Tag Archives: Verbal abuse

Sticks and Stones are Secondary

30 Mar

Did you grow up in the era of  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

Childhood memories can be brutal – especially if you were ever accosted by a bully.  It didn’t happen more than a couple of times to me, but I remember yelling these words hoping the bullies chasing me would somehow get tripped up by some magical force that the words conjured up! They never threw punches, but the unkind words they flung could be far more damaging.

“Ugly duckling!”  “You look like a boy!”  “Pigeon toes!”  Words thrown in haste that decades later, for most of us, can still sting.

Names and words can be powerful weapons that can inflict pain, rejection or verbal “spanking” of others.  I believe that words can turn into W.O.M. – weapons of mass destruction, and cause widespread damage to whole societies.  (Hitler used words to effectively control a nation and alienate the world.)

I recall the story of a bully whose father caught him taunting the neighborhood kids. As punishment, he made his son put nails into a fence for each name he had yelled.  The fence was covered with nails by the time he was finished, and the father talked to his son about the damage he was causing.  The son recognized the bad behavior and promised to stop bullying.  When a day that passed without name calling, the father allowed the son to remove some nails from the fence, until it was finally clear of nails.  The lingering message came on the last day when the father showed the son the holes that remained in the fence.  The son then realized the lingering damage of careless words.

Today, many parents refrain from corporal punishment (physical spanking), but fail to recognize the harm they inflict by the verbal spankings they unleash with their words.  (It is oft quoted that children hear the word “no” around 67,000 times by the time they reach the age of two, and the word “yes” far less!)

What is worse – physical or verbal abuse? 

If you believe the opening line of this post (sticks and stones…), you may not agree that words and tone can cause damage.  But I would bet that unless you have the most confidence and the most wonderful parents in the world, you probably still cringe when you recall harsh words of grownups from your past.  Why do we convict those who use physical abuse as their weapon and not those who use words to the same effect?

This week, a new documentary called “Bully” opened in select theatres across the country.  The filmmakers chronicled the life of a teenage victim, in the hopes of raising awareness and curtailing bullying in schools. I agree that it is time we take action to stop school yard bullies so that all children can concentrate on learning (a good strategic move for our nation!)

Next steps…

Maybe the next step after that will be to face the less obvious, but sometimes worse, cyber bullying and verbal abuse.  But, first, we as adults, need to stop and recognize the power of words to cause harm.  Guilt, shame, rejection, and embarrassment… these are but a few of the emotions we can stir up with pointy words.  We would never poke someone’s eye out with a stick, but we don’t think twice about stabbing them with words.

(Sidenote:  sometimes parents even use these tactics on their grown children to coerce or manipulate them into submission.  I’ve seen plenty of examples of this from friends whose parents don’t realize they are no longer children.)   

Perhaps the first step towards healing our societies is to reword the childhood adage… to maybe “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will ever hurt me.”

Just food for thought…

Carol

Don’t take ANYTHING Personally…

21 Feb

The Four Agreements a book by don Miguel Ruiz, and the Four Agreements Companion Guide outline an incredibly powerful philosophy that can revolutionize one’s life.  My insightful daughter gave me the first book as a gift when she was only a teenager and I was still married to her father.  At the time, I took a lot of criticism and verbal abuse personally, and The Four Agreements gave me solace and started me on the journey of not taking anything personally (the Second of the Four Agreements).

Now, almost 8 years later, I am in a better place, happily single, and optimistic about whatever adventures lie in my future thanks in part to the teachings of don Miguel Ruiz and the Four Agreements.

Agreement #2: Don’t take ANYTHING Personally

For me, this is THE single, most difficult agreement to master – and the one that allows me the most freedom and solace.   When we realize that other people’s behavior has NOTHING to do with us and is not our responsibility, it allows us to be truly ourselves.  We should not take anything personally whether it is POSITIVE or NEGATIVE.

This is not easy to do, especially if it was ingrained from an early age to do just the opposite!

I grew up learning to take everything personally whether it was from family, friends, strangers, or even strangers who cut me off in traffic.

