A friend observed recently how powerful and enduring words are. She’s right. It probably wouldn’t take you or I too long to recall things said to us years ago that still ring in our ears, and maybe echo in our hearts. And the chances are that those words weren’t kind or encouraging. They probably cut right to the centre of our being. Maybe they even cut us down and stunted our growth.
How do you overcome phrases such as, “You’re stupid!”, “I never wanted you anyway!”, or “You’ll never be anybody, so why don’t you just give up”?
The things is, human beings are intricate receptors. We take in information with our ears and eyes certainly, but we also use our other senses which, in turn, can create a 3D image of a memory. This can affect us in two ways. One example might be that if we hear someone in the here-and-now direct a phrase such as, “You’re stupid!” at us, we may be immediately transported back to our childhood, cowering in humiliation as a teacher shouted at us in front of the class. Our whole body remembers that experience, so we might recall what we were wearing, the temperature in the room, the smell of the environment. So vivid is the memory that we can feel like a five year-old again and the anxiety builds in our stomach or high in our chest. Those words have dis-empowered us, for although we are adults in the present, we are trying to cope with a situation that makes us feel young, vulnerable and without recourse.
Alternatively, we might not hear the actual phrase but our senses detect a similar scenario. The smell is evocative, the light or weather reminds us of a time and place, we see a photo of us in the outfit we wore on the day those words were said, or we meet someone new who consciously, or subconsciously, reminds us of the teacher. This would be what’s called a ‘trigger’. We can suddenly feel vulnerable, anxious, or ‘stupid’ without understanding why.
The good news is that the power of those hurtful phrases can be diminished. It takes time, understanding, and can be a painful process but it is possible. If your life is dominated by words from the past which are negatively impacting your self-esteem and sense of self-worth why not speak to a counsellor?