putting Victim on the defensive, Abuser makes Victim feel guilty for appearing to condescend, even when condescension never entered the picture.

Without the safety of a flame thrower.

Victim’s defense is to pour gasoline on the fire. Victim will state the things Abuser knows, even though Abuser has no such knowledge. This is the ammunition abuser needs to continue the fight. Before it is over, Victim will believe Abuser’s accusation: The Victim started the fight.

Not everybody is born with a silver spoon in their mouth.”

When there is an education gap between Abuser and Victim, Abuser will play the poverty card, regardless of parental income. Silver spoon is equivalent to other imbalances as well. Not everybody…

  • is a genius.
  • is good at math.
  • knows [expletive] everything.

All of these inequities lead Victim to feel sorry for Abuser and guilty for having an advantage.


How is it very intelligent people get abused by those who are not their intellectual equals? Intelligent people seek to resolve problems, especially resolving personal problems without offending other parties and by peaceable means. Abuser has no such compunction. Problems are a domination exercise.

Victim seeks resolution without conflict, even in situations where Abuser is not violent. Often, very smart people are equally sensitive about other’s feelings and prone to accepting a share of the blame commensurate with their intellect…more brains, more blame. Abusers exploit these tendencies and characteristics.

Never underestimate the power abusers have over their victims.

Do you know a victim of intellectual abuse? Have you been a victim? Did you know the street was two ways? 


M3 will never endorse staying in an abusive relationship. If you are the victim of abuse or know a victim of abuse, contact your local law enforcement. Help is available. If you need assistance finding help, fill out the form.

© Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. You would think intelligence would prevent one from being a victim in such cases, but as you point out, it can sometimes end up contributing to the person’s vulnerabilities.
    Binky recently posted..Right Way Wrong WayMy Profile

    • Red

       /  June 2, 2012

      Intelligence does not inhibit the desire to be accepted…especially by the ones we love.

  2. yes..yes and yes… <3Lizzie
    Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Stigma Sucks Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

  3. Interesting. This could be taken so many ways. I do believe I have seen some of this recently, but didn’t know what to call it. Now I know 🙂 Angie
    Angela recently posted..What are you kissing?My Profile

  4. After reading this….I am feeling quite shameful.
    In our home….I see this happening with all of us from time to time.
    I know we are family and at times, it is par for the course….BUT….It doesn’t make it okay and it doesn’t make it hurt less.
    Seriousness can be my kryptonite. I am feeling a bit weak now…Must go!
    Lorre recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: If you mean “my” words.My Profile


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