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Sticks and Stones: The Myth That Words Will Never Hurt You

Updated on February 12, 2013

Words Are Our Way of Separating and Coming Together


Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones...

But words will never hurt us?

So untrue.

With words are sometimes our only or our most significant way to express ourselves and communicate with each other, words can break our spirits and definitely harm us.

Even those who believe they have a tough exterior and are immune to negative language and words may be, in fact, kidding themselves in a very detrimental way - that is - if they never take steps to overcome the harms that may be happening when they hear negative words, phrases, tones, etc.

Many people who claim that words do not affect them are actually, unconsciously involved in working against negativity and do not even know it. This isn't a bad thing at all, but it's usually better to be aware of counter-techniques for managing negativity than to be unaware. If one is aware, these counter techniques can be replicated at will and for specific purposes.

An example of counter-technique in dealing with negative speech:

Positive Affirmations...the stating or conscious thinking of positive phrases and concepts whicfh, hopefully, override negative phrases or concepts.

Now, some people are very GOOD at using positive affirmations and actually have these as routine in their lives without being very aware that they use them...

Do you have an almost impossibly positive-inclined person in your midst or as a co-worker or friend? One whose day, it is almost impossible to affect in a negative way because this person can always turn a bad situation into "a learning experience" with a "positive outcome"? A person who is able to always find positive things in the negative events which frustrate and place stress upon most other people?

Sometimes, these people have a sort of running commentary going in their minds, combatting negativity at every turn...occassionally, people who refuse to give in to words of negativity are also "in denial," so you really cannot tell about these things without, first, getting to know a person like this.

Sometimes when we are in denial of the effects of bad situations or words, our minds protect us by shutting off a certain amount of critical thinking...and replacing this with a "construct" for us to believe in...but the structure of this becomes sort of a "belief outline" that we cling to as if the belief is a system of solid principles...really, if you get inside the first layer of this, you're really in trouble, 'cos there's really only a layer or two upholding this structure...a few "positive thoughts" to believe in...but on the outside - this positivity can be very convincing to both self and others. <--- not to be used for long term purposes...and THIS IS WHY creating a CONSCIOUS AWARENESS of positivity, positive affirmations, etc., is important... so that we do not allow our subconscious to make an emergency 'shelter' for us that is less solid than one we can make choices about and have control over.

Alternate to the points about "denial," one of those people with positivity in such abundance that it's annoying to some people (like a constantly naive Mr. Bean? or a frustratingly efficient and cheery Mary Poppins?) may have conscious constructs in place and be working actively on their positive attitudes, etc. <--- these types are a fairly good model. Okay, well Mr. Bean isn't the greatest model...however (and yes I know he's a fictitious character) his optimism is powerful. Mostly - people who refuse to buy in to 'all the norms' seem to have a better chance at also avoiding certain cyclical oppression/negative influence of words than most who buy in to all the norms.

Dealing with words, both positive and negative, is something all people should learn about because we only have a certain degree over our moods when we understand well, how to speak, how to hold discourse with each other, how to listen to each other. We're social creatures - we need other people around us and in our lives in varying degrees, and we interact with other social creatures in a number of ways. Speaking is a tool we have to allow us to clarify other ways of communication that are sometimes unclear - such as body language communication. We can use our speech to clarify when we are uncertain about what a gesture meant or what the expression on a person's face means or what the tense-looking body stance a person is holding means.


Propaganda Video on Communism

Propaganda/Psychological Tactics in Advertising

Subconscious Ingestion of Words

Negative conditioning happens a lot through media sources while we passively - or even actively think we're ignoring it. Sometimes people will say, "I hate the negativity in the newspaper all the time, so I stopped reading the newspaper."

This sounds like a good way to stay away from negative words and comments but is it really? Did you take yourself completely away from being able to ever see headlines, too? (your mind and brain 'read' stuff that you don't consciously attempt to read...if you don't completely remove all news text from your world, your brain will still read it subconsciously). Did you take yourself many, many steps away from being able to hear any news broadcasts over television sources, radio sources, etc? Your brain also hears many things you are not aware of at a conscious level - this is why it's super important to be a conscious, assertive participant in life, making choices about who is around us, setting boundaries and engaging in the world respectfully.

Our brains are amazing, really. They do things we never ask our brains to do. The problem is, they do things we never ask our brains to do. The bigger problem... we can't stop our brains from working this way. Our best recourse is to get with it and be very interested in how our brains manage information and kick off responses in our own thinking, perceptions and behaviors.

