Verbal abuse. ‘Bad is stronger than good.’

Bad is stronger than good.

Humans are hardwired to pay more attention to potentially dangerous or negative possibilities. The evolutionary reasons for this are pretty clear—we store such information in a part of the brain that makes it much more accessible. Registering potentially dangerous threats and keeping them alive and well in memory was key to the survival of early humans, and our contemporary brains are no different. That applies to words as well: We respond more deeply and quickly to criticism than to praise, for example, and remember the deflating or wounding remark with more exactness than the compliment . Even more salient is the finding that if the parent who is verbally abusive later demonstrates affectionate behavior, the effect of the abuse isn’t ameliorated . Bad is stronger than good. And it is 5 times stronger. Meaning it takes 5 positives events to ‘erase’ or let’s say soften the negative experience .

It takes 5 positives to ‘erase’ or soften one negative experience.

Even more, ‘bad’ has long-lasting effects.

Studies have shown that brains of children are highly adaptable to the situation they are put in. When the situation is loving, caring and peaceful the brain evolves normally. At the other side of the spectrum we can imagine a hostile, threatening and abusive environment full of stress. It is known that the brain also adapts to that. Regions affected are the corpus callosum (it transfers motor, sensory and cognitive information between the two hemispheres, the hippocampus (part of the limbic system that regulates emotion) and the frontal cortex (thought control and decision making). Verbal abuse leaves it’s marks. We know that for sure.

Science shows us even more.

The same regions in the brain light up when a physical pain stimuli is applied on the forearm than when a person gets rejected by someone. The same neural circuitry was involved. Social rejection hurts—literally. And verbal abuse is social rejection expressed in language.

“A child under the care of an abusive parent may be constantly flooded with feelings that further limit the growth of his or her emotional intelligence, a skill set built on identifying emotions and processing them. In the wake of continued verbal aggression, it’s hard for a child to sort out whether he or she is feeling afraid, shamed, hurt, or angry .”

You can see this reflected in adults when they suffer from self-criticism and a low self-esteem. Self-criticism is the habit of mind that ascribes every glitch, setback or failure to ingrained flaws in character, leading someone to think, “I failed because I’m too stupid and worthless to do anything else,” or, “No wonder she left. Who could ever truly love me? ”

Let’s exercise together!

If you like, I invite you to write 5 positives about yourself in the comments to make up for that one thought you had today that wasn’t a good one.

I’ll start the chain of positives:

  1. I am a good dog-mom
  2. I am a caring
  3. I cook with love for myself and my family
  4. I’m not a quitter, I direct my stubbornness in a positive way
  5. I am enthusiastic and fun to be friends with

Over to you in the comments! 😀

Further reading, references and resources.

Online article in Psychology Today. (2016). Streep, P. The enduring pain of childhood verbal abuse.

19 thoughts on “Verbal abuse. ‘Bad is stronger than good.’

      1. I think her show and her system deserve far more attention than they got here in the US: I first saw her show while doing my phd work in England, and immediately tried to apply it to my teaching (of course, classroom teaching is rather different than in-home parenting, but…), as there are a good number of transferable ideas.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. And:
    1. I am persistent,
    2. I show kindness to others, and that matters, is not stupid, and it helps,
    3. I am excellent at planning ahead,
    4. I am a good critical thinker in constructive ways,
    5. I am good at solving the problems of others!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you’d really enjoy the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahnman. It’s a difficult read…took me like 3 months doing 4-5 pages a day, but it was totally worth it. I think you’d like the way it breaks down how the mind works.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I heard of that 5-to-1 rule in a training course recently! I’m amazed it can be measured so precisely.

    Ok, let’s try this:

    1. I am a curious learner.
    2. I have a bright smile.
    3. I try to follow the rules with compassion.
    4. I play well with cats and dogs.
    5. I can amuse myself without a phone. 😅

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! Reminds me of a landmark psychological article we “had to” read during my studies: Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of general psychology, 5(4), 323-370. You can get it on scholar.google.com if you want to dig deeper 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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