Recently, while having a conversation with my husband about a situation that a friend was going through, our discussion struck a nerve in me which surprised us both. It was not our issue, yet it felt personal to me in a weird sort of way. Being a very empathetic person who is often in coaching situations, I am very careful to emotionally distance myself from situations that are not mine to carry. That is the only way to be effective and not affected by the stories that come my way. After much prayer, soul seeking and discovery about this issue, my challenge it seemed was with what I perceived as the unspoken underlying elephant that we sugar coat and ignore. I am a mother of a son and daughter. I regularly pray that we have imparted enough wisdom has been imparted into each of them as they move into adulthood understanding that every action they take will impact another. Then this familiar quote from childhood came to me.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
How many times have you heard that one on the playground? Hell, you may even remember saying it yourself as a child. I certainly remember reciting that old familiar montage as I fought not to be affected by the mean spiritedness that can often be found among children on the playground and in our schoolrooms. Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, this little seemingly interesting adage dates back to being used as early as 1862. It was believed to be an attempt to prevent children from absorbing thus reacting on bullying or mean actions they encountered on the playground. I am certain, that the intention of this statement as well as many others were derived with good intentions. However, as we are are on the heels of National Domestic Violence Month last month, I am reminded of how untrue this message we have told ourselves and our children for a really long time truly is. And I am shaken still when I think of the impact of that lie, or the way we try to soften the blow. But if we are honest. It does not. It does not soften the blow. “Words will never hurt me” is not true. Words can kill. If not directly then indirectly. The hurt they often leave is as impactful as punches I have heard. They are the invisible scars that we carry into adulthood.
As a teenager dating a jerk who I really liked, as so many of us do before we realize our value and the fact that we need to be complete as individuals before we think about relationships…(seriously how do we convince hormonal teenagers of this), I’ll never forget walking into the house of our friends (his friends really). Sitting around the table, the jerk and the older gentleman of the house said, “we made a list of all the qualities that we don’t like. You and XXX, who happened to be the man’s daughter, have the top 3 as they laughed hysterically.” This was known as a house of “jokes” and supposedly, no one took anyone else seriously, But I did. I knew it could only get worse. I gave them piece of my mind and turned out the door only to be chased by my friend. It didn’t work. That plug was pulled. Those words hurt.
I also remember, as though it was yesterday, sitting with one of my best friends on the porch she shared with her boyfriend, soon to be husband, trying to cover the bruises on her arms. Of course when I asked about them, she told me he was just a little irritated that he thought she was checking out someone else and elbowed her a bit too hard. Sadly, this was one of way too many stories many much worse as she chose to shrink and accept “his” love. That relationship ended many years later with a frantic call in the middle of the night for help to “save me” because she feared for her life. She was one of the lucky ones. She made it out that time but the stories were scary and the scars ran deep.
Unfortunately, I know way too many people who have experienced situations that are either bordering or full on abusive. For too many, getting help is not possible. There are so many reasons, stemming from denial, to shame, to finances or fear. Many that will never be understood by one who has not experienced attacks against their self worth or personal value. This happens most frequently in relationship situations or parenting situations where trust and vulnerability are the foundation from which these relationships are assumed to be built upon. Domestic Violence is one of the most insidious and far reaching crimes that are affecting millions of people in this world. It is irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity, economic status or religion. It’s forms are pervasive. My examples above demonstrate three of them, verbal, emotional, and physical. There are several more. Just like cheating, domestic violence is not something a person just falls into. You don’t stumble into a person’s bed any more than you stumble into a fist or a mouth ripe with vindictive hateful words designed to rip at the very core of another person’s being. Both are something that while simple being a part of our sinful natures, they are also the result of years of meditation or slow insidious indoctrination. We can see from the adage above that while the intention was probably good, the message to “ignore” the words because they can’t hurt you was not. For the purpose of brevity, you can get your statistics here.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take…Psalms 1:1
The implication of this is that before the physical altercations ever happen, usually the verbal and emotional tirade has began long before. Every time someone bullies another, they are walking with that thing. Every time they attack someone’s character or self worth, they are standing with it. Thus the cycle begins. Every time we stand and listen we are allowing our self worth to be mutilated a little at a time. This article is not intended to point fingers or assert blame, but to continue a conversation so the shame and lies do not allow it to continue. It is also my hope that we think about the undercurrent theme that flows through so much of the old adages, media, and social circles to help shape a different framework of belief for those young people who follow us. Can we control the inevitable outcome, of course not but we can be the catalysts that effect change through the messages of personal worth that we send out to the upcoming generation as well as our own. Unfortunately, self worth does not come from self. So what are we doing to create a healthier environment for those in our reach? Let’s start with some love and compassion. Love heals. Compassion soothes. Together, they do wonders.