Like many people who do a lot of writing I have different google alerts set up that keep me up-to-date with what people are talking about on the internet. An issue that regularly pops into my email box surrounds people’s self esteem and how they’re struggling to cope when words hurt them. This is not an issue that is restricted to any particular age group and it happens in lots of different contexts.
It’s not just the hurtful words that people may fling at each other when they’re going through a relationship breakdown, or the malicious words that an unpleasant colleague may make at work to undermine someone, or the cruel names young kids may make to each other, in a playground that hurt. It’s also the thoughtless, throwaway remarks that many people make about someone’s weight, their appearance or their abilities, that can chip away at people’s self esteem or rip a huge great hole in it. In some ways it doesn’t matter whether someone means to hurt you or they don’t, when words hurt they can hurt like mad, and it can be very difficult indeed to let them go.
However, hanging onto hurt feelings can be emotionally draining and damaging and it’s important to ensure that you’re able to keep them in perspective. Here are my top tips for actions to take when words hurt:
1. Stay calm. When words hurt it’s important that you stay calm and don’t react in the moment. Take several deep breaths, count to ten – do anything that allows you time to think carefully.
2. Think before your speak: If you don’t stay calm you won’t have the opportunity to think before you speak. When words hurt you badly it’s generally instinctive to respond immediately but you don’t want to say something that you later have to retract, or you find you can't retract because of the other persons reaction
3. Think about what’s been said: The problem when you hear words that hurt, it’s the only thing you hear and you rarely have time to think whether you heard correctly or whether there could be another meaning to what's been said. This is why it’s so important not to react immediately. The words you use are personal to you and won’t always be understood by other people. This works both ways.
4. Don’t second guess others intentions: It’s very easy to only half listen to what other people are saying. So don’t half listen and then second guess what someone else means. If you’re not sure then ask. It can actually stop a lot of hurt to find out what someone really meant, rather than making assumptions.
5. Try and understand: Even when words hurt it’s good to think about whether there is any merit in what has been said and understand why people have said something. That doesn’t take away sometimes they may just be being nasty. If they are – then it’s doubly important that you don’t let that damage your self-esteem, but see it for what it is.
6. Choose to let go: If you’re regularly being bullied and hurt by what other people say, it can be very difficult to let it go. However, one of the things about our self-esteem is the choices we make to improve it. So when words hurt try to let them go, because the only person they hurt when you hang on to them is you.
7. Don’t constantly seek others approval: It can be one of the most damaging things to your self-esteem to try and get other people’s approval, particularly when they turn round and say something that hurts. Everyone needs approval, but constantly trying to get it from someone who may not be able to give it will hurt you.
8. Speak to someone: If someone says something, that really hurts – try speaking to them about it. However, you need to be in a position where you can do this calmly so you don’t exacerbate a bad situation or create one.
9. Write it down: Sometimes it can be very difficult to let go of things that hurt. Writing down your feelsings can help. A word of warning. If you write an angry email for example at work expressing your feelings never hit the send button immediately. Have a look the next day and see whether you want to change it, or whether you need to send it at all. Thinking about the words your use at work, are equally important to the ones you use in your personal life.
10. Take action: If you’re self-esteem has taken a bashing because of something someone has said, take action to repair your own self-esteem. What can you do to give yourself a boost? This is something that will be very personal to you, and only you can decide, but take steps to do something, that will make you feel better.
When words hurt it’s important to take any actions possible to minimise the effect and stop them from doing long term damage to your self esteem. Whether the words come from someone at work, or from a close relative or friend try to let them go as soon as possible. The chances are the person who uttered them has long since forgotten and moved on. It’s what you need to try and do too.
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