“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
This little limerick rings clear in my head. Kids all across America have grown up chanting this on the playground, in their neighborhoods, or sneering at their own siblings.
“I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks on you.”
Another limerick, one of the most common responses to a mean word when I was a child. We were taught this by our parents, our teachers. ‘Words are just words’, they would say. ‘Words can’t actually hurt you’, they told us over and over again.
Growing up, we were taught a bully, was someone who beat up kids on the playground, after school, or at the local park. Bullies picked on kids littler than themselves. It wasn’t their words you had to worry about, it was their fists.
‘You might need to defend yourself some day, if a mean kid, bigger than you, traps you in the school bathroom and won’t let you out. You gotta come out swingin’.’ My older brothers taught me that one.
If we told our teacher a kid was calling us names, we were told not to tattle-tale. Nobody likes a tattle-tale. If we persisted, we were often called weak, someone with thin-skin. A good amount of energy was spent on strengthening our resolve to words. If we would only let the words go in one ear and out the other, surely we would be okay. They were just words. In strengthening our ability to let the hurtful words of others roll off our backs, we were taught our pain didn’t matter. It wasn’t real. It was weak. We were weak. Our voice, the one inside of us crying out, “That’s NOT okay,” was silenced.
I grew up checking myself, so as not to be a tattle-tale. Questioning my hurt, needing to justify my pain. Without adequate evidence of wrong doing by the other party, something more than words, it was better left alone. Time after time words, hurtful words, filed away in my the recesses of my mind. My inner voice wanting to call them out, but knowing better, I kept quiet.
“The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.” Proverbs 12:6
Words are powerful. Words can build you up. They can tear you down. Words can put a smile on your face, or rip your heart out of your chest. They can free you from a misunderstanding. Or they can can cause division, destroying relationships, communities, governments. Words have the power to silence. To manipulate. To control. To kill.
While intentions were honorable, our parents and teachers were wrong. Sticks and stones may break bones,yes that is true. Words, can paralyze, hold captive, destroy, and even kill a person. By teaching us to ignore words, devaluing their power, we were taught to ignore our inner voice which protects us from potential harm. We were taught to second guess our ability to determine when we were being mistreated, manipulated. We were taught to ignore the early warning signs of abuse, to disregard our own voice.
Now, decades later, it is common knowledge that abusers first groom their victims. One method of grooming is to create a relationship that feels safe and provides a need the victim has. Establishing a dependency on their abuser allowing the abuser to get what they want while seemingly providing what the victim wants or needs. Another form of grooming is to use words to slowly tear the victim down, bring them into a place of submission. Initially the abuser will use minor insults which they will often reference with, ‘Oh, I was just joking. You know that, right?’, to put the victim at ease. This resonates with a person who grew up with ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’ philosophy.
As time goes on the grooming takes hold of the victim and creates the perfect environment for abuse. Many people share stories that begin with, “He never hit me, it was only verbal abuse, but……”
Verbal abuse, emotional abuse has the ability to alter the victims day to day state of mind. To change or stop altogether their ability to function at school, their job, in their home, and in many social environments. Over time and repeated abuse, the victim loses their ability to make decisions, causing them to question their judgement, knowledge and understanding. In many cases, verbal abuse, leads to brain washing, changing the victim’s perception of themselves, their beliefs, and the view of life and the world around them. It is under this control. this abuse, where many victims find them in a helpless position.
Overcome by low self esteem and self worth, they are unable to get a job with an income to provide for themselves (never mind if they have kids, other mouths to feed). Having been convinced by their past experiences as a child, no doubt reiterated over and over by their abuser, ‘they are only words’, the victim has never called the police to file a report. Ashamed of their inability to have a loving and happy marriage and out of fear of reprimand, the victim remains silent. Not sharing their plight with friends and family. They are isolated, beaten down, scared, alone, hopeless and stuck.
It’s not just verbal, it’s Abuse.
It’s time to stand up and speak out against all forms of abuse.