“Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle.”
“Ignore the haters.”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
We teach our children that words shouldn’t hurt. That they are easy to ignore. But the truth is…words are really, REALLY important.
Words have the power to breathe life or despair into a person. When I look back on some of the most meaningful, powerful, transformative moments of my life, many of them involve words that were spoken to me by another person. So I guess I kind of struggle with the notion that being hurt by the words of another indicates some kind of weakness. It doesn’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately. Not just the ones that are spoken to me, or the ones I speak to others…but also the ones I speak to myself. And it’s hard. It’s hard to realize that I may NEVER be on firm enough ground that the words of others don’t affect me, that I don’t slip into negative self-talk or doubt. The reality is that most of us will fight it every day, in one way or another, until we no longer have the breath to shape the words that mean so much.
Words tend to become amplified when the person receiving them is in a state of vulnerability. And what I have learned, is that any state of making personal changes — whether emotional, physical, OR mental — is an extremely vulnerable place to be. Just making that first step towards a new goal, new happiness, new dreams, is HUGE. Because it means that you’ve come to the honest conclusion with yourself that something isn’t working and you need change. And that kind of honesty is scary. Change is scary, too.
Don’t ever underestimate how vulnerable you are when you step out of your comfort zone, no matter how good you feel.
We don’t talk enough about that. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the power of change — photos of a better body, a big bright salad, an afternoon in the park with your kids, a glass of wine with a friend. Motivating others and inspiring them feels GOOD. Making progress feels GOOD. Being empowered feels GOOD. And there is NOTHING wrong with that. But we have to be mindful of the fact that our former selves — the ones who not too long ago admitted that we didn’t feel good, we were exhausted, we needed a change for one reason or another — are still simmering under the surface. And when they emerge, because they WILL, they need to be treated with compassionate words and actions.
My husband loves to snap photos of me when I’m not paying attention. He knows that I tend to be hard on myself, that I spend a lot of time in the gym and often fail to notice the progress I’m making. Showing me these photos he captures is his way of showing me the progress I don’t see. He wants, more than anything, for me to see myself from HIS perspective. And it helps. It helps a lot.
The other day he snapped this photo while I was sending a text in between making dinner. It had been a long day and I was exhausted and seeing that photo was exactly what I needed. It reminded me that I am strong and that it shows, even in ordinary moments like texting a friend in my messy kitchen. That happy, confident feeling seeped into the next day, until someone said something hurtful (though presented in a casual, offhand way) that same morning. And that’s all it took — one off-hand comment questioning my progress — to totally undo all the confidence I had after seeing that photo.
I spent the entire day wondering if I had a warped perception of myself. I felt foolish and embarrassed and like a phony. I let one little phrase send me into a spiral and ignored months and months and HOURS of sweat and work.
And that’s when I really started thinking about the words I tell myself. It’s okay that the words of another hurt me. But it’s NOT okay that I did not respond to the vulnerable self of mine that is still simmering under the surface, the self that a few months ago was unhappy and depressed and inactive and felt out of control, with words of love, grace, and reassurance.
I owe myself SO much more than that. We all do.
So today is your loving reminder that words matter. Change is hard. Give yourself grace and breathe life into the vulnerable parts of yourself.
There are plenty of people in the world who are happy to be assholes and make you feel bad. Don’t do it to yourself.