In all probability at some point in our childhood we were told by our parents, ‘sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will hurt us none’, or something similar. Our well-meaning parents would usually have said this in response to someone at school or our siblings saying something mean to us. It was probably their way of getting us to cope with the verbal assault.
In all likelihood some people actually believe the ‘but words will hurt us none’ part. Words are one of the most devastating weapons yet devised by man. They kill in many different ways. We’ve all heard term ‘emotional abuse’. But what is it? Simply put, it is when a husband, wife, parent or so-called loved ones uses words to slowly, but inevitable, grind away at a person’s self esteem until there is little left.
Even in ‘normal’ relationships, the words couples sometimes use when speaking to each other is surprising. These are devoid of respect and designed to cause maximum hurt instead of seeking solutions to problems.
In the absence of mutual respect, a relationship is almost certainly doomed. When one hears parents talk in that way to each other, one can well imagine how they must be talking to their children. It is at this level that the most damage can be caused. Many people who experience relationship turmoil in adulthood trace back to something hurtful said to them repeatedly as children by parents, caregivers or teachers.
For example, a health professional spoke of a patient who as a child was clumsy due to late development of his gross motor control. Nothing that a few sessions with an occupational therapist could have fix the problem. Instead, he had to endure years of being called “butterfingers”, “what’s wrong with you?” “Don’t give him anything to carry, he will just break it”. As he grew up, his confidence in his ability to do anything new was completely shattered.
How often do we call our children “stupid”, “useless”, “good” for nothing”, and nuisance”, “pain in the back” “and how often do we say “if you do that again, I’m going to kill you”.
Sometimes parents tell their children that if they misbehave it will make mummy or daddy sick; and then, purely coincidentally, the parent gets sick and dies. Can you imagine the guilt that child then feels for the rest of this life?
Teachers, of course, can inflict massive harm on a child’s growth by the words they use to address their pupils - “domkop”, “fool”, “idiot”, and “you won’t amount to anything”. If someone hears these words often enough, they may start to internalise it, believe it and live it.
It is imperative that we all reflect on what we say to our loved ones. Many a time we speak without realising the long term consequences of what we say.
Let us strive to treat our loved ones with love and respect, Aameen