Words Can Harm. Words Can Heal. [Epilogue]
Words Can Heal
This is Part 7 of a 7 part series entitled “Words Can Harm. Words Can Heal.”
So we’ve talked about some – or I’ve talked about [and some of you have commented] – the most common ways in which speaking without impeccability can harm ourselves, others, or our relationships. When I say harm, I want to make clear that I mean more than just our feelings. Yes our feelings can get hurt, but often and with enough time or exposure, it can change the “who we are.” And this is the tragedy. We were all made blemish free and I don’t care a whit even if you’re a fundamental Baptist. We were born innocent and then speech happened. Garden of Eden, the tree, the snake, and even so beautifully characterized in The Voice of Knowledge, we gained capacity and understanding, and the world infested us. In identifying the problems or the weaker points of our own personal introspection, can we now take up a solution? I believe we can.
No matter our family of origin issues. No matter how we’ve been vocalizing ourselves up until this point. Not even is a matter that we may be the most verbally abusive “worse selves” that we can hardly believe it. If we’re pathological liars or have mental disorders, perhaps a psychologist could better equip us to undertake our new practice but minus any otherwise negative extremes, it is my belief we’re all well suited and appropriately already tended to take up our new vocation of impeccable expression.
I’m going to, in the following sections, summarize what each article dealt with and then how we could better express ourselves, in no matter the situation. I pray this is helpful even if I am late on the epilogue and you feel you need to start back at the beginning.
Part 1: Words Can Harm
It’s an untruth that words can’t harm. From nursery rhymes to eloquent sayings, I believe nothing more has kept our world in “black mitote” than our verbal expression along with then the belief that a person’s negative expression “should not” hurt us. The truth is, it does hurt. If this is not your truth [yet] – I beg your pardon and this series is not for you; But for those of us who do experience the pain that an unkind word or harshly turned sarcastic comment can inflict. If you’re a believer that words “can” harm, then I suggest in this section that they can heal as well. If you’re in disbelief that they can harm – I would lovingly suggest you inventory your level of denial – for if words haven’t the power to harm, then they indeed haven’t the power to heal. If they haven’t the power to harm or heal then God wouldn’t have blessed the poets with the capacity to move some of us to tears.
Part 2: If Words Can Harm then Words Can Heal
If you’re still of the opinion that words can’t harm and by extension, can’t heal, I would like for you to think about the remedy for a lie. The remedy for a lie is the truth – as I ousted that “nursery lie” in Section 1 as a contributor of “black mitote.” When we deny our truth we can’t remedy it. When we acknowledge our truth we can. [Show of hands for 12 step recovery members? You guys know what I'm talking about. Until we can get to acceptance of our situation nothing can be done.]
This series was inspired in large part by The Four Agreements and if you guys know me at all – you know how excitedly mad I am about The Four Agreements and how the book/the agreements has/ have changed my life. How it came to be I learned how to implement these fixes for communication woes has been a combination of Codependent Recovery as well as my own alcohol cessation. Had none of these things happened, The Four Agreements would have not been in my top 100 priorities much less the study of impeccable speech.
This series heeds caution to people who may find themselves in dangerous situations. It’s for verbal lashings and sometimes even “innocent” verbal faux pas’. It’s not going to make death threats sound sweeter or better and it’s not going to “make him or her” stop making death threats or belittling you if s/he is so inclined. If you’re currently at the mercy of such a relationship I would highly advise you begin working on Codependency Recovery – and there are plenty of areas and resources here in which to get started.
Part 3: Name Calling or Throwing Around Labels
I addressed some things we can do when that trigger of name-calling or labeling is about to be pulled. Whether it’s a time out or an open-ended ceasing of the conversation, both parties have power to insure it doesn’t escalate. By the time name calling has entered into the conversation, there had been a point when one or both people sensed that the conversation was in murky waters unless you’re dealing with an unbalanced person who just came at you by surprise. [One more time, this series is not about those extreme once in a lifetime or once in a blue moon occurrences but I will deal with that at a later time since they too have happened to me.]
Why is it that often when people have resorted to name-calling and labels that I sense the same partners have been stingy with their praise and open admiration for one another? I am a big believer in showing affection through my use of words. I have been known to say to people I love in my life:
“I respected what you said tonight. Thank you.”
“I really have such admiration for the way you can handle certain situations.”
“You make doing that look so easy!”
“I am grateful you are in my life. I am grateful you love me.”
“I am so lucky to have such a beautiful man in my life. I love you.”
I think honest and loving praise are the antitheses to name calling and labels. And can you imagine getting used to this kind of communication? We teach our brains something differently don’t we? Our minds get used to this particular path of speech and so when a heated exchange begins down the road, can you see how our brain would have a hard time insulting the very person it had been so honestly lavishing with respect, love, gratitude, and admiration? So, yes, words can heal. They can be used to heal even more too.
