Sticks & Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

For the record, this is a lie. Words are one of the most destructive weapons we use against each other. When you look closely enough, you can see the psychological bruises they leave the same way you see a black eye or a broken arm.

We tell our children this when we want them to brush off the insulting and hateful things other children say. We want them to have the strength of character to look within themselves and the opinions of those who love them to see they are worthy and good enough. Often, they cannot. Most adults cannot do it either.

In fact, name-calling and insulting hurt and leave long lasting marks which can shape or change our identities. Have you ever heard anyone tell you…

When you hear it enough times, you begin to believe it.”

Sadly, this quote is truer than the first quote. Rather than saying the first or hearing the second, recognize verbal abuse for what it is.

Meant to Cause Self-Doubt

The First Time

The first time someone utters any of the words in the picture, recognize: This behavior is abusive. All of these words are said in condescension to make the Victim feel insecure in their own abilities and create self-doubt and fear. Abusers know what their victims sensitivities are.

Victim is trying to lose weight. Abuser will call Victim fat or ugly, knowing Victim needs reassurances about weight and appearance.

Victim, like everyone else, has made mistakes. Abuser will exploit even minor mistakes, like forgetting to turn off a light, reinforce the perception Victim is incapable of making good decisions. You are never going to learn.

Abuser stereotypes and belittles people. When opportunity arises, Abuser categorizes Victim in the stereotype. Only idiots do that.

Even if Abuser never becomes physical,
this is abuse.

Even if it only happens once, once is too many times. Do not tolerate abuse.


Abusers are sly when it comes to their verbal abuse, especially in the beginning. Amongst supportive statements, abusers will slide barbed ones into the conversation. When the first comments go unchallenged, subsequent ones become more frequent and more pointed.


Abusers engage their victims in their abuse. Rather than just making a statement, they will ask questions to get victims to reinforce the perception:

  • Are you always going to be a failure?
  • Don’t you think that makes you look fat?
  • Can’t you do anything right?
  • Are you always this weird?
  • Have you ever not been a moron?

Rather than give Victim time to weigh the question and answer with facts refuting the abusive claims, Abuser will push for an immediate answer. When Victim is already feeling self-doubt, often the answers agree with the abusive assessments.


Victims act differently around their abusers than they do with friends and family, even when the abuser is a member of the family or an alleged friend. Victims become quieter, more demure and self-effacing in the presence of their abusers. The victims are treading lightly trying not to make a mistake. They do not want to hear any of the following:

  • I cannot believe you said that.
  • Do you know how stupid you looked?
  • Everyone was laughing at you.
  • I never want to be seen with you again.
  • Why do you always embarrass me by being (insert name or abusive description)?

Not all abusers wait until they are in the car leaving a social setting before beginning the abuse. Some will engage their peers in their fun by pointing out their victims’ perceived shortcomings as jokes. Getting others to laugh strengthens the effect of the abuse.

Laughter is a sign of happiness and agreement. When we are pleased and amused, we laugh. When we laugh at others’ expense, it is hurtful and abusive, even more so when we see how uncomfortable it makes them.


Verbal abusers need to feel like they are better than their victims. They will compare their victims to themselves and to others who know more, perform better or have a better appearance. Abusers are only tall because they are standing on someone else’s head.

Verbal abuse is a power trip. Whether it is a show of power in private or a comedy routine at a party, Abuser needs to feel superior to Victim. Abusers come in all shapes and sizes:

  • Employers
  • Parents
  • Spouses
  • Mates
  • Alleged Friends
  • Co-workers or superiors
  • Family
  • Neighbors

In order to continue the abuse unchecked, threats accompany the abuse:

  • If you tell anyone, they will not believe you.
  • No one cares what you think.
  • Your family will think you are stupid.
  • No one else would ever love you or put up with you.
  • Without me, you are nothing.
Abusers mean to cause fear. It is power victims give to their abusers.


The simplest resolution is ICES.

I = Intolerance
C = Confidence
E = Evasion
S = Speak out

1. Practice INTOLERANCE. Do not tolerate verbal abuse from anyone. If anyone speaks unkindly to you, identify their behavior as abusive to you. Tolerating abuse is showing respect to the abuser.

2. Convey CONFIDENCE. Know you are better than the abuser says you are. State how the abuser is wrong.

3. Affect EVASION. Get away from people who are verbally abusive. Then, stay away.

4. SPEAK OUT. Tell someone else about the abusive behavior. This puts the abuser under the spotlight, not you. Abusers choose solitary victims because they are not capable of crowd manipulation. There is safety in numbers. In workplace situations, discuss the hostile work environment with superiors, not just co-workers.

Who is not?

Friends do not abuse one another. Spouses and Mates do not abuse one another. Family does not abuse one another. If any of these people are abusive, they are not showing the appropriate love and respect for Victim. If a friend is abusive, it is time for new friends. If Spouse or Mate is abusive, it is time to move on, out or away.

If family is abusive, divorce them. Ask yourself this question:

If I was married to this person,
how long before I would divorce them?

Remember, ICES. Evasion is getting away from the abuse regardless of who Abuser is.


Do you know a victim of verbal abuse? Have you been a victim? Have you verbally abused anyone? Do you think psychological counseling helps verbal abusers stop the abuse?


M3 will never endorse staying in an abusive relationship. If you are the victim of abuse or know a victim of abuse, contact your local law enforcement. Help is available. If you need assistance finding help, fill out the form.