My mother is now over 80 and is a master of taking everything personally.  I recall many occasions where she would remark that she couldn’t understand why a friend would treat her so poorly and intend to hurt her.  When I tried to console her and tell her that it might simply be a matter of circumstance or misunderstanding on someone’s part, she would chide me by saying “of course she meant to hurt me – she does this on purpose!”

I also remember many times coming home from school and talking to her about some family occurrence (she was one of 9 children) that seemed to be blown out of proportion.  I remember my cousin choosing to attend another church (heaven forbid!) and hearing  “O M G! can you believe that my niece left the church?  How can her mother allow her to do that to her?  I don’t know what I would ever do if one of  you kids ever did that to us!”  And so it went… every time anyone, me, or my siblings did something of which my mother did not approve the response was the same:  “How could you/they do that … to me?”   At the time I simply observed and was confused.

Personally, none of my choices or behaviors ever had anything to do with my parents, yet they took every move personally.  I cannot imagine making a decision about my life and having to consider how everyone in the world might react, especially when it is not about them.  When I realize that I believed what I was taught, I can understand why it is hard to NOT take things personally.

Despite this realization, the second agreement is difficult to put into practice – but I am determined to make it work! Today don Miguel Ruiz posted:

Write this agreement on paper, and put it on your refrigerator to remind you all the time:
Don’t take anything personally.

So I did, and in a matter of hours, I had to stop myself three time from taking things personally. Here’s what happened:

1. A potential contract on hold:

I received an email from a company with which I am a candidate for an upcoming contract  (I interviewed with them twice last week.) The email said that the company has decided to consider a few internal people for the position before moving forward with me.

My gut first reaction:  I felt that I might not be qualified enough or that I did not make a good enough impression on the recruiting manager (who I only spoke to once).  It felt like it could be a personal slight against me.

Reality:  The hiring manager does not know me. The decision to consider internal candidates has NOTHING to do with me. It is NOT personal!  If the company decides in a few weeks to move forward with me, again it is not personal to me.

2. Email from my father:

My father sent me an email in response to photos I sent of my newborn granddaughter, ignoring the photos but saying how I am hurting my mother by not renewing ties with a toxic relative.  He cited religion as being the reason I need to go back to fix the relationship and said that whatever caused the rift should be ignored as irrelevant.

My gut first reaction: This felt like a personal affront.  My first reaction was to think that “there is nothing I ever do or not do that is good enough for my parents.  Unless I follow their edicts exactly, they will always reject me.”  The accusatory words and religious “guilt-mongering” from someone I love further made it feel personal.

Reality: The email is not really about me at all.  My choice about whether to embrace a toxic relationship is my choice and it has nothing to do with my parents.  It is purely an extension of the childhood “how could you do xxx TO US?”  and is a pattern.  It’s not personal.

3. A kind gesture from a stranger

Someone let me go ahead of them into the single merge lane in a construction zone; an act of small kindness.

My first gut reaction: S/he let me in because of all the times I have let others in. Maybe s/he liked my smile and realizes (?) that I am a good person.

Reality: This was NOT personal. When someone does a random act of kindness their behavior is purely a reflection on them, not me.

These were three minor events where my “gut reaction” (my ego) was to take things personally.  It takes conscious thought to overcome this tendency – especially when it is part of our family behavior.  With effort, we CAN overcome the old programming that causes us to take things personally.

Remembering not to take ANYTHING personally is a hard thing to do…
but mastering it brings power, peace, and freedom!

What do YOU think?

Have a great week!

Carol

Toxic People – It’s not really personal…

22 Jun

Toxic people are everywhere – and their effect on workplace, family, and personal morale can be devastating.

Who’s a toxic person?  Someone who sucks the energy and the motivation out of you in favor of advancing their own agenda and “best interests“.  Often they might be disguised as “friends” who abuse you, family members who need to dominate you, or co-workers who demean you.  At a distance, it is easy to recognize toxic people in other people’s lives, yet sometimes it’s not so easy in our own life.

Why do we put up with abusive behavior from others where our own sense of well-being is jeopardized by these people?

I believe that some of it stems from our upbringing where our tolerance for unhealthy people is encouraged (such as the momilies like: be nice to your elders because they are older; you have to be a friend to have a friend; if two or more people are against you – it must be you; etc.).

