Name Calling [Words Can Harm. Part 3]
Name Calling or Throwing Around Labels
This is Part 3 of a 7 part series entitled “Words Can Harm. Words Can Heal.“
If someone is calling you names or throwing on labels that don’t feel good, you know how badly that can feel. You can let them know it hurts your feelings. If they don’t respond to you in a kind fashion in trying to clean it up but answers with justification on why it was okay or even acceptable, more sarcasm or “well I wouldn’t have said that except…” then I know I can’t communicate with them. They have kind of ended that option when they tried explaining to me how okay it was. No need to shame them for this; they just don’t seem capable right now. Degrading into name-calling and labels is the most non-productive and harmful effects of dysfunction in a relationship. It is not a misunderstanding, there is no justification and it doesn’t need clarification.
My own experiences. I’ve called people names when I felt a lack of respect in my direction and knew that nothing else I said would be of any consequence so those four beautiful words, “You are an asshole!” were my particular means to empowerment.
“But wait! You just said it was non-productive and inefficient!”
I’m not back-peddling. This is just my story or parts of it. If you’re in an argument that has degraded past reason and the mutual goal of mutual understanding, if you’re both now not on the same side but are in a war zone, name-calling won’t help resolve it. Sure it may help you feel better for a moment but I assure you that it will not resolve it. So the next part of those four beautiful words were atrocious. Not speaking for days or the “asshole” calling me ugly names or both of us trying to “out hurt” the other. This is absolutely not effective at trying to effectively communicate. Yes, perhaps I felt empowered for a moment, but was it effective at achieving my ultimate goal?
When someone has called me a name or thrown a label at me: When someone calls me a name or throws a judgment or label onto me I change. The “who I am” doesn’t necessarily change unless I allow it by continuing to stay in this relationship that seems so harmful, but I change how I feel about that person. Maybe I no longer trust them like I used to. Maybe I will now look at them as an unsafe place. Maybe I will know that effective communication cannot be had with this person. It may change all sorts of ways I look at this person or how I feel when I get to a certain point with this person. Maybe I will get scared of this person and begin living in fear… All of these things have happened to me so if you’re currently in that situation you are not alone.
What I do now if a person calls me a name: I let that person know I didn’t like the name. I will have a conversation with the person letting them know that the label they placed on me from their viewpoint is unwanted. It is true I cannot control what comes out another person’s mouth, but if the other person fails to respect my desire to not be called or labeled something, I have the right to limit or detach from that person before it does start to change the “who I am.”
Whatever the reason or justification, name-calling will never make communication better and unresolved instances can destroy relationships.
Did you dishonor someone? If you feel badly for it or if you care about the person you “were unimpeccable with” you can clean it up. I would suggest a sincere five minute conversation and you may be surprised at what it can do. Don’t make excuses for the why you called her/him this name or label unless you’re explaining your mixed up head. Absolutely do not list the things s/he may have done or said that you feel s/he said/did in order to provoke you. It’s not her/his fault – that thing that escaped your mouth. YOU have control over your mouth. Only you. Let her/him know it was not her/his fault and you understand how harmful it was. Then make a sincere effort to not do it in the future.
The Future: At some point in your past conversations or “life together” the communication began degrading. It wasn’t “Hi honey. How was your day! You freaking asshole!” Something happened between “Hi honey” and “Asshole.” It’s in that time that you both have an opportunity for a reprieve. “Let’s talk about this later. I’m feeling raw.” or “I need to go for a walk.” or “Let’s have a time out. Can we set some time aside for later when I’m not so worked up?” People start the name calling when they feel absolutely out of control of the situation…for whatever reason. Their brains may be working overtime and they can’t effectively communicate their thoughts…they may be feeling as if they’re being unheard…or it may be as ugly as their inability to control the other person.
The Past: The past tends to create our present but it doesn’t necessarily have to create our future. At anytime we want to get off the merry-go-round of seemingly cyclic name-calling we can. As with anything worthwhile, it will take practice and unfortunately, in the hostile situation that begins happening usually before the degrading into name-calling, being called upon and to remain mindful of practicing may be difficult. Tempers are inflamed already and you’ve probably got some healthy resentments happening from the time before “this happened” and so how do we stay mindful at this time?
The Solution Moving Forward: First, let’s deal with the unresolved past. Again, I would suggest a conversation.
“I want to tell you that in the past I have somehow gotten seemingly okay with calling you a _______ or throwing out unkind terms like _____ and _______ . I want you to know that although I may not be able to erase the hurt of my past actions, that I am mindful of them now. I understand from what you’ve said or how you responded that those words hurt you. For that I am sorry. I am working on becoming impeccable with my communication and calling you names has grown unacceptable to me. I don’t like how I am feeling when I do it, and I don’t like how I hurt you when I do it. I wanted you to know that. I love you.”
That’s the first step. We want the person with whom we have hurt to understand we see our past actions and have grown mindful of them. From this point, because we have addressed the issue out loud and in the open, we will probably have an easier chance at remaining mindful during those times we feel the trigger about to get pulled.
Next, we want to practice what to do instead. I don’t believe we can replace something with nothing and that we need to replace a bad habit with a good habit. [People quit smoking and they start overeating. The ones gaining the weight after finishing up with smoking will make an excuse that it's "better to be fat" than "to smoke." That's for them but not for me. I like to look at what "smoking" is doing for me - besides the nicotine - so I may have an oral fixation. I certainly would not want to get "cured" of the oral fixation before I started trying to quit smoking or I may never stop! So I meet myself where I am. I want to quit smoking, I know I have an oral fixation, and I don't want to gain weight when I do. Okay. I'm going to keep sugarless gum around. I'm going to go fo a walk after dinner instead of eating dessert. Before I quit smoking I am going to keep track of my usual daily calories so when I stop smoking I don't start developing a mind trick that I may just be hungrier. I will vow to keep carrots and celery in the house because not only can I keep eating those for negligible calories, the fiber and vitamins will benefit my body.] So instead of resorting to name-calling, we want to practice kind truthful communication. Here are some examples of what we could say when we feel the trigger becoming dangerously close to getting pulled. Depending on the situation and how you’re feeling…
More Effective Solutions than Name Calling or Labels
I think I’ve had enough right now. I need to take a break and think about this.
I am so angry right now I am shaking. I feel as if I am being completely unheard!
Remember that conversation we had about name-calling? I am approaching that point and don’t want to do that. I want to discuss this later after I have figured out what I really am trying to get you to understand.
I don’t like that you have just called me a “fucking bitch.” This conversation is over.
I don’t like that you have just called me “an asshole.” This conversation is done.
Well if I were bi-polar, your using it to attack me with it is not kind and since it seems this has degraded into labels and name-calling this conversation is over.
No, I’m not insane. Only an insane person would continue this hurtful banter.
I cannot believe you just said that! You are one serious bi… You know what? I was about to call you something because I think what you just said is complete bullshit. I’m going to take some time out.
I’m not a bitch you mother… whoa! I about dishonored myself. I’m ending this conversation right now!
There are many ways to respond when a situation is about to cross the line or even if it already has but the main message I hope these examples are showing is that we can call time-outs and we don’t have to respond in kind. I believe that the more we practice this, the more we can sense when the communication is about to take that turn. This will help in our other communication that leads up into this final degrading by showing us, earlier, where we go wrong.
[And if you are in a relationship where name calling is part of your everyday communication and it's so common I recommend having a look at Codependent Recovery.]
Remember: If Words can harm, then Words can heal.
Tomorrow, in Part 4 of the 7 part series, “Sarcasm.”
Look for it Sunday September 03, 2006.