Because there are so many things our minds do without our conscious prompting, this means people who aren't reinforcing positive input all the time may still be affected by bad words and concepts even though they aren't actively engaged in consciously derived bad thinking, bad behaviors, a 'bad crowd' of friends, etc.

Ever wonder why it's so hard for a 'plain Jane' or 'ordinary Joe' to escape 'mediocrity,' 'constant, general labour,' 'seemingly unlucky events,' and such in life? If they're centered in a world of negativity and know of no 'awareness' techniques whatsoever, the plain Janes and ordinary Joes may seem to have a rather mediocre, unlucky, plain life throughout and always wonder why 'nothing really great ever really happens.'

The paragraph above is, of course, propaganda, but is made of concepts about psychology and the subconscious mind which I truly believe in...

I've inserted it (the propaganda paragraph) here for a reason. It's not that I'm going to detract from it soon but I feel willing to place it under scrutiny for readers who move on to my next heading - to examine the pros and cons of "propaganda" below.

Not all propaganda is bad, but - as with many terms in our modern society - the word "propaganda" has reached a 'buzz word' status. This means its original meaning might be in question when used as a buzzword...the general public in a universal way has allowed the buzzword to represent a certain symbolic meaning or concept...

With the word "propaganda," the general buzzword concept is negative - propaganda meaning, "lies." Propaganda doesn't inherently reflect lies... propaganda reflects a certain argument that is persuasive.

Propaganda is a persuasion attempt in its plain form. The connotation with "lies" comes from our seeing so many lies in the persuasion attempts of our government's words - which have often turned out to be harmful words, lies, and manipulations. In turn, we've started deciding that the word "propaganda" means "lies" instead of "persuasion methods and messages."

More Subliminal Tactics

Propaganda: Perspectives

Some will argue that all propaganda is bad. Some argue - and this is my position for the purposes of this hub - that all propaganda is good!

Essentially, propaganda is defined as: the spreading of messages and ideas that have a certain agenda or motivation behind the ideas. Another way to put it is that propaganda is a persuasive message or collection of ideas presented to an audience the speaker hopes to influence.

You see...? Nothing is actually wrong with propaganda... and propaganda, believe me, is all around you - but there CAN BE a problem in "motivations" and "agenda" of the person(s) presenting the's the motivation/agenda that need be searched for because, when put together right, propaganda messages are JUST PLAIN EFFECTIVE...whether the audience is aware of this or not.

Words affect us whether we like them to or not, whether we're paying attention to them or not!

For example: the message I conveyed above, I'll just re-post here below again...

"Because there are so many things our minds do without our conscious prompting, this means people who aren't reinforcing positive input all the time may still be affected by bad words and concepts even though they aren't actively engaged in consciously derived bad thinking, bad behaviors, a 'bad crowd' of friends, etc.

Ever wonder why it's so hard for a 'plain Jane' or 'ordinary Joe' to escape 'mediocrity,' 'constant, general labour,' 'seemingly unlucky events,' and such in life? If they're centered in a world of negativity and know of know 'awareness' techniques whatsoever, the plain Janes and ordinary Joes may seem to have a rather mediocre, unlucky, plain life throughout and always wonder why 'nothing really great ever really happens."

Now, again - this is propaganda. In my opinion, it's my propaganda and is POSITIVE, good propaganda...I'll proceed to tell you all about my propaganda now....

The motive/agenda: my motive in saying what I have said is to persuade you that paying attention to words is ultimately and totally important. Also, that whether you like it or not, words are affecting you, regardless of whether or not you're conscious of them or are paying attention to them. I have added examples of a 'plain Jane' and an 'ordinary Joe' to appeal to your idea of 'safeness with an average person' in my examples. Also a 'persuasion' technique (appeal to the audience with something the audience will identify with). Now my explanation is moving more into technique rather than agenda...the agenda is simple, already stated, but I'll state it once more....I wish to persuade an audience that words affect people whether they pay attention to them or not.

Here, I'm being completely transparent...which other propaganda-ists rarely do. I'm making my propaganda as harmless and as transparent as possible.

News sources, political speakers, many activist speakers, etc - are not going to give you this much insight into their propaganda!

One tiny (not so tiny) negative here that I'm also going to be completely transparent about: I haven't qualified my suggestions about how plain Jane and ordinary Joe end up with an overall mediocre life due to not paying critical attention to life...this concept, I've provided. I've basically said that not paying attention to words in an active, deliberate way is turning out plain Janes and ordinary Joes in our society who wonder why they have mediocre lives or sometimes, even consider that they're just "unlucky" throughout their lifetime.

