Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
After reading the daily news for just one week one may be forgiven for concluding that we live in an explosive society where rage seems to be the order of the day. Fighting in schools, road rage, senseless murders, forceful taking of others’ property and person and rampant addictions of varied type plague our headlines daily. These are all external, illegal and unhealthy mechanisms to cope with internal mental dis-ease or distress. I was mulling over when exactly do we learn to externalize our hurt instead of treating with it internally and the nursery rhyme “Sticks and Stones” popped into my head.
I can’t even try to recall this nursery rhyme without automatically breaking into a chant; a clear indication of the thousands of times I must have chanted it as a child. It was taught to most English-speaking kids as a response to verbal bullying. There can be some harm in taking this nursery rhyme literally because words do hurt. In those moments when they do, it may make us feel weak or that something is wrong with us. Worst of all, it can lead to us ignoring the hurt in order to be “normal”. The thing is emotional distress can be swept under the rug for only so long before it becomes a huge pile of stuff that you will someday inevitably trip over and can no longer pretend isn’t there. It is okay for us to acknowledge that sometimes the worst type of pain can come from words.
While words can hurt, it is not a hopeless case; there is a way to take back your power. The first thing to do is to figure out what made these words hurt? I can hear all of my clients’ usual indignant responses when I ask them this as I type it now. They usually sound something like, “Obviously, because the words were hurtful!” or “Who thinks to say that to someone?” or the ever popular “Are you saying it’s okay for her/him/they to tell me this?” My usual response to this is to remind my clients that the person who has said the hurtful thing is not someone that we agree with all the time. In fact, that person has done or said things that we can very easily say was nonsense or just dismiss without a second thought. So, what makes us believe that one thing they said that one time?
What makes being directly or indirectly called this or that so bad to us? What makes the answer to that so bad? Nothing really, other than you just believe it to be so. You can change that belief by recognizing it comes from you and thus is changeable by you. I can say with 100% surety that there is no one in the world who can convince me that I am neurosurgeon no matter how many times they tell me, simply because I am not one and I am sure of this! We all have to look within ourselves and see what makes us believe those words that hurt.
Usually it is something we have determined in childhood. This is where all our rigidly held beliefs that define who we think we are, what we think of the world and how we relate to the world are formed. These beliefs stem from biological factors and also the type of environment we were raised in, Basically, they determine whether we recognize our own worth and whether we think the world out there is safe for us. This is why we are all able to experience similar situations but walk away with different interpretations and emotions triggered. You create the setting in which your story takes place and you have the power to change it anytime you want. Otherwise, people need to be exactly who you need them to be in order for you to be okay. So naturally, this means that when they interact with another person they must change yet again to accommodate that person and so on. Seems unrealistic huh? Yes, it is. We are all free to be whomever we choose to be, including that person whose words hurt and we are allowed to put our boundaries down and move on peacefully.
So my final word is this, teach the kids the rhyme for tradition sake only; but be sure to include that words can hurt and teach them how to be free from this through introspection. Of course this is not an easy task, and sometimes we may need extra help, so please call and make an appointment if needed. Peace is attainable.
It can be a bit difficult to implement these strategies but this is where the therapeutic process can be quite helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for one on one work or to any other qualified professional with whom you are comfortable.
I can be contacted via telephone: 868-495-6285; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or social media on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @camillemquamina