About ten years ago, I was so surrounded by “toxic people” in my personal life that I thought I was going crazy (in fact, one of the most toxic people in my life tried to convince me that I was!)  At the time, I thought that I needed to be more tolerant of this behavior  (including abuse) in hopes of eliminating sadness and feelings of being used.

What I really needed to do (and am now doing) was to be less tolerant of abusive behavior and to cut out toxic people from my life.

AND, I realize that toxic people do not handpick people to befriend and abuse – they simply are so self-absorbed (and often downright mean) with everyone in their life.  They make their way into the lives of others quite insidiously – they start by innocuous demands and offers of friendship (making you feel needed) and then proceed to take your energy, your self-esteem, and your optimism.

When you are surrounded by toxic people, you can end up feeling like you must be crazy – after all, how can the world be crazy around you? Realizing that toxic people use others without it being personal – they will use family, friends, acquaintances, spouses, anyone to advance their self-serving agenda – can make it easier to deal with them in the long-term.  (It’s not personal!)

How do you know if someone is toxic in your life?  Once you recognize the behavior and how you feel when you are around them, it becomes a matter of identification and elimination (if you value your health).

Here’s my short list for detect toxicity (do you have others?):

  • Verbal abuse Toxic people will berate you, insult you, call you names, and disparage you.  (Friends don’t let anyone abuse their friends.)  For example, I once knew a toxic person who would disparage my clothes at every chance in front of colleagues and co-workers. If I wore a pair of shoes with a heel higher than an inch, she’d alert people by announcing “Look everybody, Carol is wearing hooker heels.”  Not someone I ever needed in MY life.
  • Lack of respect for your time: Toxic people will call you and demand support at all hours of the day and night – one toxic person I used to know called me repeatedly in the middle of the night for support when her adult daughter got arrested for drunk driving, and again when she thought she violated her suspended license.  At first I thought she really needed support at those times, then later I found out that she started calling people for support earlier in the evening and didn’t care how late it got as she continued to call people on her list.
  • Lack of reciprocity: Toxic people are energy-suckers who will drain your energy and then turn their back on you if you need support.  I have an entire garage full of abandoned mattresses from a toxic person who begged me to share my garage space with her desperate and broke daughter, then turned her back and refused to remove the items she no longer wanted after I asked for the space back.  To date neither the person nor her daughter have said a word of thanks nor have they returned phone calls asking them to remove their garbage from my garage.
  • Self-centeredness: Toxic people know how to get their needs met first by relying on the generosity of others, but do not give back.  One toxic person I knew used my time and support to soothe her broken heart during a divorce (I spent weeks doing so including trips at my expense), but does not notice when others need or ask for her support.  Self-centered people simply do not see anyone beyond their own immediate circle of people and their own needs.
  • Lack of consideration: When toxic people are short of money or resources, they see no problem taking (or more likely asking for) your money, time, resources.  When their situation changes and they come into the money, toxic people usually forget your generosity and will insist on equal division of costs going forward.  Sometimes these people will even take advantage of any weakness on your part to gain financial advantage over you – with no regard to fair treatment.
  • Bully behavior:  Toxic people often bully others and then justify their behavior by touting that they are only asserting their will on others.  I once knew such a toxic person who believed that there would be no bullies in the world without ready and willing victims.  How deranged!

What’s the best way to deal with toxic people in YOUR life?  It is never an easy situation – even when you identify who they are. My advice is to stop tolerating the behavior and make plans to move them out of your life.  Sometimes they may change as a result, but usually toxic people are ignorant of their toxicity and simply go on to find others they can use and abuse.

What is life like without toxic friendships?  For me, I’m finding that the solitude and satisfaction I gain from new, non-toxic friendships far outweighs the companionship that toxic people used to provide. Feeling good when you are with people who are emotionally healthy is a beautiful thing!

Toxic people – it’s really not a personal thing when they treat you badly!  But it is personal if you choose to keep these people in your life!

Have a great week!

p.s., Thank you to my current friends and my son and my daughter who have never been a part of the toxic influences in my life!

Carol

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