When the words said by people who profess to love and respect us serve instead to hurt, reject, manipulate and ultimately diminish us, why do we listen? As women, we are groomed from childhood to be good listeners, yet we are rarely given the tools or permission to stop listening when what is being said devalues us. We all have a phrase or more that was said to us that "stuck" with us and, in some cases, changed the trajectory of our lives, be it through a self-esteem crisis, an eating disorder or something that contributed to poor decisions in a variety of scenarios.
Why do we let insults define us?
If we already feel "tender" in an area, regarding our weight, ethnicity or educational background, it is easier for another to exploit us. When the insult hits a bull's eye, the internal damage begins. I was seventeen when a man came up to me and said, "You know, you would be attractive if your nose would stop growing." A comment that he, in all probability, would not recall making today, yet those words shifted the perspective I had of myself. They changed the way I allowed pictures of me to be taken, made me feel uncomfortable if someone looked at my profile too long, and led me to promise to myself that I would get plastic surgery to correct this "problem" as soon as I could afford it. What was interesting was that my nose was fine and some considered it beautiful.
Why do people resort to insults and verbal harm?
Having been on the receiving end of many comments designed specifically to manipulate and harm me, I have found people use words to ultimately control another. Control is easier when someone doubts themselves and the easiest way to create doubt is through words that are designed to demean and make you feel "less than." In some cases, we allow ourselves to feel so vulnerable that the words of others become more valued that our own beliefs. When this occurs, their attempt to harass us and keep us in our place most often stops us from changing and becoming successful. Here are some common put-downs and suggestions for what they might really mean.
They Said What?
Shut up and be quiet.
Translation: I don't have the answers/time/energy to give you because I'm a low functioning parent.
When are you going to lose your baby fat? Or, you look so skinny and pretty.
Translation: I am defined by your appearance and I need more validation through your looks.
You are the difficult child.
Translation: You are independent, smart and I'm afraid I can't control you.
You are a slut/whore.
Translation: I don't approve of whom you are dating and you won't let me control your choices. I am uncomfortable with my sexuality and I'm going to make you uncomfortable with yours, too.
What makes you think you are so special?
Translation: Your self-esteem is too high and I can't control you.
Translation: You are creative and I don't understand it so it must be "bad".
You are a bad mother.
Translation: You are doing something I can't and I'm going to make you feel bad about your strength.
You are not smart enough to do...
Translation: I'm jealous that you will be more successful than me.
You look like a fat chick. (While pregnant)
Translation: None, he is just an asshole.
You're a bitch.
Translation: You're a threat.
You will never succeed.
Translation: I need you to fail so I can feel better about my failures.
You don't look as good as you used to.
Translation: You look good and I'm afraid I'm not good enough. I need to be cruel and I need you to feel bad about yourself or else you will leave me.
Someone should take you down a notch.
Translation: I will never be as good as you, so I need you to fail to make me feel better about myself.
You will never find anyone who loves you more than I do.
Translation: You are leaving me and I need you to fear being alone.
You are a failure.
Translation: I'm afraid you won't "stay down" so I need you to feel bad about yourself so you do.
If words were perceived as powerful and even sacred, the care with which we would use them would create an opportunity to change us all. Tell me what you think...
Note: The abusers who bring pain and trauma through abusing others financially, emotionally, physically or mentally are more common than we realize and if you are suffering please seek professional help immediately. If you know of someone who is being abused, please stand up for him or her, as they may not, for whatever reason, be able to stand up for themselves.