A few days ago I was listening to the radio morning talk show and the talk show hosts shared the quote, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” They then asked for responses from listeners to the questions: when has someone said something that hurt you? How old were you? How does it affect you today? And how old are you now?
There were some common themes of answers, specifically focused on appearance. One woman shared how when she was eight her friend wanted to weigh her. And then called her fat for being heavier than her friend. Today, in her 30s, she is still affected by this. Another woman responded that she was a ballerina in high school and an aunt pointed out that she had thunder thighs. Many years later she is still self-conscious of her legs. Other responses of listeners varied from remarks made between ages 5-15 years old and these women are now 25 to even 60 years old and still remember what was said.
After hearing some responses, one of the hosts said, “I know that this isn’t exclusively a female experience but a lot of our responses have been females. I once heard that boys would just beat each other up and girls would give each other eating disorders.”
Of course his statement was definitely a generalization. However, after working with those who are suffering from eating disorders, I hurt hearing him say this. I wish that people could understand the impact of their words and be more careful and caring. But unfortunately, not everyone we meet in life will be.
We will be hurt by people’s words all throughout our life. So what can we do to not let these painful words impact how we view ourselves? Before presenting some ideas, I do want to validate the genuine pain that comes from people pointing out flaws, insecurities, or just being blatantly rude in what they say. It especially hurts when it comes from people we love and care about.
Find Value in Yourself
The first solution is to find value in yourself and who you are as a person. I know this is really hard. And it’s especially hard at more vulnerable times of life, but it is possible. Even with valuing yourself, words will probably still sting. Yet they don’t have to define you. Or, as demonstrated in the responses on the radio, they don’t have to be a burden and a self-insult for years to come. You can free yourself from the painful words that people say by knowing that you are worthwhile because of who you are!
You Are More Than Just a Body
My next solution is to see yourself, and others, as more than a body. All the responses read on the radio were in regards to body or appearance. We are so much more than that! We are singers, daughters, mothers, friends. Cashiers, students, caretakers, wives, gymnasts. The list goes on and on. We are made up of wonderful qualities that have no impact on our body. But often times the acceptance of our body from ourselves and others can have an impact on our view of our own worth and quality. If we were able to see ourselves as more than our body, we can remember that our body doesn’t define our worth when others make hurtful comments.
My last solution is to understand the one who is making the hurtful comment. Having empathy for the one who hurt you may be the last thing you want to do. However, I think it can ease the pain. There is an infinite amount of reasons that someone may say a hurtful thing to you. And a majority of those reasons probably have nothing to even do with you.
Often times, those who are most critical of others are using those words as a wall to conceal their own fear and pain. This is not giving an excuse for the person to be mean and hurtful! Having empathy for the other can hopefully help depersonalize what they say. Instead of looking inward as to what is wrong with yourself, you can take a step back and see that what they said may be inaccurate and a reflection of their current inward state.
Going back to the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” words can be very painful and may even feel like sticks and stones sometimes. But hopefully you feel more empowered to not let hurtful words of others define you. As you see worth and value in yourself beyond your body and appearance, and as you use empathy for others, you can stand strong against the hurtful words that others say.