Monday, April 5, 2010

Words do hurt

Retrieve personal memories of growing up and you will know without a doubt, words did hurt and still do. As children, many of us were emotionally injured when another kid poked fun at us. If an adult, particularly a parent, made fun or criticized us when we tried to do something, it was even worse – we were devastated.

As sharp words continued to be aimed our way during childhood, what did we do to survive the injuries? In order to save ourselves from being severely and emotionally wounded, we abandoned the things we liked, ignored the desire to try new things, and did only what we imagined other people, especially our parents, would approve in order to avoid risking the humiliation and embarrassment triggered by the nasty words of others.

In trying to act as if their harsh words did not faze us, we became adept at denying or ignoring our hurt feelings. Yet, if the criticism was constant, we became more than hurt – we became emotionally crippled on the inside in a way that affects our decision-making and relationships throughout life. According to Oprah Winfrey, an old-fashioned phrase we are all familiar with should be rewritten to read, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will diminish my self-esteem and infect me with the disease to please."

Whether you are on the sending end or receiving end of hurtful words, it is time, as an adult, to focus on improving your personal standards. First, strengthen your psychological boundaries (how you let other people treat you). Second, consider the way you treat other people. You should not do one without the other.

This is something that I am trying to internalize: When setting personal boundaries, speak up before you become angry with the sender over their verbal message and what they are saying. You might respond to the sender by saying: "Wow! That sounded like an insult. How about rephrasing it so we can continue this conversation?" Remember to give no argument, no challenge, and no charge in your voice when you speak. You must stand your ground and insist that that digs and cracks, no matter how subtle, are just not okay with you. If the person lets the hurtful statement stand, then stop the conversation and walk away – even if the person is your parent!

In order to set standards for your own behavior, it will be crucial for you to become aware of your impact on others. Pay attention to how your words and actions affect others. Empathize, by giving some thought to what you are going to say; listen to and watch other people as they respond to you. When an individual feels insulted by a statement you make, do not react in anger. Stop, count to 10, calm down, reflect, and respond. Your response may include a statement denying your intention to insult: "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult you – what I really wanted to say is...." Stay focused on your ultimate intent – to communicate without hurting.

Statements that imply the listener is wrong, such as "I'm sorry you feel that way." or "Stop being so sensitive!" or even, "Get over it," lack responsibility and maturity. These types of people are not being responsible for their own behavior, often trying to place the blame for their foul statements on you, their victim. Their statements will only serve to intensify the problem or conflict – and cause you further pain.

And absolutely do not allow anyone to say hurtful things to you. Let them know that their statement sounded like an insult, and if the person does not stop being negative, walk away. Leave the premises if necessary.

Words do hurt, often permanently, so protect yourself.