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"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"
Yes, that's what my mother always told me to say to the playground bullies at school. But it never worked, did it? Because it is words which hurt us most.
Several years later, one of my A level exam questions was, "The pen is mightier than the sword: discuss." Well, you try bringing a pen to a swordfight and see who comes off worst; but that wasn't what they meant. The words of one man can move a whole culture more powerfully than can the swords of ten thousand men. Why else would dictators imprison their dissident writers?
Our bodies will heal from most wounds inflicted in the playground; a blackened eye, a blooded nose, maybe. But the words: oh, those words echo down the years and ricochet round my head even now. The wounds from words can fester forever.
For words to hurt us, they need to have some basis in truth – or at least the truth as we see it. And, context is all. If someone were to laugh at me for being too skinny, or too tall, or too young – then those insults could not reach me, as a five foot and one inch middle-aged woman carrying thirty pounds more than her maximum healthy weight. But imagine if we lived in a society where the ideal height was 36 inches, the ideal shape was spherical, and the accepted age of maturity was 150. Then, those words might very well hurt, as they would point out my inadequacies. They would sting as being the truth, just as "Short, fat and frumpy," might sting now.
I was once turned down for a job. I was well qualified for the job, had the right experience and had prepared for the interview. I was turned down because the directors thought I was "too boring." When I tell you the position was that of accountant; deputy finance director, in fact – hey, are you laughing?
I was not hurt by that judgement, but flummoxed. I had many faults as an accountant (not being very good at accountancy was the least of them), but the one thing I certainly wasn't, was boring! Those directors had not seen me correctly at all! When I learnt from an image consultant how to dress and present myself authentically, I could see just how I had unintentionally disguised myself as a nonentity. I'm an image consultant myself now – and definitely not boring!
I don't know how to make hurtful words sting less. I can't advise you on how to heal the wounds they leave. What I can say is – that if you take an emotional step back, and analyse those words, you can then dissect them, examine them and judge which parts are the "truth" that stings. If you then start to play with the context, you might even find yourself laughing. And laughter is always good medicine.
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