Whether you abuse someone verbally or physically, the distinction doesn’t really matter. What matters is how worthless and powerless your words or actions can make a person feel in just one single moment. And that one horrible feeling, that knot in their stomach, that urge to cry, to scream, to just run away from you, that is what will stick with them for an entire lifetime. We tend to believe that verbal abuse is something that can be overlooked. We believe it’s something that doesn’t really matter just because it doesn’t leave you with any visible scars on your body.
But what about the scarring of our mind? What about the permanent harm it does to our personality? What about the feelings of humiliation that stick with us for a lifetime?
The time has come to accept that verbal abuse exists, to accept that it is just as painful as physical abuse, and to accept that we need to learn to fight it. Here are 5 reasons why verbal abuse deserves to have our full attention:
Emotional and physical pain both result in the same circuitry
It turns out that the term “heartbroken” may not be just a metaphor after all. Science has tried, time and again, to prove that physical and emotional pain can be equated the same way. In a number of experiments performed by Naomi L. Eisenberg and her fellows, it was shown through neuroimaging that whenever the participants felt socially excluded, the circuitry that got activated was the same as the one linked to the affective element of physical pain.
Another experiment conducted by Ethan Kross and his fellows went one step ahead by trying to test whether it was possible to involve those parts of the brain which are involved with the affective as well as the sensory elements of physical pain.
For the experiment, they recruited 40 individuals who had been through an unwanted and painful breakup with their partners. While using MRI scans, the participants were given a picture of their ex and were asked to focus on their feelings of rejection. Along with this, they also administered some pain tests to the participants- one was the “hot trial” which actually hurt them and the other was the “warm trial” which was enough to result in sensation but didn’t cause much discomfort.
Can you guess what the result was? The parts of the brain that lit up when the participants recalled their emotional pain from the rejection were the same as the parts that lit up when the hot trial was administered to them.
We still need more research on this view, but one thing stands clear: Emotional and physical pain can both be unbearably hurtful.
Verbal abuse can actually changes the structure of the developing brain of a child
This is what Martin Teicher and his fellows have discovered, according to whom the brain tends to go into a mode of survival and retool itself in order to deal with a stressful and tense environment. And these effects prove to be everlasting. Some other studies have identified that the most affected parts of the brain are:
Corpus Callosum: It is responsible for transmitting motor, cognitive and sensory information between the two ends of the brain)
Hippocampus: It is responsible for the part of the brain which regulates our emotions.
Frontal Cortex: It is responsible for our thoughts and decision-making process.
Yet another study, which was conducted by Akemi Tomodo and his fellows, showed an association between verbal abuse and changes in the grey matter of our brains. They were not able to prove causation but the fact that there is a direct relationship between verbal abuse and a child’s growth and development cannot be argued.
So this one’s for the parents: Keep a check on everything you say to your child.
The effects of verbal abuse turn out to be greater than the effects of the expression of your love
Another group of researchers set out to determine if the existence of an affectionate and understanding parent had the potential to compensate for the damage that a verbally abusive parent does. The results were more than disappointing
The effects of both were found to operate completely independently from each other. Affection on its own did help in a child’s healthy development but it didn’t seem to provide a shield against the negative effects of verbal abuse.
So if your mother is always affectionate towards you and your father appears to be a monster in disguise due to all his abusive words (or vice versa), your mother’s love won’t be able to lessen the damage inflicted upon your personality by your father even a little bit.
Furthermore, even if the aggressive parent demonstrated some kind of verbal affection later in life, the effects of his former aggression will still never diminish.
When the pain (physical or emotional) you’re causing someone is deliberate and intentional, it tends to hurt even more
I’m sure anyone who’s reading this will agree with the above statement in a second. It’s obvious that if someone comes in your way and makes you trip by accident, you won’t feel as angry and resentful as the time when someone purposefully hits you and makes you fall to the ground. But what’s interesting to know is that our perception of a person’s motivation actually affects the amount of physical pain we will feel.
This is the discovery of an experiment conducted by Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner. They made their participants work in pairs- one of them was the confederate who would be administering some tests and the other would be the receiver. The first three tasks were neutral while the last one required the delivery of an electric shock which was to be rated on a scale starting from “not uncomfortable” to “extremely uncomfortable”.
In one group, the confederate was asked to choose the shock and in the other group, the confederate was asked to avoid it. The receiver was told of both the groups but the shocks were delivered with the same intensity to all groups despite the intentions of the confederate. Even though the electric shocks were all of the same intensity, the receivers who believed that the confederate chose to do this felt and reported more pain.
Similarly, when you use your words regularly and with a clear intention to hurt the other person, the effects of it are amplified and turn out to be even more painful. Choose your words wisely.
Verbal abuse tends to get internalized
I can vouch for this one by personal experience. The shaming, the dismissal and the constant critique of every aspect of your personality can stick with you for years to come. You start to believe that all the negative words, all the hurtful comments and all the humiliation was something you truly deserved. You start to lose faith in yourself. You start to think that you’re completely worthless.
And it’s not long before you fall into the trap of constant anxiety and depression just because of the way someone treats you. And all the words that other people said start to echo in your head as if they were your own thoughts.
“I’m a loser and I can’t ever succeed in life”
“My life is just as pathetic as I am”
“I deserve all the bad things that come my way because everything about me is just as bad”
I hope you don’t have any doubts left about whether verbal abuse is something to be acknowledged, whether the effects of it are just as harmful as physical abuse and whether it’s actually time to start focusing on what you’re saying to someone and why you’re saying it.
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