You suck! You’re ugly, stupid, an idiot! I hate you! You broke my heart!
Words much worse than these are used to communicate how we are feeling about others and ourselves. Language is the most distinctive way to know whether someone is in distress, seems dangerous or is friendly. During our lifetime we use language to convey feelings of happiness and anger, frustration and joy. At times it’s seems as if words are actually weapons that can cause physical harm. The meaning of words are so integrated into our way of life that we’ve come to firmly believe that they have great value and power. When we were younger and just learning to speak, before we developed a strong grasp of language, words meant little to us. We would hear words all around us and were totally oblivious to their value. It wasn’t until we began to create our own understanding of the meaning of words that we began to decide which ones were good and which ones could hurt. And that idea, that feeling which is so very real to us, sticks throughout our lives.
The ironic thing is those words never had to hurt.
It was always my experience when someone said something belittling directed at me that their words were hurtful. I felt as if they were making a statement that must be true or why else would they say them. When those words came from someone, like my mother or a lover, who claimed to care about me, I felt they were saying something that came from their heart and meant that I needed to change to make them feel better. Learning from a parent that I was a great disappointment and not understanding why I took her words to heart. I hadn’t yet developed the emotional defenses or knowledge of how words were a description of someone else’s feelings; I didn’t know how to protect myself from the anger I heard. My mother was the adult caregiver and my first teacher. I believed she knew the truth about life and that I didn’t. It never occurred to me to not accept what I heard from her as a fact.
I actually didn’t know that there was a choice about how I felt, with or without words. I’m now in my late fifties. That’s a long time to accept that what I heard and the meaning that I gave them was an irrefutable fact. And trust me at times those words felt like someone had stabbed me in the heart; plunging holes in my self-esteem and confidence. Stranger though were these thoughts that came to me at nearly the same time as I was buckled over in pain whispering that I should get up as I was not a loser nor an unlovable person!
What do you suppose that was about? Why would I feel as if I was incapacitated by the words that I felt were stating a terrible truth while also feeling that those words weren’t a certainty? These defensive feelings were so compelling that I would get up angry ready to fight off my attackers! Ultimately, unfortunately I accepted the bitter, hateful words thinking they were exactly what I’d always felt they were and ignored the compassionate whispers. Never realizing they, what I refer to as our Innate Wisdom, spoke the truth. I suffered emotionally and hated my weaknesses because of these irrational feelings for a long time. Once so much so that I nearly ended my life just so I wouldn’t feel those painful words anymore.
I judged my life, as many of us have, through words and the meanings we give them. I even found intimate partners who knew how to use them viciously and use them well. I feel that I was so young when I developed my understanding of what words were intended to represent that they were truly an intimate part of my day to day life. That truth was my reality for such a long time I didn’t know how to stop. Gratefully once I was able to hear a different truth it took me but a moment to know where those awful feelings came from. It wasn’t the person in front of me, it was me.
Recently a friend of mine asked me if the things my partner said to me were meant to hurt me. I immediately said, “Yes! Of course he meant to hurt me, why else would he have said those things?” Then I stopped and caught myself. For the very first time I actually heard what I was saying. Immediately that voice of compassion that I’d always denied before spoke up and then I knew that my belief in the power of words was entirely wrong.
Instantly my world shifted.
I’ve been teaching innate health (3 Principles) groups for nearly eight years. I led groups that are attended by homeless, abused, struggling men and women who suffer from a variety of different ailments including severe mental illnesses and domestic violence. Throughout those years I talked repeatedly about our inherent ability to be at peace no matter life’s circumstances. I coached people away from the understanding that they had to be acutely affected by their past while discussing that nothing in life is so until we decide it is. I’ve said over and over that we are the source of our feelings and, we alone, can make or break our spirit. I’ve sat for hours with someone going through incredible hardships, vastly difficult relationships and tremendously tough memories reminding them that there is nothing in this universe that can harm us emotionally unless we decide to allow that destruction to happen.
When thinking about it I know without a doubt that memories can’t hurt us. The past is done and can’t be changed. I’m not saying that our past has no place in our thoughts, only that they are only remembered not relived. Any feelings we derive from our past, or our present, are neutral thoughts that we alone apply meaning to. And all those times that we remember someone else’s words that were intended to describe who they thought we were, we have believed in a lie. And that lie can be a very old lie indeed!
I spent my entire life struggling to be loved without condemnation; wanting to feel as if my life mattered. Specifically I did not want to be that person someone gets to abuse, verbally or physically. I hid my sad inner thoughts from my friends and ensured good or bad, there was someone waiting to be with me. I then blamed every bad experience, every hate filled, hurtful thing I felt on that person because I believed that the words they used were meant to hurt me. I never stopped to consider there might be an alternative to what I felt. I innocently lived as if I had no control over what I felt about those words. Honestly I didn’t recognize, until I began to listen to what I was teaching, that I was the only creator of all those negative feelings.
Really I never stopped to consider what I’d believed to be true until that question was posed by my dear friend, “Do you think he’s choosing to hurt you?”
Do I feel as if I’m hurt by the words my partner or anyone uses today to describe me? The first truth is I know that words don’t ever hurt me. The second equally as prevalent truth is I forget and allow the words I’m hearing to create feelings of frustration and pain. What’s important now is that I remove myself from the situation giving me time to recall who’s really in control of these feelings I’m having. I also try to find a feeling of compassion knowing that I’m living a human experience with all the stuff that goes along with it. You see I’m finally accepting the painful emotional experiences I endured and continue to even today at times, were all directly related to the meaning I alone placed on words.
A kind of funny little fact is there have been times throughout our lives when we haven’t reacted to words. This neutral state of being, not reacting, is something we do without any effort every single day. Just take a moment and think about the last time you heard someone yelling obscenities and you didn’t care. Or the time a loved one was saying something that seemed as though it should have hurt but for whatever reason just didn’t. The only difference, and believe me when I say this because it’s the truth, was we decided in that moment not to place value unto the words; we ignored them. Simple as that and we’ve been doing it the whole time.
Can words hurt? Does he or she mean to be hurtful?
Once you realize that the feeling is based on you and your decision alone, the answer can be the opposite of what you had always thought was true. Words don’t hurt, the meaning we give them do.
Seems easy enough, doesn’t it?
Truthfully when I allow the words to pass without adding importance to them it is simple, I feel fine. And as I learn to give myself an emotional break and try not to be so hard on myself I can actually get back to compassion faster. I remember to love myself despite or because of my humanity.
Now I know profoundly that there’s nothing in the universe that can decide how I feel! It’s all up to me.
The world shifts. Life gets easier. My reality is a more peaceful place to be.
From the Missing Link, by Sydney Banks, “You must exercise your freedom of choice to decide on your own individual path. No matter which path you take, the wisdom you seek will always be found within the depths of your own consciousness.”
Peaceful Relations Coach