How Words Can Hurt and Crush

3 min read

What we say matters a lot. As a young boy, I was raised in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. In my neck of the woods, if one guy said something mean to another, he would probably snap back with “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” We thought this statement was true. However, today we know that words can have a negative or positive effect on us. Neurochemistry proves how words can hurt and crush.

We did not realize it at the time, but in those early childhood days, we were beginning to learn how to communicate with each other. Good communication within the walls of our homes, at our schools, and in our workplace is crucial. I think that I spend most of my time communicating in one form or another. It is important. It matters.  

In my article “How to Increase Intrapersonal & Self-Awareness Success,” I share that intrapersonal and self-awareness are skills that can be developed once understood. By improving these skills and applying them to our lives, we can achieve greater success and be happier.

Interpersonal Skills

The focus of this article is on interpersonal skills, our external communication with others. In our beginning experiences in communicating with others, we wanted to believe that words could not hurt us. We thought that by covering our ears and not allowing the harmful comments to enter our brains, we would be safe from their destructive purposes.

Today, we realize what is communicated to us influences us. No surprise here. But what might be a surprise is communication directed to us also has a physical effect on us.

Has anyone ever said to you, you are giving me a headache, please stop talking? Well, it could be true. Their physical body could be feeling discomfort. Thus, our communication with others provides information that can have a positive or negative effect physically. Neurochemicals plays a significant role in this matter.  

Judith E. Glaser in “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations,” Harvard Business Review, says,   

"When we face criticism, rejection, or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists. And these effects can last for 26 hours or more, imprinting the interaction on our memories and magnifying the impact it has on our future behavior. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet – the more we ruminate about our fear, the longer the impact."

Cortisol-producing behaviors

Here is an example of a specific Cortisol-producing behavior, and specifically how words can hurt and crush.

Have you witnessed a boss get angry and take it out on someone in front of others? He’s yelling, and screaming, and blaming someone for this mistake. Someone will pay. You are the stupidest person on the earth. Truly embarrasing someone with no remorse or self-control. In Asia, if you cause someone to lose face, it is catastrophic. This action triggers the fight or flight response from attacked individuals and they stop thinking clearly. This person(s) are hurt, and crushed. They will not be productive for at least 13 to 26 hours.

Oxytocin-producing behaviors

There is also a chemical reaction when we receive positive and comforting conversations. These conversations encourage the production of oxytocin. This chemical elevates our ability to communicate and activates the prefrontal cortex of our brains. Unfortunately, the effect does not have a long-lasting impact as the cortisol chemical.

What goes around, comes around. If we are sincere and honest in our communications with others, we motivate them. When we express sincere concern for their well being by word and deed, we build their trust. If we ask questions instead of command and demand our way or the highway, we develop mutual respect. These Oxytocin-producing behaviors can heal and uplift others to maximize their potential.

The bottom line is that if we communicate with negative cortisol-producing behaviors with others, we are doing them physical harm. Your words can hurt and crush. Being commanding, demanding, and restricting communications puts negative pressure on individuals.

The attributes of focusing more on positive oxytocin-producing behaviors are clear. Ask questions, encourage participation, and foster open communication with others. Whatever we do or accomplish relies heavily on the quality of our relationships. Our relationships are our most valuable asset. And, our relationships begin and end with a conversation. Human care is far more effective and less expensive than human repair.

Posted on November 10, 2020
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