Verbal abuse is not as harmless to children as you think

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Over the years, it has been drilled into the minds of persons that if you are not physically harmed you aren’t really hurt. Women and men, especially men, are of the understanding that toughness is shown when you do not show emotions to pain as that is a sign of weakness. Persons living with having to succumb to the experiences of verbal abuse, in particular, have had to adapt to societal demands that one should be unaffected by scorn, belittling and unkind words.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.

However, an experiment by Ethan Kross revealed that the circuitry within the brain for emotional and physical pain is the same. It involved the parts of the brain which process effective and sensory components of physical pain. Using MRI scanning, the experimenters asked participants to look at a photo of their ex, one of which experienced a hurtful break-up and think about the moment where they felt rejected. Then they gave the participants a photo of their best friend or close friend who was the same gender as their ex to which they were prompted to think of positive thoughts they enjoyed with the person. Subsequent to this, pain tests, where a ‘hot trial’ which hurt and a ‘warm’ trial that had enough heat to cause sensation without discomfort, were administered. The results found that some parts of the brain that lit up when the ex and the moment of the breakup were recalled was the same as when the ‘hot’ trial was administered.

While some can brush off their shoulders and backs and move on in life unaffected by the words of another, others allow the words to seep in deep and affect them so much that their functionality becomes hindered. This is as a result of the person who is the perpetrator being closely related to the victim. Be it a family member, a friend, a partner, a colleague, a neighbor, even a teacher.

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“Verbal abuse, in relation to children, is defined as the “psychological maltreatment of children occurs when a person conveys to a child that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered or only of value in meeting other needs.” – American Academy of Pediatrics.

So before you open your mouth to say something, think about how words are notably powerful; that they can lift us up or make us feel horrible, soothe us or damage us.

By Alexandra Daley



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