I feel I've presented enough information to the audience to make my information appear plausible and "secure enough" in argument, etc. I have not, however, offered scientific evidence that lack of conscious attention to words turns out plain Janes and ordinary Joes, and so forth.

I believe that, for some people, 'on my same wavelength' so-to-speak, they will "get" the physiological body matters references and agree with me, knowing that what I speak "is true," based on shared understanding that audio, visual messages pass into our mind at a subconscious level all the time, whether we like this or not. THIS STUFF is scientifically proven, but I leave off showing you WHERE to find scientific reports on the psychological and physiological body studies which prove my points concerning the subconscious collecting of information to our brains...

In this, I'm expecting that - with the number of hubs I've already published - with my current readerbase already - I expect that most readers will trust me when I present certain information...again, just being transparent here about the whole propaganda/information thing.


It's called "Authority of the Author," and some people believe that hub authors with higher hubscores are authors with more authority than those with lower hubscores.

Well, call me lazy or call me busy - I'm being transparent about my propaganda on this particular hub, so I'll say - I'm both lazy and busy (writing, ready, I'm pretty active today), and I haven't posted the proper scientific evidence to substantiate all the points about propaganda or even my own self-derived propaganda on this hub.

All in all... I ask a question now, related to propaganda...

Has my propaganda harmed you?

Video: What is Propaganda

Putting This All Together

Now if you believe in my propaganda, regardless of whether or not I supplied links outward to scientific data or reports to substantiate what I'm saying...

You still want to know the point, right?

Well...what I'm getting at is that words can almost do things to us that we'd never imagine - so we'd better darn-well start paying attention to words.

Words we use with others, words we allow around us, words we say to ourselves...can all affect us and others.

If we remove negative connotations on words (such as I hope I've done with the word propaganda), then we can also start to build a solid base of understanding on a number of topics - actually - on any topic we that we don't end up with the 'unawareness shell' like I mentioned very early on in this hub.

If we allow our mind to make constructs without our prompting, we are at risk of our mind creating reactions to words in our world...and we might not have positive results out of the way our mind creates or reacts, right?

All in all... are you - are WE aware?

Or not?

Will we go on using words, with no regard to their effects?

Will we mistakenly believe that we can just shut out or ignore words we consider to be negative or harmful - thinking this will protect us?

Will we continue to sing the phrase:

"Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones

But Words Will Never Hurt Us"


Do you really believe in this phrase?

What This Hub Needs

In order for me to accept the information on this hub, this hub needs more:

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    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hello Better Yourself,

      Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Like you, I truly hope that people will spread the idea that words should be used with care!

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hello Faith Reaper,

      Thank you for reading and commenting and for sharing this hub. I agree that it is sad for young people to be crushed so terribly from bullying that they harm themselves and others.

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 

      5 years ago from North Carolina

      Excellent hub and topic! Words are powerful, whether we want them to be or not. Hopefully word will spread that people need to be cautious of their words :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Hello mythbuster,

      Excellent hub here! Yes, our words can either build up or tear down, and I prefer to build up another one. I feel very strongly about being mindful of using words in such a manner as to not harm another, yet I am far from perfect ...

      Bullying today is all about the words and it is so very sad to see young people so distraught to the point of wanting to harm themselves or others.

      As my sweet mother used to say, " If you do not have anything nice to say, it is best to say nothing at all."

      Voted up +++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      6 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Hi mythbuster - I have such a good memory, unfortunately, and picture things in my mind, I try to avoid negativity. Otherwise, I would always be seeing negative pictures. I have a negative husband, and I think that is part of it. A woman on the site has a husband whom she must shield from the negative for a similar reason. Your hub is well written and makes sense, and you analyze situations and thoughts well. I enjoy your writing. Thanks for sharing.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey H.C Porter - thx for the rating and for the supportive comments. I think most people can identify with hurts caused by words and know that the sticks and stones stuff is a 'convenient' phrase that simply isn't true much of the time. The trick is in getting people to think MINDFULLY about words... we use 'em all the time but rarely do we think about what we're actually saying if we're not being mindful about things.

    • H.C Porter profile image


      9 years ago from Lone Star State

      Great Hub on a topic that some still may disagree you on- as for me, I know better and know that the damage that can be caused by words can be much more ebrasive than any other weapon. Even after they are spoken-they can stay with you throughout life and sway your judgements, choices and mindset. Bravo on this... Rated Up, thanks for the share!