(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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  1. Probably everyone has experienced this at one time or another, and it can leave deep scars of self doubt. On the other hand, we often tease friends with mild insults or putdowns, but hopefully not in a truly hurtful or serious manner.
    Binky recently posted..Original MapMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      Be careful how you tease. I have known people who committed suicide over what everyone else thought was a joke. Even when people are willing to poke fun at themselves, it is not the same as having someone else do it for them. There are even those who poke fun at themselves as a form of self-loathing. It is, more often than not, a cry for help.

  2. Since my dad was an abuser, once he was unable to hit us physically he did it verbally, destroying our morale by constantly belittling us.

    In his divorce deposition he described me as being mentally retarded, saying he would have to support me after the divorce.

    Throughout my entire life in his home he never passed up a chance to say something abusive.

    NOTHING any of us did was any good and the harder we tried to please him the worse he got.

    When I see or hear somebody doing what he used to do I get physically ill and it has led to me being exploited in the workplace because I was always trying to please the boss in the hope of my worth being recognised, but he was just another bully and abuser…

    Love and hugs!

    prenin recently posted..Tuesday – the weather gets warmerMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      The healthy thing is, now that you recognize his prattle was abusive, is to dismiss it as false. It is where healing begins. {HUGZ} Red.

  3. Oh yeah! I try not to abuse others because I know how it feels ( ESP. That done in the guise. Of a “joke”). But occasionally toxic words leak out. This kind is insidious in its damage. Angie
    Angela Young recently posted..So little time….My Profile

    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      It truly is insidious, Angie. Read my comment to Binky. Red.

  4. The most insidious of abuse is verbal. I suspect we all do it now and then, usually without intent. Calling it out, saying no is part of the necessary correction. If it isn’t constant, consistent and intentional, move forward; if it is as you said move out.

    I have been told I have a barbed tongue. It can cause problems.
    Valentine Logar recently posted..Tainted Meat for $300My Profile

    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      For the longest time, as in measured best in decades, my screen name was Sharper Tongued. I have a barbed, forked tongue. It takes me conscious effort not to be a weed all the time…even when the sarcasm is subtle…which is not particularly often.

  5. Words on young children do have an everlasting effect, I was taken out of school at a young age as I was considered illiterate and would never be able to read and write or amount to much in life, 20 years in the army with many qualifications, mainly selftaught, highly decorated and now a somewhat fledgling poet, than God I was able to overcome the negativity in my young mind, yes words are more hurtful in young minds
    Aussie Ian
    aussieian2011 recently posted..Memories Trapped in TimeMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      They are truly very hurtful to children. I do not discount the damage they do to adults, especially when the barrage is constant. Thank you for stopping by today, Ian.

  6. Fortunately this sort of thing only happened to me occasionally when I was growing-up, nothing out of the ordinary, and definitely nothing as bad as I’m afraid kids have to deal with these days (especially with the advent of cyber-bulling, etc.)
    spilledinkguy recently posted..BambooMy Profile

    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      Before we wrap this one up, I think we may cover the cyber bullying portion. I have been cyber bullied and see some of the devastating effects of it on those around me…recently.

  7. Bear

     /  May 24, 2012

    I have been quiet for a long while, but as usual Red writes about things that I know all to well. My father was an verbal abuser to my sister and I and a physical and mental abuser to my Mother.

    I have been scarred by the things my father said to me . And due to that I have always held a lot of self doubt and hatred for myself.

    I am also proud to say that I was never a name caller to my ex wife or children. I tried so hard to let them know that I was proud of them and wanted them to succeed in whatever they decided to do with there lives.

    I also have told my kids to be careful what you say to people because even if you say you are sorry they will remember the hateful thing you said to them.

    I can still tell you dates and times and horrible thing I have had said to me, that is a cross I have had to bear. So think before you hurl an insult it may do more damage than imaginable.


    • Red

       /  May 24, 2012

      The important thing is breaking the cycle. From there, educating as many people as possible is the next step. As I told Prenin, once you identify the abuse as abuse, the healing begins when you dismiss it and refuse to give it power over you. <3 Red

  8. Unfortunately, it is also possible for both abuser and victim to misinterpret how they are saying something, or what was said.

    I have to go with Val. I can be a bit…sharp. But I also try to be aware of the reaction of the listener to see how it was received. (and occasionally give them the next round…)
    El Guapo recently posted..Beatnik Poetry Slam – Infinite MysteryMy Profile

  9. Verbal abuse comes in so many forms. I know an individual right now who “does not realize” that she’s abusive. It’s the way she speaks, her tone, the comments she makes which she means but then says “She’s kidding” but she meant it and every time she does it, I feel it in my chest.

    We’re going to have to have a talk and soon. I don’t even think she realizes how it affects those around her. People often say “Oh well, they’re a nice person and they don’t mean it that way”. Maybe not, however that’s no excuse to speak to someone in that way either.

    That’s about her and her inability to communicate WELL … School will be in session soon. I assure you and in this case, not in my evil way but in a way that presents to her that her comments are derogatory and I am not her child. Nuff said there huh? LOL 🙂

    • Red

       /  May 25, 2012

      That is what it takes, MC. Have the talk before she gets a chance to “kid” anyone else. Funny how we use that word, is it not? Goats are likely some of the worst behaved baby animals. I hope your talk with her is very enlightening. Print this for her.

  10. C. Brown

     /  May 25, 2012

    When I read this the first thing I did was reflect on my own behaviors. And sadly there are things I recognize that I shouldn’t do and need to be more aware of. Intended or not, our words cause harm. I admire the people who can pause before speaking and weigh the impact of their words-knowing they don’t want to cause harm. This was a wonderful article, and sadly needed.

    • Red

       /  May 25, 2012

      Thank you, C. The words we choose are very important. My late husband used to tell his employees something very often: It is not what you say, but how you say it. I always argued what we say is equally as important as how we say it. Good to see you today.


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