There was a little chant I used to sing growing up; “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” You probably remember it too. It used to be quite popular; why, I can’t imagine. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Words can hurt you—probably more than sticks or stones would. Hurled words don’t just hit the surface and bounce or fall away. No, they soak in, nice and deep. Words hurt you from the inside out, making your gut wrench and your heart ache…and not for an instant, but sometimes for days, weeks, or even months.
Knowing this, why would we ever strike out at a loved one with hurtful words? Perhaps because we, ourselves, hurt and need someone to hurt with us. Or another possibility is that we don’t realize how hurtful our words may be–how they might feed into another’s most vulnerable self and cause very deep emotional pain. A last possibility is simple loss of control: heat of the moment.
A scratch or a bruise…or even a broken bone [not likely, but in keeping with the chant :)] would be preferable to this pain. Those things can heal, and are symbolic of a loss of control. But words? Once the words are spoken, they can never be taken back. You may be sorry, ask forgiveness and be forgiven…but the words will never be forgotten. They will always hang there between the two of you.
In this age of technology, emails and texts are the new ‘spoken word.’ This only serves to exacerbate the problem, because people tend to say far more in an email than they ever would in person. No matter to whom you are speaking, doing so electronically gives a certain air of anonymity; things you would never say to a loved one in person, you will easily write in an email. Writing the unforgivable in an email is the worst possible scenario…talk about something never going away! I have about 10 years of emails saved…as a writer I fully appreciate the progression of personality and life, and reading an email from 10 years ago is an excellent display of both.
How then, do we get past the wound of hurtful words? In my class tonight [When Your Soul Speaks by Laura Probert], one insightful woman said this, “you should feel gratitude for being challenged. It gives you the opportunity to get stronger.” Those are bold but beautiful words. They don’t make you feel like a failure for ‘giving in again,’ but rather a warrior, learning to grow and gain strength from all life throws our way.
For many years now, I have written as a means of exorcising my demons. Translated, that means when I get mad, I write it all down furiously. Back in my youth, I would’ve sent out that furious letter in a heartbeat. But as I have aged (and wizened), I developed a system that works a little better for me. I still write it all down, albeit typed instead of longhand. But that is where I stop…for five days to be exact. I made a pact with myself years ago, when too many times I wished I could take back the words, to never send a letter out before five days had passed. At that point I would re-read the letter and if I still meant every word I could mail it (or send it). Out of the past 20 or more years, I have only sent one letter at the end of those five days. And that one? Even now I wish I had given myself a bit more time as that was the fateful email that seems to have ended my friendship with a long time friend.
I’m not saying I didn’t still feel truth in my words after five days. But, I was better able to read my words without anger, allowing me to better decide what the true impact of my words would be. Some things truly are better left unsaid.
Have you ever said or written something you wish you could take back? And no matter how many times you apologize, you know the words have erected a permanent wall between you? I highly recommend the write it and leave it method. It has saved me from myself countless times. Even good people say ugly or unnecessary things in anger. Sometimes your viewpoint just gets temporarily distorted.
Sticks and stones…maybe the old testament had it right after all. 🙂