Part 4: Sarcasm
Sarcasm is not the same as irony, flip, or facetiousness. Sarcasm is mean. Sarcasm hurts. And sarcasm is angry. The root word from Latin to the Greek, sarcasm literally means “to cut a piece of flesh (from the targeted person).” But no matter how you “slice it” sarcasm doesn’t feel good. Either the receiving of sarcasm or, I would even argue, the delivering of it. Sarcasm is contagious. The undercurrent of anger getting passed down generational lines and we wonder why family’s are becoming increasingly torn apart; Why children grow up to go to therapy or enter 12 step programs; Why parents divorce; Why siblings quit speaking; Why we’re constantly turning to narcotic substitutes, happy pills, alcohol, food, sugar, or even other relationships.
If it sounds like I’m blaming much on sarcasm it’s because I am. At it’s foundation is the very deception of communication. Using people as the butt of our anger, or our potentially viable words as an excuse to retort back, “I didn’t mean it! I was joking.” [At least with name calling and throwing out labels we know, at least, how to take the other person. We understand they are angry with us even if it's not appropriately expressed.] Please re-visit the Sarcasm article in techniques on avoiding Sarcasm.
I loved writing this section and now that we know where I stand on sarcasm. What do I propose is the anecdote to sarcasm?
Dealing with underlying anger or resentments. Why can’t we express our displeasure at our beloved for coming home late instead of saying, “Thanks for allowing me cook dinner for you yet again and letting me throw it out! I just love to waste time and money!” Yes. Okay. He gets the message that you’re angry but now you’ve thrown sarcasm at him and he may be more in a defensive posture than a receptive one. Deal with the underlying issue if you want resolution. Forcing someone into a defensive stance will not make your communication successful or your relationship blissful.
Honesty in your communication. “I feel that…” or “I think that…” or “I want you to understand that…” or “It’s important to me…” or “I don’t appreciate…” are all good ways to start communicating how you’re feeling about something. Anytime a conversation starts with your addressing your problem with “You always…” or “Why don’t you ever…” or “If you would just…” or “You should…” you are blaming another person for your problem and again, where is her reception going to fall? Good to not use sarcasm but blaming isn’t going to cut it either as we see in the Blaming/Shaming section.
Courage. Instead of being sarcastic, do you have the courage to be brave and express yourself as honestly as you can? I don’t think anyone who was born into sarcasm acquires this courage naturally. I believe it takes work. And what about the fear you may have lingering that’s currently telling you, “But if I don’t have sarcasm I won’t be funny?” Hogwash! You heard me. Hogwash! When the anger is gone and the courageous honesty has become a mainstay in your life you will have a humor so freeing and refreshing that you will be the person people will want to be around when they’re down. And when we gain control of our tongue and begin to use it without sarcasm, we will begin to understand what real humor is, and more to the point, because sarcasm seems to be contagious, because we won’t be sarcastic anymore, we’ll have less need to be angry, we’ll feel even more free and less shackled in anger, and we can use our good humor then with impunity!
Part 5: Gossip
The anecdote for gossip is simple: Stop it before it starts. An innocent “Here’s what I heard about …” may destroy a life when it was not your business to relay this information. Have you heard of the drama triangle? It’s when I tell you what he said about you. It’s still gossip. Whenever it’s involving anyone but of whom the words are being spoken, it’s gossip. What the imagined “he” said about “you” would normally never hurt you. But when I get into the middle of it and am “a good friend” by relaying it…Who has really hurt your feelings? Who has harmed you? He or me? Here’s a hint: He could think bad things of you all day long but if he never told me and/or I never told you you wouldn’t have hurt feelings. Response for the tenacious one who would bring such insipid information to you? [Go back to the article and choose a response.]
I shared in a meeting one day: “What people think of me is none of my business. But if a person decides to tell me, we may have a problem.” The problem would be that I would have to convey that it’s not my business. If I solicit you for your opinion of me – which I wouldn’t do – that’s one thing. If minding my own business, you unsolicitedly wanted to share – a different game. What you are doing is then gossiping on yourself. I hope this isn’t confusing but let me slow down and backtrack so I can better explain. Gossip against others or yourself is an act of unintegrity.
Integrity: [From the Latin integer, which means entire.] The quality or state of being complete or undivided: COMPLETENESS. I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t want to be divided. It reminds me of a famous Bible passage which seems apropos. James 1:8: “A double minded man is unstable in all of his ways.” I’ve worked too hard to gain the little stability I do have.
This means telling your co-workers who you slept with the night before, this means having boundaries so soft that the entire world is expected to know you like a book. This is harmful because it stymies us. Let’s face it that the world still needs to put people in boxes. When you reveal everything about what you think – you are not revealing who you are. You are simply revealing one train of thought or idea that perhaps may change tomorrow. [I do practice Buddhism and what we understand in Buddhism is that attachments to thoughts can be the most dangerous forms of self-abuse, as also explained in The Four Agreements time after time. It's an agreement and that's all. As you change, so may it.] So when all of your family knows how you feel about me because you made sure to tell them, when you invite me to dinner one night with your family, you’ll perhaps have some tough questions to answer.
