I spend a lot of time observing my thoughts. Whether I’m meditating, driving, waiting for sleep to come, walking, or doing routine tasks around the house, I watch them. I don’t necessarily engage with them; I simply pay attention to what comes up. It’s a meditation or mindfulness thing I do in many situations, not just formal sitting.
My thoughts are a combination of images, scenarios, conversations, and music—lots of music. Replays from the events of the day, items on my to-do list, what my flower gardens will look like in the spring when my tulips and daffodils bloom.
Sometimes my thoughts are reruns of things that happened recently or a long time ago. They might be issues that were never resolved, things that were confusing, things I might have done better, things that hurt.
I let them flit by. Sometimes I’ll engage and really think on what my part was in some situation and what I might have done differently. Or I’ll think on what I might do to resolve something current, if needed. But most of the time, I let past things float on by because there’s no point in focusing on them. The past is done, it’s over, I have no use for it. But the thoughts pop up from time to time.
Sometimes my thoughts are memories of things that people said that hurt.
This afternoon, while cleaning up my kitchen, a bunch of them came flitting by—I don’t know why. Maybe I was crabby because of the cold, wet weather. Nervous about changing my web hosting company. Irritated with small things, thinking over a conflict I had with one of my sisters awhile back, and I was hungry. I was really hungry but I wanted to clean up first before sitting down to dinner.
Maybe the current annoyances triggered and caused some bits of what Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now, calls the “pain body” to rise up and, with it, hurtful things that people close to me, people I have loved, have said to me over the years.
This accumulated pain is a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. If you look on it as an invisible entity in its own right, you are getting quite close to the truth. It’s the emotional pain body….Anything can trigger it, particularly if it resonates with a pain pattern from your past. When it is ready to awaken from its dormant stage, even a thought or an innocent remark made by someone close to you can activate it.
I decided to intentionally search my mental data base, so to speak, to see what other little bits of hurtful words are lurking around in there, on the surface.
I found plenty. Some don’t bother me anymore, but others do. Even if I’ve forgiven and let go, they’re still there. Forgiving and understanding whys and wherefores doesn’t necessarily mean hurt goes away, particularly when you forgive in someone’s absence.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
Yeah. Right. Parents teach their kids this little saying, and we say it to ourselves. Or we say it to someone who is trying to hurt us with words. Neener, neener, sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.
I don’t think I’ve ever used that saying because I don’t believe it’s true. Some people might believe that words can’t hurt us, but I doubt it. Others, like parents, may offer the saying to kids because they don’t know how to comfort a child who’s been wounded by words. Maybe they themselves have been similarly wounded and they don’t want to and don’t know how to deal with it. They want the kid to toughen up and quit crying because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do as parents. They don’t know what else to say. Their parents told them that, and they survived, right?
Still others may mean that we just have to be emotionally and spiritually strong and not let nasty words hurt us. I agree with that, to an extent. I don’t care what strangers say to me or about me, most of the time. If it does bother me, it doesn’t last long, and it’s soon forgotten.
But what about hurtful words from people we care about, love, and trust? Those can hurt.
Cruel, mean words can be every bit as damaging—and worse—as sticks and stones. Broken bones heal in a predictable way. Broken spirits don’t.
Emotional pain is like physical pain—emotions rise up in response to thoughts. One memory of hurtful words, as I watched those thoughts flit by, knotted up my stomach in a very brief flash. My heart rate increased slightly, I could sense anxiety rising up in my throat, and my palms became slightly clammy. Even though it happened a very long time ago, it still hurts. My body still registers the emotional pain from many years ago, even though it’s slight and I’ve let go of those things many times, in many ways.
I remembered things my parents said—my mother or stepfather—a very long time ago:
You’ll never amount to anything.
You’re no good.
You break everything you touch.
You little slut.
You eat like a pig. So go eat with the pigs.
I didn’t have that when I was a kid—why should you?
You have an answer for everything, don’t you?
There’s something wrong with you.
You’re too sensitive.
Repeat these over and over in various formats, add alcohol, toss with lies and broken promises, sprinkle liberally with F-words, and serve up with all the things I won’t say here and you get the picture.
I was abused: physically, emotionally, verbally, mentally. I was abused in many ways. But you know what?
