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Nancy Schimelpfening

Words Can Hurt You

By May 29, 2007

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Despite what the children's rhyme says, words can hurt you, say researchers.

More than 500 people responded to an ad asking whether their parents had ever yelled at them, sworn at them, insulted, threatened or ridiculed them. Out of those respondents who said they had never been physically abused, the ten percent who reported they had been verbally abused the most frequently were selected to answer a series of questionnaires about depression, anxiety, anger and dissociative experiences. They were also asked about symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy. Their results were compared with a control group.

The researchers found that victims of all types of abuse, physical and emotional, were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, dissociation and epilepsylike symptoms. Verbal abuse had just as a strong effect as physical abuse and was a particularly strong risk factor for dissociative episodes and epilepsylike symptoms.

The authors point out that in surveys 63 percent of American parents admit that they have sworn at or insulted a child at some time, but children will not be traumatized by the occasional harsh word. Constant and severe abuse is what creates the risk.

The story was reported in the April issue of Harvard Mental Health Letter.

May 30, 2007 at 6:19 am
(1) moe says:

i totally agree with this article,i was abused physically,sexually and emotionally and i believe that my emotional abuse has affected me more than the other two.

May 30, 2007 at 6:27 am
(2) heartland heretic says:

I was verbally, psychologically and physically abused by my father. I am now 47 and he is still psychologically abusive. I have had depression and anger issues all of my life. I have shot two men, stabbed one, and maced numerous people all in “perceived” self defense. (Quotation: word of prosecutor). I am dying of heart disease compounded by 18 years of HIV. Tell me there is no connection! I’ll disagree.

May 30, 2007 at 7:51 pm
(3) Jim says:

I agree with the notion that verbally abusive parents can cause emotional and psychological problems for individuals. I also believe that older siblings can cause much the same problems by being psychologically and verbal abusive of siblings, if they are preceived by the sibling as having authority over them.

May 30, 2007 at 10:48 pm
(4) dr torg says:


May 31, 2007 at 7:37 am
(5) BP says:

My older brother ws verbally abusive, and it has had a big impact on my life I am now 52). What started to mome into play about 5 years ago was that I never felt protected by my parents or oldest brother. Not much I can do now, just an observation.

But what haunts me continuously now is that I was verbally abusive to my 3 children (they are all of adult age now). I have spoken with each of them about it and they have forgiven me, and we have a pretty good relationship, but how can I forgive myself? It’s been hard to deal with.

May 31, 2007 at 7:43 am
(6) BP says:

I need to add something to what I just posted here- when I spoke with each of my kids I also told them how very sorry I am for what I had done. But it still haunts on a daily basis. Actually, I don’t even know if I SHOULD be allowed to stop having this self-imposed burden.

Just wanted to add that.

May 31, 2007 at 11:19 am
(7) Robert Heard says:

As much as I feel your comments are accurate, I feel that you should include all trauma including sexual abuse. I also feel that to mention the concerns about Post Truamatic Stress are valide.

Robert Heard, MA, BCETS

May 31, 2007 at 2:34 pm
(8) Amy says:

For me the worst part wasn’t the occasional hurtful words, it was the ignoring and refusal to talk about things. I grew up not being able to ask questions or talk to my parents. Anything considered sad was completely avoided, anything that was considered a hassle was avoided. On the outside, people saw a Beaver Cleaver family. On the inside, I wasn’t sure if I was truly loved or appreciated. On top of that, I never learned how to deal with uncomfortable situations and I still suffer from being a people pleaser. As a teacher, I watch out for the little people pleasers in my classroom, because I worry about them being afraid to make a mistake. But , I could go on and on. I just think ignoring is another form of emotional abuse.

May 31, 2007 at 2:47 pm
(9) kara olson says:

My mother has said some of the worst things to me ever since I can remember. She is 65 now and continues to do so. Lately, I’ve been told to get up off the couch and do something, which having a severe bout of depression right now and for quite sometime, is almost impossible. When she runs out of her usual put downs, she creates them and passes them along to whoever will listen. It’s all very sick. I stupidly keep thinking she will change but she won’t. Her voice never leaves my head and I wish it would stop. I have always made sure to tell my girls how important and loved they are and they will never dissapoint me. I wish someone would listen and help.

May 31, 2007 at 8:28 pm
(10) lori says:

This is the first time I’ve commented so “bare” with me. Where do we begin? There’s just so much to all the hurt, frustration and confusion it seems so endless. I guess we have to tackle each of these things as they come up and they seem to come up repeatedly. I know I was verbally (is that the same thing as emotionally?) abused. The one that stands out the most though I heard so often, it wasn’t until I was an adult and actually “heard” the words I realized that they weren’t terms of endearment. “I’m going to beat you to a bloody pulp.” I guess that it’s a good thing that I never stop to consider just what a bloody pulp might be. What kind of person is it that would even consider doing such a thing. Yeah, words do hurt. Children hurt other children all the time with words. I hurt myself with the words I call myself. When I’m depressed and vulnerable, the most innocent use of a word can cut me right to my core. Most likely an emotion from the dark past has been triggered.
bp – you don’t deserve to continue to carry your burden. May I suggest that when you are haunted talk to yourself as you would to one of your kids if they beat themselves up like that. For me, if I keep up the positive response to the negative thought eventually I no longer have that line coming up. Of course there’s always another one to take it’s place, but that’s where we have to be willing to try and keep plugging along. My heart goes out to all of you, to all of us that have to keep hurting. I guess the only thing that I can offer you is please know that someone out here cares and understands at least a little bit how you may be feeling.

June 4, 2007 at 11:12 am
(11) Jayde says:

One thing that occurred to me when reading this article: depression can be a biochemical problem. This biochemical problem can run in families (it does in mine). In some (definitely not all!) cases, the verbally abusive parents could also have suffered depression and “taken it out” on their children. Prior generations did not understand clinical depression like we do today.

June 9, 2007 at 1:30 pm
(12) Debby says:

To Kara Olson:
Dear Kara, I understand completely. I’m worried about you, and want to help you. I think we both need gentle encouragement to try to help ourselves. I would like for you to have my email address so we can talk, but I don’t know how to do that. If you know how, please lets try to help and encourage eacn other. I care very much about you. You are certainly worth it. And you sound like a wonderful Mom.
Love, Debby

July 4, 2007 at 11:33 am
(13) Mary Keane says:

Bi-polar 25 year old male distressed by cruel comments by otherwise loving and caring Father. Would it help if he were to confront his parent and explain how this behavior is hurting him or would this be counterproductive. Any advice will be very welcome. Thak You Mary

March 30, 2008 at 10:06 pm
(14) scott pemberton says:

hay i have been abused verbally wen i told my dad i was bi then he came around to it and saw how i felt and ev’en though im not the perfect person i stilll think god still loves me no matter waht i do

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