Speech Affects us All
By: deartra d. madkins-Boone

    It started with three or four people shouting the insulting phrase, but by the end of the first half, everyone in the gymnasium was shouting it.

Russell, the star point guard for the opposing university's basketball team was shooting foul shots. The home team was down by six points. The home crowd had devised a way to make the star nervous. As Russell went to shoot his first free throw, the crowd began to shout, "Russell sucks, Russell sucks." Russell missed both free throw attempts. During the course of the game, the crowd continued to chant, "Russell sucks." Towards the end of the game, someone stated, "Russell is going to have to go see his shrink after this game."

Ephesians 4:29 and 31 states in the Today's English Version Bible,

    "Do not use harmful words in talking. Use only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. ..." (Good News, 1971.)

The Bible states that saying negative or derogatory things to people is wrong, but we still do it. Clearly in the example above, there were harmful words being used. Those words were not helpful, kind, and they would not build anyone up. If we are to use words that will be beneficial to people, then why are we all guilty of saying things that will hurt peoples feelings.

"Words can kill. They attack our self-esteem, curse our futures, and stamp lethal labels on our lives" (Ketterman, 1992.) They can cause all kinds of emotions that include rejection, isolation, and terror among others. Words and non-verbal messages do more damage than physical violence.

Types of Verbal Communication

There are many different types of verbal communications that can affect us. Five of these will be discussed. They are as follows:

  • Verbal aggression,
  • Verbal abuse,
  • Labeling,
  • Negative speech, and
  • Positive speech.

Verbal Aggression

    "...Because of its destructiveness, verbal aggression is an important form of communication" (Infante, January 1995.)

Verbal aggression can be defined as words used that assault a person's self-image in order to render psychological pain. "The 'psychological pain' specified in the definition refers to feelings of inadequacy, humiliation, depression, despair, hopelessness, embarrassment, and anger" (Infante.) This is a very important definition because a great deal of negative phrases come from verbal aggression.

According to Dominic Infante in "Teaching Students to Understand and Control Verbal Aggression," there are various types of verbal aggressive messages. They are as follows.

  • Attacking a person's significant other.
    This consists of saying something negative about a person's significant other.
  • Background attacks.
    These consist of attacking a person's credentials, education, family, or accomplishments.
  • Blame.
    This consists of finding fault with a person.
    Character attacks. These consist of attacking a person's reputation.
  • Commands.
    This consists of dominating a person.
  • Competence attacks.
    These consist of assaulting a person's abilities.
    Malediction. This consists of slandering a person.
  • Negative comparison.
    This consists of comparing a person to something negative.
  • Personality attacks.
    These consists of assaulting a person's character.
  • Physical appearance attacks.
    These consist of assaulting or disapproving of a person's physical appearance.
  • Ridicule.
    This consists of using words intended to evoke disrespectful laughter at a person.
  • Swearing.
    This consists of using fowl language in front of a person who does not use it.
  • Teasing.
    This consists of making fun of a person or cracking jokes about a person.
  • Threats.
    This consists of intimidating a person (Infante.)

Why do people send messages that they know will hurt people's feelings? There are several reasons why verbal aggression occurs. Here are the basic eleven causes of verbal aggression according to Dominic Infante.

Argumentative skill insufficiency. This is assaulting other people personally out of frustration without being able to effectively attack their position.

  • Being in a bad mood.
    This is when you are just in a bad mood and you want everyone to suffer.
  • Disdain.
    These are verbal attacks that express hate.
  • Just wanting to be mean.
    This is being evil just because you want to be.
  • Mimicking a TV or well-known star.
    This is imitating an actor, a TV character, a sports star, a rapper, or some other celebrity.
    This is transference where a person attacks people because they remind the of a source of unresolved hurt.
  • Social learning.
    This is experiencing direct or indirect rewards for verbal aggressive behavior.
  • Trying to be funny.
    This is trying to be amusing when it is inappropriate or in bad taste.
  • Trying to look tough.
    This is acting thuggish or trying to look tough when you are not.
  • Trying to save face.
    This is attacking someone because they attacked you (Infante.)

