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.