Cory Schneider Psychotherapy

Cory Schneider White
sad boy because he suffers from bullying

Words That Wound: Understanding the Impact of Verbal Bullying

The phenomenon of verbal bullying is a distressing reality that has plagued societies for generations. While physical aggression is often visible and more widely acknowledged, the deeply insidious nature of verbal abuse can leave lasting scars on its victims. Words, when used as weapons, have the power to inflict emotional wounds that cut to the core of a person’s identity and self-worth.

Verbal bullying encompasses a range of hurtful behaviors and may include name-calling, teasing, gossiping, making threats, making rude noises, or spreading hurtful rumors. It can occur in various settings, from schoolyards and workplaces to online platforms. The consequences of verbal abuse can extend beyond immediate distress, with victims often experiencing long-term emotional trauma that affects their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Verbal Bullying in Facts and Numbers

Verbal bullying is a form of aggressive behavior wherein individuals or groups intentionally use spoken or written language to harm, intimidate, or humiliate others. Unlike physical bullying, which leaves visible marks, the scars of verbal bullying reside within the depths of a person’s psyche, hidden from the prying eyes of onlookers. These wounds can be just as, if not more, painful than their physical counterparts.

According to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, approximately 20.2% of students aged 12-18 reported being bullied verbally during the 2019-2020 academic year in the United States alone. Moreover, verbal bullying transcends school environments, inflicting its harm in the workplace as well. The Workplace Bullying Institute found that 30% of workers in the United States have experienced verbal abuse at their jobs in 2021 – an increase of 57% from 2017.

Bullying classmate

Looking at specific communities who experience verbal bullying, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2021 National School Climate Survey found that among LGBTQ+ identified youth (ages 12-18), 76% experienced in-person verbal harassment (e.g., called names or threatened) specifically based on sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender at some point in the past year. 60% of LGBTQ+ students reported being verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation, 57% based on gender expression, and 51% based on gender.

The advent of technology has also given rise to cyberbullying, a digital manifestation of verbal abuse. A study by the Cyberbullying Research Center revealed that nearly 37% of middle and high school students experienced cyberbullying at least once in their lifetime. And, research conducted just last year by Pew Research Center found that nearly half of U.S. teens (ages 13-17) have been bullied and/or harassed online, with comments relating to physical appearance being most prevalent.

The Emotional Toll of Verbal Bullying

The psychological effects on victims of verbal bullying are profoundly devastating, leaving emotional scars that can linger for years, or even a lifetime. The torment inflicted through hurtful words and relentless taunts penetrates deep into the core of a person’s being, causing a cascade of negative emotions and cognitive distortions.

Emotional Turmoil: Anxiety and Depression

A study by the National Institutes of Health found that individuals who experienced verbal bullying during childhood were more likely to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression in adulthood. The emotional scars left by verbal abuse can cast a perpetual shadow over one’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall mental well-being, leading to a constant battle to reclaim inner peace and tranquility.

Low Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

Verbal bullying has a profound impact on an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth. The vicious cycle of self-doubt and self-criticism perpetuated by verbal abuse stifles personal growth and hinders the development of a positive self-identity. 

Feelings of Isolation and Loneliness

Verbal abuse is not confined to the spoken words; it extends its icy grip into the realm of social connections. Victims often find themselves alienated from their peers, shunned by a society that fails to grasp the gravity of their pain. Studies show that children who experienced verbal bullying were more likely to feel socially isolated and rejected by their peers. 

Lingering Emotional Scars

Verbal bullying casts long shadows that stretch far into the future. The emotional scars inflicted during vulnerable periods of life remain etched within the individual’s consciousness. Even years after the verbal abuse has ceased, the haunting memories can resurface unexpectedly, triggering feelings of vulnerability and anxiety. 

Girl Suffer Bullying

Impact on Interpersonal Relationships

The remnants of verbal bullying extend their reach beyond individual psyches, permeating into the realm of interpersonal relationships. The fear of emotional vulnerability, born from past experiences, can hinder the ability to trust others fully. Victims may struggle to forge meaningful connections, fearing that their scars will be met with indifference or further harm. 

Academic and Professional Consequences

Verbal bullying can leave an indelible mark on academic and professional trajectories as well. The emotional distress and diminished self-esteem can hinder educational achievement and academic engagement. A report published by the Journal of Educational Psychology revealed that students who experienced verbal bullying had lower academic performance and higher rates of school absenteeism. Furthermore, the long-lasting effects of verbal abuse can carry over into the workplace, affecting job satisfaction and career advancement. 

