“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.” Anonymous
I was about five when I first heard these words. I don’t recall the catalyst for the comment from my well-meaning grandfather, but the expression stuck in my head.
I turned it over, and like a smooth pebble it felt pleasing. It was comforting to imagine I was word-proof. Later though, I came to understand a different lesson from the saying.
Sticks and stones can damage your body. Words however, don’t mark your skin. They leave the outside of you untouched. On the inside, though, they can burn.
Why do words have such power?
Some people believe words have magical qualities. The word spelling, for instance, contains ‘spell,’ a reference to the potential supernatural quality of language.
All spoken words are potent. As vibrations, they travel through the air and resonate with us. Nonetheless, they have no power without something already inside us with which to resound.
To have an impact, they must correlate with some form of reference we’ve made to them. A slight from the past, fear or insecurity, can be sparked by words many years later.
Words alone can’t hurt you. My grandfather was right in this sense. To influence you, they have to link with the pain or joy you associate with them.
Thus, if you were bullied as a kid and told you were a “good-for-nothing loser” words you associate with the fear of not being good enough will resonate with your pain. Their vibration will shake old wounds bringing them to life.
When words are catalysts for good
Our emotions program us. Just as negative references may harm us, positive ones do the opposite. Some words — comfort, kindness, compassion — for instance, may fill us with security and warmth because we have no undesirable references to link with them, only good ones.
Words that soothe reduce stress and have a calming influence. They are useful when combined with hypnotherapy, and guided imagery, and when used to support one another or as gentle self-talk.
What about when words hurt?
The ideal response to discovering certain words sting is to deal with the painful memories associated with them. Once you heal old wounds, they can’t be reopened.
Sometimes, you’ll recall with ease events your subconscious combines with words you find unpleasant. On other occasions, why they hurt might not be clear, apart from the fact most people find them troublesome.
Plenty of words you find challenging to hear mean similar things to other folks because they’ve made similar associations.
Some words, however, might be received with readiness by most people, while you find them onerous. Love, for instance, is purported to mean something good, but if it reminds you of the lack of love you met in childhood, you might not want to hear it said.
You can’t adjust the past — you can’t go back in time and correct your failed marriage or unloving parent’s behavior — but, you can alter your perception of what took place.
Once you understand why your sister called you names, your aunt belittled you, or someone else used words as weapons that injured you, you are a step closer to separating from the pain accompanying difficult words.
We are wired to find meaning in circumstances, learn from mistakes, and build links with undesirable events to escape repeating them. As such, the emotional ties we make with words are expected to serve rather than cause harm.
The simple recognition your mind isn’t out to get you and you aren’t meant to suffer is valuable. Again, it’s another step away from pain as it allows you to detach more.
Recognize words as triggers
All words, provided you know what they mean, lead back to the reference library — made from memories — in your mind. You’ll know when they can be traced to an uneasy recollection because you overreact to them.
Stress makes people hypersensitive to words — hence, you snap after a rough day — but even without added anxiety, specific words will draw an excessive reaction from you.
Most people, for example, associate anxiety with the sentence “we need to talk.” It’s something people say when they want to bend your ear or give you bad news, so you react with fear.
Other words might be cues for angst too when you link them with trauma. They may be words we all consider negative. “You idiot,” for instance, isn’t friendly. Said by a pal who’s pulling your leg and playing with you, though, it means nothing bad.
If you believe you really aren’t intelligent, nonetheless, your friend’s reference might upset you. You’ll be distressed, and they’ll wonder what happened.
Train yourself to observe triggers and recall they are links to angst. You’ll realize your anxiety isn’t about what’s happening in the moment and relax.
It also helps to remember people who speak unkind words are in pain or experiencing conflict. Why else would they bother? No one, even those who mean to harm, employ words as weapons unless they believe they must go into battle. People at peace have no need for harmful language.
Words can hurt, but they can also heal. Be sure to use language that resonates with positivity, compassion, and benevolence often, and you’ll hit all the right references to spread kindness in the world.
Copyright © 2018 Bridget Webber. All rights reserved