Whether we want to admit it or not, words do hurt us. Remember the saying you’re told as child ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’. Well…I don’t know about you, but for me, and from what I have learned in my training and from my clients, name calling and abusive words linger around for a long time, and they hurt.
Why do words hurt so much?
If you haven’t already, do check out a wonderful series by Tara Moss called ‘Cyberhate’ on ABC iView where she investigates the effect of cyberbullying. During episode 2 ‘The power of words’ we are introduced to pain expert Dr Sylvia Gustin who has the scientific proof to back up how words really do hurt us.
Tara bravely volunteers for an experiment where she undergoes a MRI to test brain reactions to vicious and vile tweets she’s received from trolls in the past. She describes a visceral response in her body and how threatened she felt by the revolting things that were said to her, even though she knew she was in a safe environment. Her heart rate increased and activity in her brain was visible.
The feeling of threat Tara was feeling was very strong and very real. But here’s the point, which is demonstrated so powerfully in the program, the emotional reaction Tara experienced is a natural reaction which happened whether she wanted it or not.
Dr Gustin made an important point, one I stress over and over to my clients. That is, the more Tara tried to suppress her emotions, the longer they lasted in the brain. Our emotions are there for a reason and need to be paid attention to. It is our emotions which will kick in to save us when we’re in a dangerous situation, not our intellect.
But I shouldn’t let it get to me
While verbal/emotional violence is not a crime, it is abuse. As you can see from Dr Gustin’s work, it is emotionally and physically harmful and not to be underestimated, but people often do. So many times, I have women say ‘oh but he never hit me’ he just yells at me, or he calls this or that, without realising it’s a violent act against them. What we know now, is that our biology reacts in a way that is just as damaging as physical or sexual assault.
Say that to my face!
It is thought that people are much more aggressive or violent when it’s not face to face. You just need to speak to someone who works in a call centre to know that! During the ‘Cyberhate’ series, Tara explains the measures trolls use to disguise their identity and the motivation behind their behaviour. What I particularly appreciated was the advice and language she used regarding online bullying. In fact, I think it could be applied to other aspects of violence.
Don’t respond but don’t be silenced
Tara wisely advises not to respond to online trolls as that is exactly what they’re after. Their intention is to hurt and humiliate. Trying to reason with them is not going to work so don’t waste your energy. Instead, she suggests the following:
- Collect evidence of abuse by taking screen shots and URL’s
- If you feel you can, report the abuse
- If you see online bullying happening to someone else, send them a message of support and report it
- Block the people who are abusing or bullying you, you don’t have to take it
If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything it all
I’ve leave it to Thumper to remind us all of how to speak to anyone, whether online or face to face.