Let’s begin with why words are actual, for-a-fact weapons: in expert hands the right use of words can restructure your brain chemistry. We have a cluster of sciences and pseudo sciences around this: neuro -linguistic programming, marketing response, Silva Mind Control, to name a few. So no, words are not words. Words are waves and energies and physical things that can be measured and quantified. They are weapons just as much as a knife or gun might be – and in turn they are also beneficial tools.
Fortunately culture’s constant shifts de-weaponizes words all the time. Look at the transformation of "queer" from deadly insult to statement of pride since 1990, for example.
To understand how this works, you have to understand that this is a good chunk of why hypnosis/neurolinguistic programming is so effective. It’s why I’m such a fan of binaural files as an adjunct to the medical treatments I have to undergo. We are creatures of habit. This includes habitual word choice and consequently habitual thought choice. I work hard to try to stay out of that realm of habit – it’s what writers and creative souls do. But eventually our styles and voices emerge and we soon do have a system of habits that makes our behavior – and word choice – somewhat predictable. We often need outer stimulation to be able to change our habits at all. Introducing new words or sounds can help with establishing different habits we wish to undertake or different pursuits we wish to explore. But often to do that we have to seek out ways to introduce these concepts to ourselves until they are normalized enough that we experience comfort at the thought of pursuing these awareness shifts.
Children, normally, stay very plastic until their late teens. They will have preferences and some abilities are stronger than others (with wide variations for diseases of birth, accidents and so on.) In healthy environments new ideas occur to children relatively easily – but are also shaped by the habitual language of the adults raising them and the habitual language used in their immediate environment.
It’s already established what being emotionally abused – or even witnessing abuse – can do to a child’s brain chemistry. It’s one of the reasons behind pushing children to intervene when they see another child bullied. Just watching the bullying hurts those that observe. Not only is there damage, it can over time impact a child’s moral reasoning center. But the brain is neuroplastic – if removed from the abused and placed in a safe situation where the surrounding adults are very, very careful of their language use and behavior a child can recover from some or all of that damage. Unfortunately, abusers on some predatory level know that making abuse habitual gets them more of what they want from their victims over time. So usually verbal abuse is embedded in household language.
It’s also become embedded in our culture. There are a lot of comments that we think are normal – or funny – that are actually part of us repeating the routine of self and other poisoning imprinted onto our brains in childhood. We are even programmed to invite abuse, under the delusion it is constructive criticism.
these are loosely defined as comments perceived as innocuous or even constructive that apply a social penalty for some condition a person cannot reasonably help, especially not in that moment.
- Did you see what she’s wearing?
- Look at how much weight —– has gained!
- You could do so much better.
- That’ so stupid. (Usually said about a hobby, taste preference or other innocuous concept.)
- That person clearly has too much time on his/her hands.
There are so many more but I’ve worked hard on blocking my brain from acknowledging them.
Why is this included in the series on sexual violence education?
Because the majority of abuse cycles begin with words. Verbal abuse is a major component of emotional abuse. It is words that are used to first get a victim compliant. Physical behavior follows the words. When the cycle ends, it begins again with words chosen to invoke fear, shame and the insane hope that something the victim does can make the cycle stop.
Recognize your words. Recognize the speech in people around you. What they say and how they say it – and who they say it about says a lot about who they are. Someone who speaks disparagingly about a partner or a child on a regular basis is someone to watch carefully, to see if those people spoken of are in danger.