The Pain of Harsh Words

Watch those harsh words directed towards children. A new study out of McGill University found that emotional abuse may be as harmful as physical abuse and neglect.

Emotional abuse includes behaviours such as ridicule, intimidation, rejection and humiliation. Unfortunately it is much more common than physical abuse and neglect. Worldwide estimates suggest that approximately one third of children experience emotional abuse.

“Although people assume physical abuse is more harmful than other types of abuse, we found that they are associated with similar consequences,” says David Vachon, a McGill professor in the Department of Psychology and the study’s first author. The results of emotional abuse include anxiety and depression to rule-breaking and aggression.

This finding complements previous imaging research showing that emotional and physical pain both activate the same parts of the brain.

We need to recognize that the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” doesn’t hold true.