In today's selection -- using fMRI scanning technology, neuroscientists have determined that the same part of the brain that processes physical pain -- a cut or a punch -- also processes emotional pain such as exclusion, rejection or lost love. It is known as the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). So it no accident that we refer to emotional pain with physical references -- "it was like a punch in the gut" or "she broke my heart" -- and the effects on the brain can be as or more devastating:
"Imagine you have a thirteen-year-old son, Dennis, who is physically assaulted at school by a bully. The bully pushes Dennis down and hits him several times. What do you do when you find out? March into the principal's office? Call the police to press charges? Write to the local paper to express outrage at what is happening in our schools? Different parents would do any and all of these things. Now imagine that your Dennis is being bullied, but only in words. The bully never lays a hand on your son, but he teases him mercilessly, telling him that he is ugly and stupid and that no one likes him (none of these things are true). When Dennis reluctantly tells you about the teasing, what is your reaction then? Does it involve the police or local press? Not likely. More probably, your response will be something like this: 'Just ignore him. You will be off to college in a few years, and he will probably be flipping burgers for the rest of his life.' I don't mean to suggest that it isn't distressing to find out that your son has been teased, but it isn't the same as finding out that there was physical contact. We don't go to the principal, police, or press in this case because we don't think any of them will take action if its just verbal teasing.
"From a young age, we teach children to say, 'Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.' But this isn't true. Bullying hurts so much not because one individual is rejecting us but because we tend to believe that the bully speaks for others that if we are being singled out by the bully, then we are probably unliked and unwanted by most. Otherwise, why would all those others watch the bully tease us rather than stepping in to help support us? Absence of support is taken as a sign of mass rejection."
Read the rest here.
There are some powerful words here. I'll admit, I've been very much of the "sticks and stones" school of thought as it came to bullying. My conclusion was that the one bullied hadn't the emotional strength to effectively think if not tell the bully, "You're full of shit - fuck off!" I still think that's the case, but I also recognize the tremendous amount of mental engagement it takes to develop the wherewithal to do that, never mind ignore the damaging words in the first place.
Bottom line: words CAN hurt, whether spoken or typewritten, and those who are dealing with the bullied need to recognize that up front.
I also recognize the tremendous amount of mental engagement it takes to develop the wherewithal to do that, never mind ignore the damaging words in the first place.
People aren't to be taken at face value though, and this is also true of how they perceive themselves. It's quite possible for someone to "ignore" negative messages, feel no conscious pain etc. - yet they are negatively affected by it anyway. People are much more complicated than what goes on in our conscious actions and attitudes and perceptions.