Show of hands of all females who made the mistake of telling Mom every time their boyfriend treated them “badly.” Yeah. me too. How bad did THAT suck? Having to back peddle every time we made up? Was it any wonder that when my life started changing and with my Mom constantly criticizing my then husband that I had a hard time setting that ferocious boundary? But didn’t I ask for that? Didn’t I effectually say, “Hey Mom. When I tell you junk I want you to support me and be on my side?” And furthermore wasn’t she? So when I got straightened out I had to set that one down and it also helped I finally told her my not so lovely contributions to the relationship woes.
And yet, see? Still even more insidiousness to gossiping on ourselves. Rarely will we reveal the “who we are” in our gossip against ourselves. ["Yeah I hooked up last night" you tell your friends around the water cooler. What you don't tell them as they go off on their way to ridicule you amongst themselves is that you hook up casually because your self-esteem has been damaged ever since that one horrible thing that happened to you when you were 14. Or I tell my Mom all about the evils of my past boyfriend but neglect the parts of the story that reveal he'd put up with my drunken stupors, bouts of rage, isolations, agoraphobia, and bad-mouthing her.] Gossiping about others is a no-brainer. We know when we’re participating in it. Gossiping on ourselves requires perhaps more observation.
So what’s the anecdote for Gossip? Let’s make the concept of Boundaries an integral part of our life and learn the appropriateness of strict boundaries as well as soft ones. Let’s discuss our ideas; the who we are right now. What are the things that make us tick? When we do this, we can form even more bonded relationships with the people we’re communicating with. We can communicate with integrity without having to explain or justify what it was we said what about whom or why we felt it necessary to reveal intimate details with virtual strangers. Remember: God allows U-Turns as your ideas change and agreements with the world around you change. When we gossip and put “the word” out there, we seem to begin painting ourselves into a corner; All the while, making ourselves ripe for others to gossip about us, call us names, use sarcasm on us, and even shame & blame us. Halting gossip about others and ourself is a huge [the hugest?] step in the process of healing harmful speech and the fertile ground it can set in motion. And I do believe as I sit here and write, that healing harmful communication is the healthiest endeavor we can undertake in order to heal our often damaged spirits.
Part 6: Shame, Blame, and Manipulation
I understand that theory has not often much to do with our realities when we’re reading an article or a book on how better life could be “if only”. Sure the world could be perfect if each and every one of us learned to get rid of shame, blame, and manipulation and the subsets like gossip, name-calling, labels, and sarcasm.. If we could all learn how to truly express with 100% accuracy each and every time in order to get to that truthful and authentic expression, wouldn’t we live in a truly different world? I do know I would be happier and more peaceful. I would have authentic relationships and I would feel trusting and open. I would feel the freedom to be completely who I am and that would be a loving, caring, compassionate and sensitive person with good intentions expressing myself always perfectly. Unfortunately this is not how it is yet, but in the meantime and quite fortunately, I can start practicing in my own world.
It would be wonderful if people took responsibility for their relationships and admitted when they were less than skillful in a particular expression but again, many of these same people have had to build up a thick layer of ego-shell because they themselves have experienced other people who refused to take responsibility. What ends up happening is no one is responsible but everyone else is to blame. I like to think of Jesus of Nazareth at this point. Historically, according to some religious texts and beliefs he took the blame – all of it. He took the blame so that freedom could be had by us other people. So if we could only pretend that blame no longer existed, wouldn?t part of our speech, and by extension, our self’s be changed for the better? Wouldn’t we then be almost forced into looking for the solution and where it could be hiding?
Assigning blame is a silly man’s folly – like looking for answers as to why it’s raining rather than for the umbrella. Sure there may or may not be an immediate answer especially when the weatherman said no rain and less than an hour ago Doppler radar indicated no clouds, but considering you wanted to be somewhere else, which would be the wise move? Standing where you are, not moving and frantically trying to peddle, probe, and push as to why it’s raining, or go looking for the umbrella?
Taking responsibility for myself. I have discovered that when I am taking care of myself to the best of my ability, God/Karma/Universal Law/Nature/Spirit, will always systematically begin taking care of the other person or my situation and not a moment before. If I am genuinely taking care of myself, shame and blame will not enter into my thoughts. Manipulation may still enter my thoughts because I haven’t gotten exactly courageous as asking for what I want and need so the remedy for manipulative speech is honesty, courage and practice. Yes, like what we would use to remedy our sarcastic tongues.
Part 7: The Epilogue
If skeptics have turned to believers over the power of words – good. If the former person who’d not understood the power of her words can now understand her power and further use them for healing and good communication – excellent. If I haven’t been as clear as I maybe could have been I apologize – I have been under the weather lately. [Another good reason to adore Agreement #4: Always do your Best. ]
We’re all going to waffle and wane and don’t let this be an excuse to throw in the towel and revert back to what you’re trying to overcome. Don’t you dare have an accountability partner you allow to shame you when you slip! Because you will slip. It’s almost a promise. And do not under any circumstances ever buy the fact you cannot move successfully toward your new goal. I am living proof it is possible.