Words Will Never Harm Me

Kayla Lien, Opinion Writer

Growing up as a kid with acne since the first grade, I’ve come to realize the ridiculousness of the nursery rhyme that said, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me.” I’ve grown angry at the saying, “words only hurt if you let them.” Words will harm me, words do harm me, and words have harmed me. You see, I am much more sensitive than I care to admit. We all are.

It’s horrible to teach those mantras to children. Were we not allowed to feel our emotions? Were our emotional damages not cared about?

These sort of things we teach to our children makes them not recognize forms of abuse and mistreatment other than physical. When we as a society put our children down, telling them they’re “dumb” or a “mistake,” we’re ruining their self-respect and making them self-conscious. We’re making them over-think everything they do, wondering if they’re disappointing someone. We’re making them into people-pleasers. Effects of verbal abuse can include depression or anxiety, the victim could live constantly with their guard up, doubt themselves, wonder why they aren’t as happy as other people, etc. Words have the power to change someone entirely and kids are especially impressionable, because we learn our self-worth by the way others treat us.

Our children won’t recognize the negative emotional impact until they’re much older and can’t say, “No, that wasn’t right, that wasn’t okay.” When we go through traumatic experiences, our brain likes to override these memories and change what happened, burying the pain underneath other things. Regardless of the memories being pushed under the rug, they still change our personality, most of the time unconsciously.

Our society doesn’t talk too much about verbal mistreating. Regardless of that, it’s a prominent problem. When we think about people calling one other names, we play it off as “joking” or “playing.” While it does depend on the situation, if it’s someone, maybe even a stranger, coming up to you and saying something bad about you, it’s like a punch in the gut. It can hurt just as much as physical abuse.

And there’s really nothing you can do about it. It’s out there, up in the air, forever to fester in the mind of the injured. I promise, people won’t remember the good things you’ve done or what a great person you were. They’ll remember how you hurt them, how you made them feel.

Think about physical pain, like a blister on your foot or that time you hit your funny bone. You can remember it, but you can’t feel the sting, just a glancing memory. Now think of a time you hurt on the inside, like when a loved one died or someone broke your heart. You can recall that inner pain, once scabbed over, now fresh and bleeding.

Not only is verbal abuse bad for your emotional health, it also affects brain development. It can also stifle brain development altogether. “Early childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or even witnessing domestic violence, have been shown to cause abnormal physical changes in the brain of children, with lasting effects that predisposes the child to developing psychological disorders.” Says Psychology Today.

Physical pain can occur, such as migraines or stomachaches. Children who were complexly traumatized may be overly-sensitive or under-sensitive, for example, overly sensitive to sounds or touch, or not responsive to pain or internal sensations.

Emotional abuse causes physical thinning in the cortex (the part linked to brain development) where the region of the cortex has to do with self-awareness and emotional regulation, as well as areas in the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe which activates when people are asked to think about themselves or reflect on their emotions.

These children will have difficulties identifying and expressing what they’re feeling. Their reactions may be explosive or unpredictable. Long-term learned behaviors could be often internalizing stress, which could result in, as previously mentioned, anxiety and depression. They may participate in harmful behaviors that will either hurt themselves or others. Any sort of reminder of the traumatic experience(s) could cause the person to tremble, act out in anger, avoid the reminder, etc. It will be hard for them to manage their emotions, and they won’t know how to calm down.

Verbal abuse causes real harm, real pain for children, and we need to stop the continuity of it. It causes physical abnormalities to our brain, and lasting psychological disorders that have the possibility of creating physical dangers to the victim. Any and every form of abuse shouldn’t be treated so lightly in our society, especially verbal. Words are weapons; they cut deep, but don’t heal.





Healthy Place: What is Verbal Abuse?

Help Guide: Abuse and Neglect

Healthy Place: The Effects of Verbal Abuse

Last Resistance: Verbal Abuse is as Bad as Physical Abuse

Psychology Today: Brain Damage

NPR: Our Brains Rewrite Our Memories

NCTSN: Effects of Complex Trauma

Healthland: Sexual and Emotional  Abuse Scar the Brain in Different Ways