Sticks and stones may break my bones

Words hurt.

You know that saying we all grew up with? The one about the sticks and stones? And words never hurting? Yeah well, that good-ole preschool saying is a big fat lie.

We pull out that “sticks and stones” line on the playground when we’re young so we can protect our little hearts from the negative comments that little Suzy says about our icky clothes and how we smell like dog poop and how we are tattle tales and are stupid for tattling to the teacher that it was Johnny and Jimmy who drew with crayons on the wall during recess. When we were younger, little (or not-so-little) bullets of negativity were shot our way and our immediate self-defense was to respond by saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” accompanied by that classic scrunched-up-nose-and-tongue-stuck-out face we mastered by the time we hit 1st grade. I thought that saying was my invincible shield, the armor and sword that could and would protect me from all negative comments and hurtful things said to me for, well, as far as I was concerned, ever.

Now as a twenty-something adult who has experienced adult versions of elementary school playground negativity, I have found that statement to be completely and entirely untrue. The fact is that words do hurt. While 80% of communication is through body language (and 68% of statistics are made up) and the minority of communication is through the spoken or written word, that 20% (maybe only 48% of statistics are made up) sure can pack a punch. The words we choose to use in our communication with others can lift us up, lift others up, bring ourselves down, or bring others down. Of course there is potential for combination there, and often times the bullies that haggled us in middle school and the people that haggle us in adulthood have the same thing in common; they use their words to put others down so that they can feel like they are lifted up and standing a little bit higher over everyone else. But be warned: while it appears that they feel they must put others down to get ahead, in reality it’s a way for them to cover up their own flaws, a way for them not to get hurt by having to look their imperfections in the eye.

From my own time in therapy and other such introspection, I’ve been learning that what someone says to others is really just a reflection of how they feel about themselves and where they are on their individual journey at any given moment on any given day. As much as it may seem like it, what other people say to us is not personal. Even if they are hurtful words, those words are not personal. Those words are merely a reflection of the other person’s own pain and hurt. I am guilty of using hurtful words, or abstaining from using words, against others — we all are. But those words I choose are words that actually reflect my internal mumbo jumbo and chaos and pain, not those of the imperfect person in front of me.

We all have sacred places of vulnerability, and we all have things we keep close to our hearts in that guarded place. What hurts is when we trust in another enough to share those deep emotions and memories and programs from that vulnerable space with someone else and they dishonor that trust. Again this is not personal, but these words hurt deeply because the person dishonors that trust and shares those words with other people because they have no notion of respect and honor. They dishonor that trust when they take those very words that you have told them about yourself and turn them against you, blaming you and judging you and finding you guilty for your flaws, as if you were the only person who had them and you weren’t already aware that you had your own shit pickles that you’re dealing with. That is the use of words that hurt. And those words leave bruises and scars, mother truckers.

Those people that use our words against us are guilty of betraying our trust and dishonoring our vulnerability, but we’re the ones who are guilty of putting the bullet of words into the hands of heartbreakers. Does this mean that it’s our fault when someone turns our own vulnerabilities against us? Absolutely not, that’s now what I’m trying to get at, at all. The people who do that to us are to blame. I mean, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and say things we wish we could take back. But there’s a difference between a proverbial slap on the face and the kicking of the proverbial dead horse. One is a wake-up call, the other is a brutal, disrespectful beating that no one deserves (not even my asshole ex-boyfriend who used words to make me mad so I wouldn’t be sad anymore). What I’m trying to get at is that perhaps next time before opening up our vulnerable places to others, we will just have to be a little bit more wise about who we believe is worthy of hearing our stories. Not everyone will honor and cherish the blessed, magnificent compositions of our lives. So it is up to us, then; we must be more cautious of only letting those people in who will honor and respect our beautiful, precious stories and selves, broken bones and all.


“You can attain the kingdom of heaven from this one agreement: Be impeccable with your word.” Don Miguel Ruiz