Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.

Ok who believes that the message of that little nursery rhyme is true? No one? Well neither do I. In reality words can hurt very much. People are capable of saying the most horrible things to one another.
“Why can’t you be smart like your sister?”
“Look at you! And those ugly glasses!”
“Can’t you do anything right?”

We know those statements are lies, yet we believe them anyway.
“If you would just lose weight, then maybe you’d get a date.”
“You call that dinner? The dog could do better.”
“I don’t know why I waste my time on you.”

Why do parents belittle their kids, one spouse say degrading things to another, siblings mock another, children make another child feel utterly worthless, bosses making an employee feel useless? Why do people say?
“Leave me alone, you old hag”
“I wish you’d never been born.”
“You’d be pretty if you’d only…”

Yes words hurt, agonizingly so. They break hearts, self-worth, relationships. They can delay potential, joy, personal growth, and real happiness. Words that cause hurt, even those supposedly well meaning ones, don’t build another up. They do the opposite. They don’t help, they do nothing of value, except to give person saying them a false sense of feeling better, smarter, prettier, more talented, superior, than the one they are talking to. Such words as…
“You’re fat”
“You’re ugly”
“You’re stupid.”
“You’re worthless.”

Maybe those things are said out of frustration or anger. Maybe it is said, because that person doesn’t like you and they are intentionally trying to hurt you. Maybe they thought they were being helpful, offering unsolicited suggestions. But the more they talked they actually reinforced how you felt, by unintentionally backing up the statements that made you feel bad in the first place. Maybe something is said one time to you, but it impacts you for a life time. Other times it is a series of statements that is built upon another, sending you  negative messages that you reason must be true, even though, deep down, you know they really aren’t. Maybe the person saying them really didn’t mean what they said. Sometimes instead an apology you are told.
“Suck it up.”
“Stop being such a wimp.”
“You are just being over sensitive.”

Like that really helps.
I know how it feels. Like you, I’ve been on the receiving end of things that others have said that were painful, and several of them stuck. I still struggle, like many, with wrestling with whether those hurtful things are as true as the speaker seemed to think they were. I know they aren’t, but every once in a while a series of events will make me vulnerable, and it all comes back to haunt me.
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’ll never measure up.”
“Am I really that incompetent?”

Lies, all of them.
And I know, like many of you, that I am guilty of uttering hurtful things to others. Few of us are immune from that vice, because it does give us a sense of power and superiority, even though it is very much a false sense. I hope though that anything I may have said has occurred very rarely and that I have worked even harder to undue any damage I may have done by a stupid, hurtful statement on my part. I know how much it hurts to be on the receiving end, so I know better. Which is why I try so hard to never say such things to another. However, I know that I have. To those I’ve said horrible things to.
“I was wrong.”
“I am so sorry.”
“I will work even harder to never say such a thing again.”

I tend to stand in defense of others who, like me who have been wrongly told things to make them feel small and useless. Because I firmly believe that treating others with respect and value is so very important, it deeply saddens me when I see others treated less than so. It is part of who I am that tends to make me others’ cheerleader, because I suspect that we all need a little positive reinforcements now and then. I know I sure do.
So I am here to tell you today.
“You are gorgeous.”
“You have an amazing brain.”
“Wow, you are talented.”
“I am so glad that I know you.”
“I am very thankful that you were born.”

8 Replies to “Sticks and Stones”

  1. The rhyme should really be “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but hurtful words can kill me.” While most of us understand that the point of the rhyme is to encourage people to be strongminded and not take others hurtful words to heart, I think it rarely works that way. Instead it gives permission to say hurtful things, or unsolicited advice that ends up being more hurtful than helpful, because “words can never hurt…” We all need to stop giving this permission to be hurtful and give more encouragement, which by its nature helps people, young and old(er), to be confident enough to not believe the hurtful stuff.


    1. I’d never heard it stated that way Susan, but it certainly makes sense. Words can kill. Not necessarily literally, but they can cause the demise of hopes, of dreams, of confidences, of courage, of self worth.

      So many people, far wiser than I, have urged us to guard our words, our tempers, and our prejudices because of the havoc those words can wreak. Ending, as you say, “the giving of permission to be hurtful” as well as the permission to be hurt, is a challenge, as I don’t think everyone will want to participate. But I think we should try anyway.


  2. What kills me is when crap like that is said to little kids by the very people who are “supposed” to love, protect, and support them, so of course the little kids are going to believe that hurtful garbage. It’s almost as bad when someone’s mate/partner/husband/wife/g’friend/b’friend spews crap, too.

    Great article!



  3. Thank you so much SDP!
    And to you I say in return “you are a child of God, wonderfully made in His image.”
    Thank you for using you talent powerfully.


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