There are two basic effects of verbal aggression. They are self-esteem damage and aggression escalation. Self-esteem damage results in a injured self-esteem and self-esteem problems. Aggression escalation is aggression that gets worse and worse. These effects tend to lead to reduced trust, a deteriorated relationships, and relationships that eventually end. Let's look at an example of verbal aggression.

Seattle and Detroit

    Seattle and Detroit were friends and college roommates. They had been friends for about 3 months. Detroit had a habit of arguing all the time. He had to always be right no matter what the subject was. His point was always important and no one else's was. If Detroit could not win the argument fairly, he would result to name calling and ridiculing the other person. He would make threats and tease people. If Detroit hated someone, they would know it.
    Seattle asked Detroit why he had to win every argument. Detroit said that he did not argue, he just had discussion. When Seattle would ask Detroit why he would talk about people and make fun of them, Detroit would get upset and leave.
    After awhile, Seattle began to dislike Detroit. Seattle tried to tell Detroit that he was becoming annoyed with Detroit, but it did not help. Seattle decided to no longer be friends with Detroit. Detroit began to spread rumors about Seattle. Things got so bad that Seattle had to leave college.
    Clearly, Detroit had a problem and it should have been addressed. Detroit failed to see his problem because in the past no one pointed his problem out to him or because he did not care. Detroit should have been more sensitive to other people's feelings.

Verbal Abuse

    There is a saying that kids use to say... "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm them. " This statement is not true at all. Words can hurt you!!!

"When Archie Bunker called Edith a ding-bat and admonished her, "Stifle yourself," we laughed. But in real life, verbal is anything but funny" (Seligmann, October 12, 1992.)

Verbal abuse can be defined as "any form of transmitted verbal message that [a person] reports as offensive, threatening, rude, embarrassing, or aversive" (Yelsma, Winter 1995.) Most abusers use words to belittle, punish, or to control a person. They use words to hurt people or to make them feel bad about themselves. It relies on the power of words to hurt and control a person. Verbal abuse can eventually lead to the following feelings.

  • Depression.
    This having a low spirit or life. It also consists of having feelings of dejection and melancholy.
  • Hopelessness.
    This is having feelings of despair and discouragement.
  • Humiliation.
    This is having low pride, self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and feelings of inferiority.
  • Inadequacy.
    This is having feelings of insecurity, incompetence, or weakness.

Verbal abuse can take many forms of expression and words. It can take the form of the following.

  • Anger.
    This is feelings of sudden and strong displeasure and discord towards a person.
  • Constant judging or challenging.
    This is constantly threatening, provoking, and objecting to a person.
  • Ridicule.
    This consists of words intended to provoke mean laughter at or feelings toward another person.
  • Undermining.
  • This is threatening a person or damaging what they are trying to do.
  • Zingers disguised as jokes.
    These are cracks about a person. When the person who is being talked about shows hurt feelings about the jokes, the reply is, can't you take a joke (Seligmann, October 12, 1992.)

Verbal abuse is usually said compulsively and constantly. It is said with no remorse or apology. Verbal abuse can make a person feel so bad that they can not imagine themselves in a positive light. It may take something short of a miracle to get over the abuse. Let's look at a situation that shows how verbal abuse can affect a person.

