Sticks and stones can break my bones but words cannot hurt me
is a popular saying. I disagree because words hurt more than sticks and stones. Perhaps this phrase was coined to teach us to not give too much importance to hurtful words?
Since physical violence / abuse is being frowned upon, abusers are resorting to verbal and emotional abuse. It is not restricted only to family members.
There is a Tamil thirukural that translates loosely to
“A burn caused by fire will heal but the hurt from a fiery tongue will not”
Majority of online vents about relationship problems is about verbal barbs / taunts / abuse. Only the degree varies. But this is not restricted to family alone. Even young kids bully one another verbally in schools and playgrounds.
For some victims, it takes longer to even identify that they are being verbally abused because the bully masks the attack as “advice uttered with good will“. If conversations with a person frequently leave you feeling bad about yourself or uneasy in your gut, that person is most probably verbally abusive / manipulative. Sometimes our gut is a better compass than the mind.
Let us try this litmus test to see whether this person really cares about us or were they simply being abusive.
- Were those words said to correct or belittle you? (sincere correction usually gets done privately and is never a public humiliation)
- Every word whether kind or harsh has an intention behind it. what was his / her intention?
- Do those words build up or break you down. How helpful are those words?
- What is the end result after the conversation – problem resolution or more chaos?
- And most importantly, how worthy is the other person? Is the relationship balanced enough that the person will also be willing to take correction with the same gladness with which they dished out their advice?
- Are their words worthy of the time spent fuming / worrying?
- Is there truth in their words?
Talk is cheap. It really is. Someone once said,
if only tongues were made of glass, people will be more careful while using it. Unfortunately this boneless organ in our body can effortlessly crush hearts.
Shake off worthless words even before they make a deep impact. The more time you spend analyzing or worrying about them, the greater the chances of getting hurt.
Just because someone bothered to spew their negative opinion, it does not mean that their words should be respected or even obeyed. Most words are worthless. The good ones are like gold – hidden under heaps of coal.
Do the litmus test mentioned above and THINK.
Are the words
T- Thoughtful ?
H- Helpful ?
I- Intelligent ?
N- Necessary ?
If they failed the think test, deal with it – Confront / ignore / move away from the abuser / gently point to them their own imperfections.
There is a bible verse that goes like this.
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes”
In short, learn to pick your battles. Verbal abuse is as potent and as dangerous as physical abuse.
My mom once said, “Like venom spreads to every cell of the body after one is stung by a scorpion, venomous words will percolate into one’s mind especially if one is in that environment for a long time. And some victims turn into a bullies. The vicious cycle thus continues”. I was too young to grasp the meaning when I heard it for the first time.
Know your own worth first. Then it will be easy to measure the worth of another person’s words. An insecure person will get upset for every negative word spoken. When hurt, panicking, crying, fretting and fuming, going on defensive mode will be futile. Know your own worth first and then it will be easy to make a calm decision and plan the next step. Yes words hurt… a lot….A person who denies this is lying (my 2 cents). But no one can be shielded from nasty words at all times. Look at it from a different perspective. A good sense of humor helps.
Convert those words to your advantage. If their words are found worthy, change yourself and improve. Good for you.
If not, deal with those words and the person in a way you deem fit. Deal with this immediately, tactfully, seriously, maturely, wisely and firmly. ‘Immediately” tops the list for a reason.
“Inthil valaiyathathu imbathil valaiyumma?” meaning “What does not bend at age five, will it bend at age 50?”
This applies for relationships. Set boundaries when the relationship is in early stages.
A few more things before I end this post:
- Learn to stand up for yourself and deal with your abuser directly instead of crying to your spouse or boss or friend and expecting them to speak or take action on your behalf. Like a muscle gets stronger with exercise, courage within you will increase every time you stand up for your self respect.
- Teach children to stand up for themselves even if it means that they have to stand up against you sometimes. How else will they know how to deal with abusers when they grow up?
- If you will love someone more than they deserve, expect you’ll be hurt more than you deserve