As the saying goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” By now, most of us have figured out just how untrue that old saying is. Words can be extremely hurtful. It might be through bullying, cyberbullying or verbal abuse at the hands of a parent or spouse. Words hurt, and scientists are now saying that verbal abuse can inflict lasting physical effects on brain structure.
You probably know that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until after birth. Self-awareness, personality and cognitive abilities take years to develop, and they develop different in everyone. The way your brain is wired largely depends on your experiences as a child.
As Dr. Douglas Fields explains for Psychology Today, “When [an] environment is hostile or socially unhealthy, development of the brain is affected, and often it is impaired. Early childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or even witnessing domestic violence, have been shown to cause abnormal physical changes in the brain of children, with lasting effects that predisposes the child to developing psychological disorders.”
In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, young adults ages 18-25 were asked to rate their childhood exposure to parental and peer verbal abuse when they were children. These participants had no exposure to domestic violence, sexual abuse or parental physical abuse. The were then given a brain scan.
The results showed that the individuals who reported experiencing verbal abuse from their peers during middle school had underdeveloped connections between the left and right sides of the brain. Psychological tests showed that this group of people had higher levels of anxiety, depression and anger.
Verbal abuse from peers during middle school years showed the greatest impact. Scientists believe this is because the brain was still developing during that period. Researchers concluded, “Verbal abuse can cause significant psychological problems in later years and brain damage, including anxiety, depression, anger hostility and dissociation.”
The Link Between Verbal Abuse And Anxiety
The most common targets of narcissistic abuse are often people who are highly sensitive or wear their emotions on their sleeve. Narcissists take pleasure out of finding someone who is slightly vulnerable and manipulating them until they have complete control. Whether you were a victim of verbal abuse as a child, teenager or even as an adult, the manipulative words and actions of a narcissist can have a lasting effect on your brain, as shown by the study. As your self-worth begins to deteriorate and you feel like you’ve lost control, your mind and body react in different ways – one of which is the development of an anxiety disorder.