“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me”.
I remember hearing this phrase often, growing up in ‘70s Britain. Being called a nigger and golliwog were regular occurrences in the playground of the East End primary school that I went to. It was unsurprising really, given that two of the most popular shows on television were racist. Love Thy Neighbour dealt with the relationship between black and white neighbours and racist language was regularly used. The Black and White Minstrel show featured white performers who were ‘blacked up’ for the performances.
This week I’ve been thinking about the fact that words have power. Power to harm or to heal. When words are used to hurt, the wound often goes deeper and the effects last longer than most physical wounds. It’s a bit like the difference between chickenpox and shingles. Chickenpox lasts for about 10 days and then the spots fade. Shingles stays in the nerve endings and flares up painfully, over and over again. I remember those words that were shouted at me all those years ago and I can still remember how hurtful they were. Luckily, time has healed those wounds for me. For others it’s an ongoing battle to overcome the pain of harmful words.
Apart from the words that other people say to us, most of us have an internal dialogue that’s constantly playing in our head. That internal dialogue is one of the most powerful influences in our lives. There are so many individuals who are constantly battling a critical voice in their heads. The voice that tells them they are no good, that they are failures, that they will never amount to anything. We say what we think and we become what we say. No wonder there are so many depressed people in the world today.
Finally, I think about the impact of words in a domestic violence relationship. The physical abuse often takes place against the backdrop of emotional abuse. The constant name calling by the abuser, the verbal put downs and other verbal abuse. All of this works to break down the defences of the victim, until she cannot fight back any longer. The work of destroying another person’s confidence and self esteem is first done with words.
How can we change things? Be vigilant about what you say to yourself as well as to others. Pay attention to your internal dialogue. Is it building you up or destroying your confidence? Look for opportunities to affirm and encourage others, rather than criticise.
Would you like to find out how coaching could help you to change your inner dialogue? Visit the website and contact us for your free 30 minute consultation.
Until next week, go well.