Try an experiment. Start a conversation on any topic with your spouse or best friend. After you've been talking together for a few minutes, interject with something along the lines of: "Hey, what are you talking about? You're a real idiot!"

Next, hasten to explain to your partner that of course, you didn't mean what you said - your were just joking, or if you like, you were conducting an experiment. Ask her to describe how she felt when you called her an "idiot" (or any other term of contempt you chose to use.) Doubtless, the reply will be "Awful!"

Then, assuming she's a person deeply attuned to her own feelings (to be sure, not everyone is), ask if she felt better after you explained you hadn't been serious.

Very likely, of course, she'll say that she was a lot relieved. But if she's honest, she might well tell you that deep down she still feels a certain amount of emotional pain. Pain that didn't completely dissipate even after accepting (at least on an intellectual level) your assurance that you didn't mean it.

As one husband once commented: "Whenever my wife hurls an abusive epithet at me - even I know she's only doing it because she's under great stress - something inside me always dies..."

Here we're talking about a case where the target of verbal abuse knows it's just an act, or maybe he can even sense that although it appears to be an attack against him, the attacker is really shouting at himself! How much more, then, does the victim suffer when she knows that an unfortunate choice of words (to put it in the most charitable way) directed against her is unquestionably intended!

The power of speech, for good or evil, a power almost impossible to over-estimate, has been the subject of untold volumes and discourses. Yet as much as we pay lip service to this truth, somehow we find it extremely difficult to internalize it. It just could be that this little story, a remarkable true incident, may help a little towards this end.

Sharon Smith was in her early teens and had everything going for her. She was extremely popular among her classmates and teachers alike, was considered "the life of the party", and was an outstanding student.

Then her troubles began. True, she continued to be well-liked after the episode she regarded as a turning point, and other than her own family and her closest friends, few in the outside world may have noticed any change in her at all. But deep down inside, the change was quite dramatic, and by her own testimony, the effects of the "curse," as she sometimes called it, were to remain with her many years later.

Bambi was known as the clown of the class. Slightly eccentric but full of fun (and with the proverbial skin as thick as an elephant's hide), she could always be relied upon to lift sagging spirits.

One day, during the recess following a particularly demanding class test, Bambi announced. "Come on girls, I'm a fortune teller. Let me read your palms and I'll tell you what's in store for you once we're all out of this place!" Her classmates gathered around Bambi gleefully, extending their palms.

"You, Suzie, will graduate with honors as a lawyer. You, Jane, will be a CEO. You, Pam, will marry a millionaire...You will be a diplomat in a foreign country..." The girls chuckled with delight.

Finally it was Sharon's turn. By this time, Bambi probably realized that in order to retain "credibility", she had better mix in a couple of less possible forecasts too!

Bambi thought for a moment, looked Sharon up and down and announced: "The same thing that happened to Gertie McQueen will happen to you!"

Ever since the girls had been in kindergarten, Gertie McQueen had been the undisputed genius of the class. Then, about two years previously, she had suddenly starting acting very strangely. Each day her conduct had become stranger and stranger, ultimately leading to a complete mental breakdown. She had been in and out of hospital ever since.

Everybody, Sharon included, enjoyed a good laugh, apparently forgetting that it wasn't so nice to make jokes at the expense of a poor girl who had lost her mind.

That night, Sharon didn't sleep much, and the little sleep she did get was punctuated by nightmares. In point of fact, it was the start of one long nightmare that has been plaguing her ever since.

If she slept, ran the dark thought at the back of Sharon's mind, would she wake up crazy? It was a thought that was to give her no rest in the days, weeks and months that lay ahead. She was forced to stay home from school for a few days, claiming that she didn't feel well. Well, in a very real sense, she certainly wasn't well. Not by a long shot.

Eventually, Sharon forced herself to return to school, but nothing was really the same again. She had to keep telling herself that she must hold on to her sanity at all costs. She felt powerless to stop the incessant, anxious thoughts that were twirling around in her head, which she was convinced would burst open any second!

Before too long, her closest friends began to notice that Sharon was under stress, although they didn't suspect any connection with the fortune-telling session. Eventually, one of them managed to persuade Sharon to confide in her. The friend tried her very best to reassure the hapless Sharon, and all else having failed, urged her to consult a psychologist.

The sessions at the psychologist did help a great deal, and she learned to keep her anxiety under control and carry on with normal life. But there was just no way she could totally shake off those dark thoughts that had taken a such a firm grip on the recesses of her mind.

Today, Sharon runs a successful business and is the proud mother of a lovely family. But ever so often, she is overcome with anxiety attacks that virtually put her out of action for a short while.

Do you think that the words that come out of your mouth, once spoken, just disappear into thin air? If so, it's high time to think again. Very carefully.

And even if your words are only part of a game!

Author's Bio: 

Azriel Winnett is the creator of "Hodu.com - Your Gateway to Better Communication Skills" at hodu.com. This very popular website features only top quality articles, videos and tutorials to help improve your communication and relationship skills at home, in social life and in the workplace.

Visit Azriel's blog at hodu.com/blog.