Hurt Words – Demonstrating the Impact of Verbal Abuse

verbal abuse Most of us will have heard the well known expression: “Sticks and stones, may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It seems like an odd expression, often spoken by mothers to their children, upset at a name they have been called in the playground, in the hope to reassure them. But those who have experience verbal abuse or bullying, will know that it can have a significant negative impact. Just because words cannot cause physical pain, they can still cause a great deal of emotional distress to the victim.

The emotional scarring that results from verbal abuse, is not visible like a physical injury. But, just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't there, impacting a victims everyday life. It lies beneath the skin, affecting the way someone sees and feels about themself. They may feel that other will see them as they see themselves, worthless and incapable. This invisible injury can cause real agony, even if a casual observer, would never even know it was there. It was this fact that inspired photographer Richard Johnson to launch the Weapon of Choice Project.

The Weapon Of Choice Project

Richard Johnson was once a victim of abuse himself, and thought it was time for people to realise that the 'sticks and stones' attitude is outdated, and needs to be treat as such. To make people aware of the effect of verbal abuse he released a series of compelling images, that showed how harmful it can be. Using professional make up artists and photographers, a compelling series of images was produced to show harmful words as physical injuries.

From his base in Orlando, Florida, Richard Johnson appealed for volunteers via social media to come along to his studio, and share their own experience with verbal abuse. The volunteers were presented with a list of hurtful words and insults and asked to pick the one which, was closest to their own experience. They could pick their own insult, if there was one that had affected them significantly in their lives..

The volunteer models were painted to look as if they had abusive words carved, burned or beaten into their skin. The top class make up artist created such realistic looking injuries, that looked so painful. Along with tear stained faces, and saddened expressions, this created a series of extremely powerful images. Child participants were accompanied by an adult chaperone (be it family member or guardian) throughout the project, to ensure that they felt safe and comfortable at all times.

Victims of emotional abuse often don't talk about their experiences, but this campaign gave them a voice and an understanding ear. It proved to be a cathartic experience for both the volunteers and for photographer Johnson, who experienced abuse as a child. Even he was surprised of the effect the campaign had the child participants, some of which, were so ashamed that they were too embarrassed to say their 'hurt word' out loud. It really is astonishing and incredibly sad, the impact insults – even those that seem harmless – have on the younger generations.

The stunning photo gallery of high resolution images is available to view online. Show your family and friends, so the will know the emotional harm verbal abuse can have on children and adults.

Why 'Weapon of Choice' is so Important

Richard Johnson names his campaign 'Weapon of Choice', because for an abuser, using words as a way to hurt someone, is a conscious choice they make. Furthermore, verbal and physical abuse, often go hand in hand – an abuser will use verbal abuse and insults, as just one of the weapons in their arsenal that cause harm. There is frustrating attitude that somehow persists, that verbal abuse is harmless, but this is so untrue, it has significant emotional effects and furthermore, allowing it to happen could open a door for further abuse, such as revenge porn, sexual battery, or even sexual extortion.

Johnson realised how important his project was when he witnessed parents hearing the effect verbal abuse had on their children. Playground insults are just as impactful as more sinister name calling amongst adults, something that was obviously difficult for parents to realise. This turned the Weapon of Choice project into so much more than an anti-bullying campaign. It also reveals the impact that verbal abuse can have on an entire family – the pain a parent has to witness, when their child sees themselves as worthless; or on a sibling when a sister is repeatedly called a demeaning word.

Knowing how important his message is, and determined to raise the awareness of his campaign against verbal abuse, Johnson encourages others to share the images with their own social media following. He does ask that those who do use his images in a blog, or article, that they accredit him, and provide a link to the official Hurt Words website or the Weapon of Choice Facebook page ( is no longer the official website of the project). If a non-profit organisation, or registered charity dealing with verbal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, or bullying, the images can be used for free, after signing permission and release forms.

Don't Be Complicit to Verbal Abuse

You must have heard the expression: 'If you see something, say something.' This saying can be applied far beyond suspicious actions, or potential dangerous situations, it perfectly applies to verbal abuse too. In any abuse situation there are three participants: the abuser, the victim, and a witness. It can be argued if someone witnesses verbal abuse, and does nothing or laugh along, then they are complicit in the abuse, even if they are not an active participant.

Past victims of abuse posted their reactions to the campaign, stating how powerless and alone it made them feel. Not feeling able to stick up for themselves, because there is no one else that will defend them either. Victims noted, that if when they were being victimised, if a few other children had supported them, they would have found strength in that. Their tough experience could have been so different. That is an incredibly sad realisation.

Anyone could one day become the victim of verbal abuse, it could even be you that will learn of the emotional pain that can be attached to such insults. It could be a co-worker that targets you, an angry ex, a mother at the school gates, someone in your class, or even just a person that is trying to impress someone else. If you were to become a victim of verbal abuse, how would you want those around you to react? Would you want your co-worker or boss to brush it off ass workplace banter? Would you want your friends to look sheepishly at the floor as an ex-parter or friend hurls insults at you? Probably not. You would hope that those around you would see that the abusers behaviour is totally unacceptable, and defend you. Treat others as you would like to be treated in the same situation.

Don't be complicit, and if you see verbal abuse, say something. Even if you have not been a witness to verbal abuse in person, you have looked at this photo gallery and in a sense, witnessed the abuse of these real victims, so stand up for them now. Share the Weapon of Choice Project – post on your social media pages, tell your friends about it, if you are a teacher, use it as a way to show your pupils the devastating effects of bullying. If you yourself have been a victim of verbal abuse, share your story and show victims that they are not alone, and that they can get through it. This project can help the victims of verbal abuse in so many ways. It may even help verbal abusers to see how harmful their actions are.

For More Information is not the official website of the Weapon of Choice Project, but it sill has plenty of useful information on the campaign. You can also get involved in the discussion by visiting the Weapon of Choice Facebook Page.- It really is time for the 'sticks and stones' attitude to be forgotten – you don't choose whether or not to offended by an insult. Although not physical, words can hurt, and we should all be more careful how we use them.