Words Hurt, but Words Heal

The whole “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” thing is the biggest load of dung ever propagated in the form of advice for self-protection. In fact, sometimes I think the sticks and stones would do less damage because their impact would be clearer, and obvious to everyone. If you beat me with a stick, even I would know that you were bad for me. And everyone around would stand up and protect me from you. But words? They are sly little buggers. Whispered, muttered, twisted sarcastically, withheld, gossiped with others, and confused within messages that seem nice.

photo courtesy of reformer802.com


In marriage, words can really hurt. In any relationship really. Between people in general. Words have the power to seriously harm. All this talk about bullying had me really thinking about something – we are very ready to take up the cause of strangers who have been mistreated and subjected to humiliation or intimidation, made to feel insecure and rejected. But what about at home? What about with the person we are supposed to love the most? What about the one to whom we have committed ourselves as a partner? How do we use our words there?

Do you whisper harsh criticisms about your partner to your children, or to other family members? Or mutter them to yourself in a passive-aggressive way? Do you angrily throw them, justified because you are right, while you are engaged in conflict or “having a fight?” Do you gossip about your partner’s failings rather than discussing them directly? Do you say nice things when your underlying message is one of hostility and anger, barely suppressed rage? Perhaps most important of all, do you withhold words that build up, that encourage, that appreciate, that acknowledge, that pay respect, that are polite?

Because you see, words heal. They are powerful things, and we have the privilege of controlling how we use them. Here is a case in point:

“…- my better half, my best friend. She possesses a depth of compassion and caring that, at times, leave me in awe. ”

This is a message from my husband, publicly stated, on Twitter. This from a man that has received all of about…nothing…from me this past week. I’ve not been feeling well, work has been busy, our son was ill, my mom was needing medical attention, and I had a funeral tribute to write and offer. I was tired, sad, and not emotionally available to him very much at all. But these words? They filled me with strength, they imbued me with his love and support, they grounded me. Words heal.

photo courtesy tonyhaynespoetry.com

Perhaps part of the solution to the bullying problem is to look closer to home. Do you say please and thank you, good morning, hello, excuse me, and you’re welcome to the people that you live with every day? Do you look at them when you’re talking together? Are you really listening? And do you say it? “I. Like. You.” “You. Belong. Here.” Do you keep each other safe emotionally?

Check in. Don’t assume. Speak it into being. Words heal.

What have your words done today right in your home?




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12 Responses to Words Hurt, but Words Heal

  1. Agatha Ryan says:

    Another amzing blog.
    It was a stressful week for you and yet you still coped. You never give up and always so considerate and helpful to others.
    You have a wonderful caring husband. I know how hard it is for him and the kids to witness when you are having a bad day, healthwise. Gary’s words are so true about you. You are always there for people.
    I am so proud to say you are my daughter

  2. mara says:

    Mary, you hit the nail on the head. I’ve got a lot to think about now.

  3. M says:

    I’m glad if it provoked some thought Mara. Thanks for reading.

  4. We are so quick to jump to everyone’s defence when hurtful words are thrown around in public, but we fail to notice the hurt that is coming out of our mouth’s at home. What an excellent reminder. I am guilty for this. I am guilty of feeling bitterness towards my husband for one thing or another and then expressing it not through my word choice, but through my tone. I am going to try to remember to build him up this week. Because words are powerful, and we can use them for good! :)

    Thank you so much for writing such a poignant post!

    • M says:

      I have been guilty too at times. I suspect we all have. But I also think understanding the power of words to heal allows us to make amends and to strengthen our ties to each other. It’s worth striving toward.

  5. Kat says:

    How often we forget this? I’m guilty of it. At times quick to speak in anger, yet forgetful of reminding those closest of how wonderful they are. As always Mary, your words are a kindly and thoughtful reminder.

    • M says:

      I’m glad that they were a reminder, and not one I have not at times needed myself. I have long believed that silence is one of the worst things for communication, although it has its place too of course. Things left unsaid can do damage. And I like the idea of ‘speaking it into being’.

  6. Mel Gallant says:

    Great reminder to look at yourself, your family and the way in which you communicate. Words can be used to manipulate – we sometimes are so caught up in the moments of our lives we don’t reflect on how we communicate about and during those moments.

    • M says:

      So very true Mel. And words are very hard to take back once they have left our lips. But, conversely, the positive and affirmative messages they give also remain deeply held to strengthen and build up.

  7. you are on to something here.
    i absolutely agree that the solutions to bullying do not lie within our schools or legislation ( although i understand the need for guides and management when it moves to that level). respect for yourself and others, especially those closest to you, is learned at home, from parent to child, from sibling to sibling, from cousin to cousin, from grandparent to grandchild…
    i am so disheartened when i hear how so many kids speak to their parents…how will they understand kindness and empathy when they are oblivious to it for the people who love them most? where are they going to find it in themselves to be kind to people who do not have any attachment to them, if they are not kind to those closest to them?
    and children who are raised with love, patience and discipline ( ie: set boundaries created to grow them into healthy social individuals ) and the expectation of respect offered and returned? often share it.
    it has been a long few days of being surrounded by not so nice kids and the parents that created them ( and then blamed everyone else for their kids’ behaviours). i just wish more parents would take the time to realize the importance they actually play in all these issues.

    • M says:

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment. I treated verbal exchanges between our kids very seriously in that it was never just ok that they “fought” or called names because they were kids and siblings. They were each other’s training ground for conflict resolution and respectful treatment of other. But beyond how we expected them to treat each other and us, it was how G and I treated each other. Parents, in their own relationship, often model impolite, disrespectful, demeaning, and insensitive behaviour. I think it starts right there.

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