How to React in the Face of Verbal Bullying

In the face of verbal bullying, the anguish and despair experienced by victims can be overwhelming. However, it is crucial to remember that there are proactive steps that can be taken to navigate the tumultuous waters of this torment. Empowerment, resilience, and reaching out for support are pivotal to breaking free from the clutches of verbal abuse.

  • Recognize and Acknowledge the Bullying: The first step towards combating verbal bullying is to recognize and acknowledge its presence. By acknowledging the situation, individuals can begin to reclaim their power and take control of their emotional well-being.
  • Seek Support from Trusted Confidantes: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, mentors, and trusted others who can provide a listening ear and emotional support. Sharing one’s experiences can be cathartic and can help to alleviate the emotional weight carried in silence.
  • Document Incidents of Verbal Abuse: Documenting dates, times, locations, and details of the abusive encounters can help substantiate the seriousness of the situation and aid in seeking appropriate intervention.
  • Establish Boundaries and Assertiveness: Learning to be assertive in response to verbal abuse can send a powerful message to the perpetrators that their hurtful words are unacceptable. Assertiveness involves standing up for oneself while maintaining composure and dignity, fostering self-confidence in the process.
  • Seek Help from Authorities or Professionals: In cases of severe and persistent verbal bullying, seeking help from authorities or professionals may be necessary. School administrators, workplace supervisors, or human resources personnel can intervene and enforce policies against bullying. 
  • Explore Coping Mechanisms and Emotional Resilience: Engaging in activities that bring joy, finding solace in creative outlets, or pursuing hobbies can serve as therapeutic escapes from the pain. Professional counseling or therapy can also help victims process their emotions and develop healthy coping strategies.
  • Stand Up Against Bullying: Bystanders can play a significant role in combating verbal bullying behavior. If you witness someone being subjected to verbal abuse, speak up and intervene in a safe manner. A united front against verbal bullies can create an environment that does not tolerate hurtful words, fostering a culture of kindness and respect:
young homeless boy crying on the bridge

The Therapeutic Approach to Addressing Verbal Bullying

In the face of the emotional distress caused by verbal bullying, the therapeutic approach emerges as a beacon of hope and healing. Therapists, armed with compassion and expertise, can embark on a journey to create a safe and nurturing environment where victims can find solace and support in their quest for recovery.

Creating a Safe and Nurturing Environment

  • Active Listening and Empathy: At the heart of the therapeutic approach lies the art of active listening and empathy. Therapists lend their ears and hearts to the stories of those wounded by verbal bullying, offering a safe space for their pain and vulnerability to be acknowledged and validated. 
  • Fostering Open Communication: In therapy, communication becomes an intervention for victims seeking to untangle the knots of their emotional turmoil. Therapists skillfully guide the conversation, encouraging victims to express their thoughts and emotions openly and without judgment. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques for Healing

  • Challenging Negative Self-Talk: Verbal bullying lingers as an oppressive shadow, manifested in the form of negative self-talk and schema about self that echoes within the victim’s mind. Therapists, armed with cognitive-behavioral techniques, empower victims to challenge these harmful thoughts and replace them with empowering affirmations. 
  • Developing Coping Skills and Emotional Regulation: Therapists equip victims with practical tools to navigate the emotional distress triggered by memories of verbal abuse. Through mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques, victims learn to navigate their emotions with greater ease, preventing them from becoming engulfed by the turbulence of their past trauma.

Building Resilience and Empowerment

  • Encouraging Self-Compassion and Self-Discovery: Verbal bullying casts shadows of doubt upon victims’ sense of self-worth and identity. Therapists embark on a journey of self-discovery with their clients, encouraging them to embrace self-compassion and find their authentic selves beyond the labels imposed upon them. 
  • Assertiveness Training and Boundary Setting: As victims emerge from the distress of verbal bullying, therapists equip them with assertiveness training and the art of setting healthy boundaries. Victims learn to assert their needs and protect their emotional well-being, cultivating the courage to say no to toxic relationships and situations. 

The therapeutic approach to addressing verbal bullying is an oasis of hope, compassion, and healing. Through active listening, empathy, and open communication, mental health professionals create a safe haven where victims can find validation and support. 

If you need support because of bullying, don’t hesitate to reach out about therapy for teens & young adults.