As someone who has been physically and emotionally (verbally) abused, I’ve come to accept that words are triggers for me. No matter how tough I thought I had become, no matter how thick I though my walls were, words still manage to lay my heart bare.
Growing up, my defense to hurtful words was to either slay you with my own vast array of vocabulary and wit, or I’d withdraw, depending upon how strong I was feeling at the time. I’ve never really been a fighter, although I can certainly more than take care of myself if needed and I generally do not hesitate to fight for others, I rarely fight for myself. You see, in my house growing up, “fighting” for yourself meant the consequences were only magnified. If I just shut up, retreated to my room and remained as invisible as possible, things were easier.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I generally take words to heart more than I should. Put more simply, I take things personally. I know now, that its a byproduct of being abused for so many years. It’s always a work in progress; it’s always me reminding myself to take a breath, to ask for clarity, to step back and process it as if it had nothing to do with me personally. I’ve gotten really good at that, but there are still times when words tear me apart. If that makes me “weak” in some people’s perception, than so be it. If people think I’m too sensitive, oh well. I say it makes me more sensitive to the emotional needs of others, or rather more compassionate.
What my experiences have taught me, though, I apply to my relationships with others. Words can hurt. Words can’t be forgotten. Words cannot be taken back. Once you put them out there, it’s done. I weigh my words very carefully because if I care about the person, I certainly don’t want to hurt them by saying something in the heat of the moment that isn’t meant and certainly isn’t the representation of love that I want to show. I’m not perfect. I still say things in anger or frustration, but those times are few and far between anymore. If I do, I own up and apologize and I do my very best to never do it again.
At the same time, I’ve also learned that at an appropriate time in a relationship, I need to have this conversation with that person. If I don’t let them know, I cannot expect them to be cognizant of it. Again, I realize there are always times in any relationship when things are said in the heat of the moment and if you’re mature enough, it can be talked out. If I say something that hurt someone’s feelings, you better believe I say I’m sorry. I’m sorry means: I’m sorry that what I said hurt your feelings even though it was not intended that way. I’m sorry doesn’t mean: I’m sorry you took it the wrong way. There is a subtle, yet important difference in those two statements. The first accepts that while you didn’t say something to be hurtful, it felt that way to the other person and you don’t want them to hurt. The second statement is not truly you’re sorry for anything – it neatly lays the blame for the hurt at the feet of the person you claim to care about and it is therefore their fault they hurt. Yes, we are all responsible for our reactions to everything, I agree. We own how we respond. I own that sometimes harsh or blunt statements do hurt me. I own it. However, I also think that in relationships, if you truly care about the other person and you are aware of their past, you make an extra effort to be more gentle with your words. And if you do say something that hurts, just honestly say I’m sorry. It’s not a contest, it’s not who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s compassion. Honestly, I’m not looking for who is wrong if someone says something that hurts me, I’m looking for them to just acknowledge that I am hurt and the compassion to show me they care.
This world is cruel enough. Be compassionate and understanding of other people’s backgrounds. Differences are beautiful, but compassion for those differences makes you astonishingly beautiful.