Sorry for the offensive title but this is an offensive topic. It comes from a comment a parent made to their child’s elementary teacher. At the beginning of the school year the teacher asked for the name of the child. They gave it and then nonchalantly added…
“But you can just call him dumb-ass. That’s what we call him at home.”
Read that again and let it sink in a minute. A parent is raising a child they consistently demean by taking away their identity and replacing it with an expletive. Maybe they think it’s cute. Just a little family joke. All in good fun. I think it’s child abuse.
Verbal abuse is still abuse. In fact, it’s effects are often more long-lasting and damaging than actual physical abuse. As one victim explained to me last Sunday, “Physical wounds eventually heal, but you can’t put a Band-Aid on your emotions.” She went on to say that the harsh and abusive words of her Daddy still ring in her ears long after his death.
Words hurt. They inflict emotional pain, damage self-confidence, inhibit our ability to trust, and create a shame-based identity that lives well into adulthood. Children who grow up believing they are defective or inferior in some way often struggle with it the rest of their lives. It affects not the way they see themselves, but the way they form relationships with others and, most tragically, the way they speak to their own children.
Photographer Richard Johnson created a project called Weapon of Choice where he imagined that verbal abuse left physical scars. His goal was to raise awareness and provoke conversation about emotional abuse. The images are graphic, powerful and not all that imaginary. Verbal abuse does leave scars. It leaves the worse kind of scars–the ones that can’t be seen.