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi ceciliabeltran - thx for commenting. I have also read the same study/report you mention but thought I'd said enough on the hub already. The study gets quite technical but perhaps I should add a few details about it 'cos it's important, as you've already mentioned - with the brain registering pretty much all abuse as harmful, triggering the brain centres which also react to protect against pain...shuts down critical thinking, etc.

    • ceciliabeltran profile image


      9 years ago from New York

      Hi! Very important topic. Although a few years ago, they made a study using the MRi and found that verbal abuse affects a person in the same spot as physical pain. So if you hurt a person by calling them names, in their mind, it's like you punched them or kicked them--literally. Same toxic effect to the body.

      Thanks for this hub.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      If it is of any consolation, agvulpes, the words made my head hurt once I was finished writing, too. I thought it important to detail the mechanics of a few things involved in how many messages go out to people and how many persuasions are used in propaganda but that not all propaganda and 'persuasion' is bad stuff.

    • agvulpes profile image


      9 years ago from Australia

      mythbuster phew your words are so heavy that they are hurting my brain! No Ok

      How about 'the pen is mightier than the sword'?

      Seriously though you raise some very pertinent points in this Hub and I should not be taking it so lightly hmmm

      Great Hub and it gets a thumbs up from me :-)

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      MrDSpade, I'm glad you liked the topic and found the hub informative. I agree with you that words can cause mental harm and also create negative situations. I think if we learn to think things through to a much further degree before we say things, many harmful words can be avoided.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Yes I liked the topic of sticks and stones and the follow thru of the information you wrote with it. From my experience words can hurt you not physical but mentally and cause negative situations that are sometimes unavoidable. You have a really informative hub.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey BJBenson - I'm really enjoying our bantering back and forth, so thanks for stopping by again! I think you're right - more can be said on the topic for this hub...only it's quite complicated and widespread, actually - this word power and word abuse, so I'm thinking for a few more days before adding to the hub or, perhaps, branching off to a sub-topic on another hub...

      Propaganda? *innocent look" would I write propaganda? Haha - it's all up for investigation though, isn't it? I mean - the things people write, the things people believe? I'm learning not to be afraid to investigate.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Nell Rose - the bully incidents are the worst! Absolutely unnecessary for anyone to go through. They are signs that the bully is in a state of great fear and other powerful emotions, too. I'm glad you've overcome some of the bullying details you've survived through - to become stronger within. Thanks for sharing your opinion on the media and propaganda you're watching with a critical eye and for sharing your thoughts on other matters. I'll be back over at your hubs to read some more, too...thx for stopping by so often!

    • BJBenson profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      HI, my did you take on a big subject this time.To take this WORD hub on was excellent. I think you could add more,because this subject has so many different places you could go with. From what the playground bully says on the playground to what companies tell us the media and the government of course. Word do control and words with action. You know I like your words!So don't be using any propaganda on us readers!lol

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      Hi, you are talking to an expert on negative words thrown at me! ha ha, but seriously, words can make you happy or sad, and can slash so deep that they mess you up for life. I know, I was bullied at school. All words. But it did make me mentally stronger, and as for tv and newspapers with propaganda, and subliminal pushing, if you could call it that, i don't believe a word they say! lol I always see throught the lines. that is what words, bad and good have done to my thoughts over the years. cheers nell

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Lady Guinevere - you're right - there's a lot of things, even emotions and thoughts behind words that do harm - anything to do with derogatory intent/motive in a message, is part of what can be harmful. Thx for adding these points.

      susanlang - I will check out the World Org site you've mentioned. Is there a particular page or article over there you'd like to recommend? Thanks for adding your comments.

    • susanlang profile image


      9 years ago

      I understand where you went with this hub and words do hurt as much as a fist. Infact, the World Org. against abuse has confirmed this: Words cut you like a knife and leave unseen scars. Good hub! Thanks.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      9 years ago from West By God

      It isn't always the words, but the emotions and thoughts that are put behind them that hurts.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hello 2patricias: I believe what I've written is true...however, I hope what I have written - and the way I've written it - suggests to people to go beyond what I present here and to become active in double-checking on propaganda, things they read online, etc. Thank you very much for commenting.

    • 2patricias profile image


      9 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      This is a very clever hub! You may be too clever for some of us (like me). However, I do understand that I may be more likely to accept what you say if I already believe it, or if you can prove to me that other people trust you. So if you had a high hub score, this might give you more authority. Although the reality is that what you say might not be true.

      You have several interesting arguments in this hub, and I shall have to read it again. Thanks for making my brain do some work.


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