Montoya and Her Angel

    When Montoya attended elementary school, the kids teased her and told her she was ugly. They called her Montoya, the monster. She hated that name. She would often go home crying. When she would tell her family what was wrong, they would just reply, "Those kids are just playing with you." Montoya did not like the way the kids played with her.
    Montoya went through high school and the first year of college thinking she was ugly. All the kids had called her ugly in her early years. No one had really ever told her differently. She believed she was ugly. Montoya did not begin to think she was attractive until the Lord sent her an angel to confirm that she was attractive.
    According to Montoya, "I don't really know whether the guy was an angel or not, but to me he will always be an angel. There was a musical being held at a very big church. It seated about 1,000 people. The group of people that I was sitting with were sitting on one side of the church and the guy was sitting on the other side of the church. He was playing the drums. Somehow, some way, across that crowded church our eyes met.
    During the offering, some of the members of the group I was with went to the rest room. (The hallway to the rest room of the church was very long.) As we were walking to go back to our seats, he walked by us. He and I stared at each other until we could no longer see each other. After I could no longer see him because of the big crowd of people, I turned around to see if I could see him. Despite that crowd, I could see him still looking at me.
    Every since the day I saw my angel I have never again thought I was ugly. Now everyone says I'm conceited."

This is a true story. Although the guy may not have really been an angel, it took an event like an angel appearing for Montoya to realize that she was attractive. From about ages 8 to 18, Montoya really believed she was one of the ugliest people on the face of the earth because she was told that she was ugly.

Montoya should have been told that she was not ugly. This would have give her some assurance. The children should have also bee reprimanded, although it may have not helped much. Montoya needed to hear something positive.

According to Proverbs 16:24, "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones" (Good News, 1971.)


    Labeling begins when we are children and follows us until we die.

Labeling can be defined as branding a person with a word that describes their actions, mannerisms, features, looks, attitude, or demeanor.

There is an important realization that need to be discussed. That realization is...

"Few of us escape being saddled with a label as we grew up. Now that we are adults, we may laugh them off, but we can't deny their perpetual influence on our self-regard, our love life, or work life, perhaps most pointedly, our lives as mothers [parents]" (Glass, August 1993.)

Labels reflect family experiences and attitudes passed down and given to a child. These labels can be enduring as well as divide siblings and estrange relationships. "Labeling kids as opposites may seem like a way to cut down on squabbles, but often all it does is make each child feel insecure and unbalanced" (Glass.) Labels can make children think they are dumb, ugly, lazy, or shy when they really are not. Most kids that are labeled with negative labels grow up to honor their assigned roles.

Labels are a failure to see what potential a person may have. Labeling children is not a good idea because children are very susceptible to their parents' judgment of them. The words that children are told are taken to heart because the parents are so influential and important in their lives. Labeling a child can cause lasting damage to any child.

Parents may judge or label their children because they are worried about how the child will turn out. Parents want to shame the child into better behavior. Labels are also used when parents are startled or mad.

We are labeled by other people also. These people may be family members, friends, other children, and the child itself. When a child or person is given a label, tell them that they do not have to accept that label.

A young minister (21 years old) was speaking at a youth program. During the course of his sermon, he told the young people, "If your parents tell you that you can't do something or calls you by a negative label, tell them that they are a lie, because the Bible says, I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."

This is a bold statement coming from such a young man, but it is very true. It was enough to touch one parents nerves. When the parents were asked to give remarks at this same service, one mother stood up and said, "...I would tell my kids that they could not do something or call them something negative so that they would do the opposite of what I said. I never said it to belittle them." Although this parent may have not said the negative things to belittle her children, the children may have felt humiliated.

We are all guilty of labeling people. "He is so lazy." "She is so bad." "He ain't gonna never be nothing." "You are a dummy." We have all heard them and we have all said them. Let's look at an example of labeling.

Stacey and Tracey

    Stacey and Tracey were identical twins. Both twins were capable of performing well in school and they were both cute. Stacey was a little bit in school than Tracey. Tracey was slightly cuter than Stacey. Their mother in an effort to point out the good qualities of both girls would introduce them as, "Stacey, the smart one and Tracey, the pretty one." Stacey once said, "My mother thought she was doing good, but while we were growing up, I thought I was ugly and Tracey thought she was dumb.
    Stacey and Tracey's mother thought that by focusing on each twins good points, that each twin would feel special, but this did not work. This only made each twin feel bad about themselves.

Part 2...