Lesson 33: Words hurt and leave deeper, longer-lasting scars

I was picked on a lot when I was younger.  I was short, skinny, wore glasses, had braces, and was in the school band.  I stopped telling anyone because I was always told the same things.  Have you ever heard the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me?”  Did you believe it?  Me neither.  There was a time when I thought I did.  I wanted to.  Took a long time to realize that in reality, words cut so much deeper than anything physical.  Physical scars fade, but internal, emotional damage, that will always be there.  The worst part, it is so easy to do without realizing it or even knowing the full extent of the damage you are causing.  What hurts and what doesn’t is not always up to you.

Words cannot be unspoken.  Like a bullet fired from a gun, there are no take backs.  Once you say something, that is it.  It has been said and there is nothing that you can say or do afterward that will erase it.  Even worse, you will not likely see the full extent of the damage your words cause.  The damage is not usually visible unless you are paying close attention or are an expert at reading body language.  Even then, it is difficult to see.  A large stretch of time may pass before you ever truly understand the consequences of your words.  Maybe you won’t ever see the results, but they will be there.

Being a victim of this kind of bullying or mistreatment is not an excuse to one day inflict it on others.  Intentional or not, no one has the right to mistreat others for any reason.  Think before you speak and take the time to consider how your words might be interpreted.  Just because there was no malicious intent, doesn’t mean that your words won’t be taken as such.  Communication is critical and it is important to do your best to understand what others are saying, while also understanding how what you are saying might be interpreted.

The more serious the conversation, the more likely it is that you will want it to happen in person.  I always prefer face to face communication.  When you can see the other person’s face, you are able to have a better reading on how your words are being taken.  Their facial expressions and body language will let you know whether things are ok or if you are treading into dangerous territory.  It also makes it, in most cases, easier to have an empathetic conversation.  One of the worst things in any conversation is keyboard courage.  Empathy is so much easier to ignore, and the more hurtful communication is more likely to take place.  This has become more commonplace as communication technologies and social media evolve.

Any time you are about to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone try to remember a time when someone close to you said something that really bothered you.  If you are like most people, there are plenty of instances where someone said something, maybe not directly to you, but in a way that got to you.  A comment about your personality, your height, your weight, your looks, your intelligence, physical characteristics, etc. that bothered you or you found offensive and hurtful.  Did you immediately brush it off as nothing?  Did you forgive them?  If so, I am happy that is the case.  You haven’t forgotten it though, have you?  If you had, you wouldn’t be thinking about it right now.  That is my point.  Once it is said, it cannot be unsaid.  That goes for others as well, so remember that every time you speak with someone.       

Once the hurtful things are said, that is it.  This is another case where sorry doesn’t cut it.  Words over time may heal, but not without actions to demonstrate the apology is sincere.  That what was said was spoken without understanding the real implications of what was said.  Think before you speak.  If you don’t have anything either nice or constructive to say, don’t say it.  Maybe you get a momentary pleasure out of making someone feel bad, maybe it was an accident, it doesn’t matter.  The resulting damage will likely be the same.  It is even worse when it is coming from someone you care about.  The hurt cuts deep.  The momentary satisfaction you will get is never worth it in the long run.  Especially not with the ones you love.  

Takeaways:

  1. “Sticks and stones” was well intentioned, but highly inaccurate.
  2. Think before you speak.
  3. What was said can never be unsaid.
  4. Try to empathize with whomever you are speaking with.
  5. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.

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