Sticks and stones…

I remember hearing growing up, that words could never hurt me, and while the intention, to help soothe our tears when someone teases us, behind that phrase is an honorable one, this phrase should immediately be wiped from our vernacular! Words, how we say them and the order in which we place them, should always be precise because what we say does in fact matter, immensely. Please understand that I know how important it is to be comforted when we’re feeling sad about the words shared with us, but with the idea that words can never hurt us, we learn, knowingly or unknowingly, that words cannot hurt others as well…

Educational, and child development research is beginning to become more aware of the concept that when we are taught one thing, we inadvertently are taught the inverse, as well. For instance, think about how the word failure makes you feel: there’s a good chance that you were never expressly told that failure is a bad thing, but you probably feel badly about failure as an idea. Why is it that even the idea of failure brings up such strong emotions when in reality no one ever told us that it’s something of which to be ashamed? 

Well, the theory is that when we were told that we should strive for success, and praised for our successes early on, our brains automatically assigned the opposite of success, i.e. good, to be bad, i.e. failure. Yikes, that’s an unintended consequence, and the same principle of development and learning could be extrapolated out to reflect how we understand this sticks and stones business. Think about it, if we are expressly taught that the words that other people say to us cannot hurt us, then our brains might automatically learn that the words we use cannot hurt others either. But, that’s just downright silly, if you ask me. Words insight emotion, and triggers trauma and then we are hurt, plain and simple. 

This, of course, is a huge concept, and it’s going to take time to reframe our understanding to reflect this new knowledge, but really the underlying theme is to be more careful in choosing our words. Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, and while we can apologize for the way the things we say hurt other’s feelings, we can never take back the words that were said. And to someone in crisis, words might just be what puts us over the edge. The good news, though, if words can hurt, they can also help in a big way, please choose your words to help build up, rather than tear down, and ultimately you’ll feel better about yourself, too.       

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