Sticks and stones may break my bones but names can really hurt me

by  Orginally posted on DECEMBER 7, 2010  · in MINDFUL THINKING

A recently published article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, penned by Martin H. Teicher, M.D., Ph.D., Jacqueline A. Samson, Ph.D., Yi-Shin Sheu, M.A., Ann Polcari, R.N., Ph.D., and Cynthia E. McGreenery, revealed some fascinating and troubling findings. Among these, the researchers note that exposure to physical and verbal aggression from peers, perpetrated by other children who are not siblings and are not necessarily age-mates, is a highly prevalent form of childhood stress.

Victims of peer aggression show the scars; they have increased rates of depression, suicidal ideation, loneliness, and even psychosis. Additionally, their grades are lower, their absentee rates higher, they are more likely to carry weapons to school and to engage in fights, they are likely to suffer more injuries, abuse over-the-counter medications, and intentionally hurt animals.

Words Hurt

Sticks and Stones

Studying a community sample of young adults, the authors found that exposure to peer verbal abuse was associated with increased drug use and elevated psychiatric symptom ratings. Substantial exposure was associated with a greater than twofold increase in clinically significant ratings of depression, a threefold to fourfold increase in anxiety and “limbic irritability,” and 10-fold increase in dissociation. This level of peer verbal abuse was reported by 9.2% of participants who had no exposure to childhood sexual abuse, witnessing of domestic violence or parental physical or verbal abuse and by 17.9% of the entire community sample.

Middle school was the peak period of exposure to peer verbal abuse, with 9.8% of the community sample newly exposed. This finding fits with previous observations that peer
physical aggression declines over the period from ages 8 to 18 while peer verbal abuse increases from ages 8 to 11, plateaus, and then declines from ages 15 to 18. Theorists have
often focused on the importance of very early experiences and parent- child interactions. This study and other recent reports should strengthen interest in the importance of peer interactions and the vulnerability of peripubertal children. These findings further enhance concern that exposure to ridicule, disdain, and humiliation from parents, partners, or peers is emotionally toxic and may adversely affect the direction and trajectory of brain development.