You certainly recall the phrase, ‘sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you'. Well, my life experience, and no doubt yours, has proven this wrong. Sound is as likely to cause us to fight or flee as much as placing our hand upon a hot stove. It can elicit the exact same automatic reflex. When was the last time you were awakened from sleep from an unknown bang or clap of thunder? How did you feel? Was your heart nice and calm and your limbs relaxed? Highly unlikely. And when sound comes in the form of words, it can cause great emotional pain.
The result of our brain detecting possible danger is the outpouring of a lot of electro-chemical juice. That juice gives us the typical feeling we feel when we are startled, but also can just as easily lead us to fight—anger and rage. When we hear the sounds of someone yelling at us, having a tantrum, blaming us, whatever, that sends a strong single to our brain that tells us we are being attacked and better prepare to fight or flee.
This not only applies to adults, of course. It is readily apparent in children. Often when a child tantrums, it elicits anger in the parent. And when anger appears, it always means our brain has detected a threat, because anger is a fight reaction. What is the threat? The threat is that this child will not end up being a good representative of that parent or is usurping the parent’s power (i.e. one-upping). Yes, it is that personal, although usually the threat sits below the level of awareness and manifests only as anger in the parent.
What I believe is more important to focus on are not the fighting words, but what has caused someone to utter them. In my estimation, the words are less important than the actual trigger and will hurt less if we recognize this. When someone goes on an angry rant, it is a fight reaction that is really saying, “I am scared, I am frustrated, I am insecure, I am vulnerable, I am threatened." Does this give them a pass? No. But when you recognize this you can prevent yourself from getting triggered by it and thus continuing the fight.