Words That Harm

When I was a child, I was very, very thin-skinned. I knew I was supposed to be brave and not let anything mean or harshly critical that other people said bother me, but it did. It bothered me very, very much indeed. I tried hard never to show it, and mostly I think I was successful at that. When I couldn’t bear it any more, I would hide in a locked bathroom and cry.

(When I finally told my mother about this, I was in my mid-thirties. She was so upset to hear it that she started to weep herself. She had no idea.)

My point is: even children who are not especially singled out for the nastiest of bullying can suffer dreadfully from cruel or thoughtless words. I can’t bear to think how much worse it is for those who are relentlessly hounded, day after day, year after year. For children who are just learning to negotiate interpersonal relationships, words are deeds. They have the force of blows or the softness of caresses.

What you say to a young person, and how you say it, matters. They will not forget. It will sink into their hearts and become part of who they are. Speak kindly, fairly, thoughtfully and you will help a kind, fair, and thoughtful adult come into being. Speak harshly, cruelly, thoughtlessly, and you may contribute to the formation of a harsh, cruel, thoughtless, or simply a deeply wounded adult—one who is unable to thrive and contribute because of damage inflicted by words.

And while we’re at it, why not apply those same guidelines to the way we talk with everyone? How many times have you found that berating, name-calling, scorn, or contempt have actually produced a positive outcome when dealing with someone? (How about the next time? Was there ever a next time?) Can you imagine how the outcome might have been better for all concerned had you taken a more compassionate and constructive approach?

Let’s face it: only the stone-cold sociopaths and zen masters/saints among us are entirely immune to the way others speak to us. Even as grown-ups, words can wound us and our relationships—sometimes beyond repair. Once spoken, the weapon-words cannot be unsaid or unheard and they leave scars.

2 Responses to Words That Harm
  1. Peg Morris
    March 3, 2013 | 8:43 am

    Thank you for your blog Nina. You are a remarkably talented and compassionate woman.
    As a “Ponderer” you add so much to our group!

  2. NT
    March 3, 2013 | 5:15 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Peg!