Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Names will often hurt you

In Brief

Names will often hurt you

The children's rhyme denies it, but it may be true. Words are weapons that can cause lasting wounds, especially when wielded by parents against children. The damage is sometimes more serious and lasting than injuries that result from beatings, say Harvard researchers reporting on a survey of young adults.

More than 500 people aged 18–22 who responded to an advertisement were asked whether their parents had ever yelled at them, sworn at them, insulted, threatened, or ridiculed them. Among those who reported no physical or sexual abuse, the researchers chose the 10% most often subject to this verbal abuse and compared them with controls.

All the participants answered a series of questionnaires about symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger, and especially dissociative experiences — split consciousness, out-of-body sensations, a sense of unreality. They were also asked about symptoms typical of temporal lobe epilepsy, including transient hallucinations and automatic actions, as well as dissociative experiences.

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