“You’re gonna get it, boy!”
“This kid just won’t listen.”
“If you don’t come, I’ll just leave you here, how does that sound?”
“I am so exhausted/sick/broke, because of you.”
“Oh, is little baby needs his blanky?”
“Why can’t you be like your brother?”


Breaking news in neuroscience:
Parental verbal abuse is just as bad as non-familial sexual abuse or the direct witnessing of domestic violence. It changes the structure of the brain just as drastically.

Reread that sentence please, and let it sink in.

I’m assuming you want a long, successful healthy life for your children. A childhood better than the one you might have had. Maybe you work really hard to provide for them. Maybe you try to be a better parent than your parents were. But maybe no one modeled the needed skills, so in the face of the stresses of raising children, you might just find yourself doing, unconsciously or consciously, what you know how to do. Possibly repeating old family patterns. Yet if ‘what you know to do’ includes any kind of Parental Verbal Abuse (this includes threatening, rejection, regrets, name calling, withholding of love, ranking or unfair comparisons, trivializing, blaming or shaming your kids, or any kind of yelling or rage), then the harm you’re doing may be irreversible.

Up until recently, the extent to which childhood maltreatment influences brain development has been left out of most psychiatric neuroimaging studies, but now it’s clear: maltreatment changes how the brain develops. Brain patterns that used to be considered a cause of psychiatric illnesses are now seen to be a direct consequence of abuse.

Parental verbal abuse (PVA) in and of itself changes the structure of the brain in very specific ways. The regions that process the abuse (listening, language processing) are most heavily impacted.

In one study, otherwise healthy young adults with a history of high-level exposure to PVA, but no other form of maltreatment, showed three significant changes in the white matter of the brain, in the neural pathways that allow the mind to function optimally:
1) arcuate fasciculus in left superior temporal gyrus:  this is correlated with verbal IQ and verbal comprehension index, reduced language development, lower cognitive abilities.
2) cingulum bundle by the posterior tail of the left hippocampus: associated with depression, dissociation, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and limbic irritability.
3) the left body of the fornix: somatization and anxiety.

More broadly, people with childhood maltreatment show enhanced amygdala response (reactivity) to emotional faces and diminished striatal response (holdbacks) to anticipated rewards. In addition, children who are verbally abused learn to take it – they become victims of abuse later in life, often become abusive themselves.
The good news for parents: childhood maltreatment is the most important preventable cause later mental health conditions. YOU CAN CHANGE THE PATTERN,for your own children and their children and so on and so on. Almost half of adult conditions can be prevented. It’s also of great urgency: evidence is emerging that these regions and interconnecting pathways have sensitive exposure periods when they are most vulnerable to developmental impairment. NOW IS THE TIME. Make a commitment to make today the last day you conciously serve up anything but unconditional love and clear parenting to your kids.


More on what is parental verbal abuse and where to get help:
Real Love and Parenting

Love is Respect (broader site on abuse)

Study links: