Words and Their Impact

August 22, 2017
Anna Jankowska, LCPC

By Anna Jankowska, MA, CEAP, SAP, LCPC

Anna Jankowska is a mental health, addiction, and substance abuse counselor with over 17 years of experience and has specialized training and skill in working with individuals, groups and communities to improve mental health outcomes. NPI number: 1598843526

By CCI Team

We all grew up hearing the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” However, this statement isn’t entirely true. No matter the intention or meaning, words do have impact whether we like it or not.

When it comes to verbal abuse, many do not realize they were/are being verbally abused until much later on in life. In a Psychology Today article called “The Enduring Pain of Childhood Verbal Abuse” by Peg Streep, she references several individual’s stories of childhood verbal abuse. In the stories, every single individual described their abuse as something perceived as normal. Furthermore, each person expressed how they accepted the abused used and as a result they either tried to continually better themselves, or ignore the torrent of abuse directed towards them in an attempt to cope.

The article continues to cover key points such as the science behind the impact on words and the brain, the changes in the developing brain from abuse, and what recovery looks like for individuals who have suffered from verbal abuse. Signs of low self-esteem, an anxious form of attachment, and even depression tend to follow a childhood/lifetime of verbal abuse. Furthermore, verbal abuse has a tendency to lead to other major mental disorders. According to the APA, a study of 793 mothers and children was done where researchers asked the mothers if they have ever screamed at their kids or told them they didn’t love them or threatened to send them away (APA). According to the study, children who have experienced such verbal abuse were three times as likely to develop narcissistic, OCD, borderline, or paranoid personality disorders in adulthood (APA).

According to Roy Baumeister from the article, he states, “We respond more deeply and quickly to criticism than to praise, for example, and remember the deflating or wounding remark with more exactness than the compliment. This applies to children as well as adults.” Especially with children, it inhibits their ability to develop emotional intelligence. When it comes to recovery, it has to start with realizing that there was even abuse in the first place and recognizing that it took place. Again, often times people don’t realize they were abused the duration of the childhood until much later. It is especially difficult to recover for many reasons: one has accepted societal notion that verbal abuse doesn’t pass on, “normalizing the household”, and more so when there is a desire to maintain a connection with the parent/family (Peg).

I am a firm believer that no matter the context of a situation, words have a strong say in our emotional well-being. Even friendly contexts or social settings, words of affirmation or negative jokes can go a long way, for the better or worse. From personal experience, I’ve learned to exercise caution. I’ve learned that no matter what may be going on in my day, I am still to treat someone respectfully and not let my negative events impact those around me, especially when someone around me could possibly be going through something too. In addition, I’ve learned that saying something nice or smiling may do more for someone then I realize. When we can exercise the fundamentals of caring is when the most growth, healing, and harmony will come together.



Baumeister, Roy and Ellen Bratslavsky, Catrin Finkenauer and Kathleen D. Vohs, “Bad is Stronger than Good,” Review of General Psychology (2001), vol.5, no.4, 323-370.

Gray, Kurt and Daniel M. Wegner, “The Sting of Intentional Pain,” Psychological Science(2008), vol. 19, number 12, 1260-1262.


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