I don’t remember what it felt like to be beaten with my stepfather’s belt, starting when I was three or four years old, for giggling when my sister and I were supposed to be asleep and other misdemeanors (though I have clear memories of how we outsmarted him by covering ourselves with pillows and curling up tight, covering our heads and holding on to the pillows as we heard him coming down the hall). I don’t remember what it felt like that time or the other time my mom beat the crap out of me or the many times she slapped me in the face or smashed a curtain rod or spatula over my head or slapped and punched and kicked me once I was down and had crawled into a corner, screaming, hands over my head in the automatic protection of head and face that I knew so very well.
I remember the scenes and what my dad or mom looked like and what I did or what started it, in general, but I don’t have distinct memories of specific physical pain.
I do remember the words my parents said to me, though. The really awful words, the words lashed out in anger and rage and the confusing words that, out of context, might not sound so bad. I left my parents when I was really young—only 14—because I didn’t want to hear anymore. I didn’t want to be hit anymore. I came back, with promises that things would be better, but they weren’t, and I left for good when I was 15. More than anything, I didn’t want to be like them. It was wrong, and I always knew it, but I had to wait until I was old enough to get away.
I remember other words, too, words that people I loved and cared about said to me: my ex-husband, an older sister, a younger sister, someone I thought was a friend.
Words hurt, and I’m not happy with how they float around in my mind when I’d rather focus on more positive things. I’ve forgiven these people, but that doesn’t mean the words go away on their own, and sometimes angry, negative energy lingers with us for a long time. I don’t want that either.
Do you have memories of hurtful things people have said to you?
Since I’m a Reiki practitioner, I’m going to do a specific exercise for releasing the negative energy associated with the words that are still floating around in my memory. I’ve done healing exercises or rituals before, but sometimes they need to be repeated.
There’s another, very simple little healing exercise I’ll do, and you can too, if you have any lingering memories of words people have said to you that hurt.
There are many variations of this, but here are the basics. You’ll need paper, pen or pencil, a fireproof pan or a glass dish (a fireplace, outdoor grill, or firepit is ideal), matches or lighter, and water nearby for safety if done indoors without a fireplace.
1. Set aside some time for a little ceremony. You might want to light candles and incense, play relaxing music, take a soothing bath, or meditate beforehand.
2. Choose a place. It could be your kitchen counter, your backyard patio, or a sacred space you may have in your home.
3. Write down troubling things that people have said (or done) to you on small pieces of paper (you could make a list and cut them out).
4. Say them out loud, then toss them into the fire or light them with a match, one by one, and let them burn in a safe place, perhaps in a steel pan on your stovetop with the exhaust fan running or an open window nearby (you don’t want the smoke to stay indoors). Be sure to have water on hand for safety.
5. As each memory burns and the smoke rises, release the memories to God, Goddess, the Holy Spirit, or the Universe according to your religion, faith, or belief system. Let them go and say good-bye.
6. Thank God or the Universe or say a prayer according to your beliefs. Know that love takes care of everything and heals all wounds.
Please keep in mind that this is only a suggestion based on my own personal experience.
This ritual or any of its variations can be very helpful when painful memories or negative energy seem to hang around when you know you’ve forgiven and you think you’ve let go. If you have memories or wounds that are very recent and/or very traumatic, and you haven’t done any previous healing work, consider seeing a professional counselor or therapist. If you’re not sure, having a close, trusted friend with you when you do this exercise is a good idea.
Broken bones heal easily, for most of us. I know—I’ve had my share.
Set the bone properly, immobilize it, and presto, bingo! It heals like magic. Wounds to the soul, the spirit, the emotions…not so easy. Those are much more complicated, and there aren’t any clear steps to take for healing because there are so many different ways words can hurt.
You may wonder: why worry about a few old memories floating around? Why not just think about something else?
My response: you can cover them up all you want, but they don’t go away if we don’t work consciously to heal them. And if we want to be more peaceful in all our interactions, we need to be mindful of little bits of negative energy that are within us and can affect us in many different ways.
Most importantly, when I (or you) have more peace inside of myself, I can love more.
Here are some interesting articles and additional information you might want to read.
Sticks and stones may break my bones – and words hurt, too! - Another viewpoint
The Verbal Abuse Site – Author and verbal abuse expert Patricia Evans
Verbal beatings hurt as much as sexual abuse – Harvard University
Full Moon Release Ritual – Holistic Healing at About.com
This is a part of the series “How Can We Love More in 2011?” It’s my belief that we can’t love completely when we have hurt and anger in us.
What about you? Do you think words can hurt? Comments, sharing, and stories are always welcome. I realize this could be a very painful topic for some and you might not be comfortable sharing, but if you think the message is a good one, please tweet and share on Facebook. Thanks