From childhood I was taught the mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” From as early as I can remember, I was picked on; teased at school and had very few friends (but for those who were, I remain thankful), I would come home and cry, beggining to move, “somewhere, anywhere.” My desperate request, always met with the aforementioned saying and the scolding that I should not allow what others say to,”get to me and bother me.”
However, this advice was fallacious as words are extremely powerful particularly when the one speaking them has agency; whether spoken or written, words have built and destroyed nations: inspired and decimated.
As human beings we want to invest emotionally in people, to not make that investment in at least a few could render one a socio-path who has no sense of humanity or empathy. Our emotional investment is what allows us to form lasting relationships.
Sure, there are certain people who I do not know or couldn’t care less about knowing and they can say whatever they would like about me and I would be more preoccupied with how often my neighbor picks his butt after exiting his car from his evening commute than their slander, but if my husband came home and said, “I’ve been thinking and you’re a real bitch.” I would be torn to pieces.
And that is because I have given his words agency in my life.
In my first marriage, I did the same, obviously because I was married and I loved him and he not only abused me, but he abused the trust and love that I had given him. When the verbal abuse started, I was very hurt and saddened that he would feel like I was just a, “nasty, useless, whore that couldn’t do anything right.” Some of the things that he said to me and about me were very hard to swallow and process and somewhere in his horrific orations, I began to buy into what he was saying.
When people think of abuse or domestic violence, they jump straight to the physical aspect: broken bones, black eyes, or tremendous bruising. They don’t understand the emotional and verbal aspects when it really is not that complicated of a subject. They tend to think that if there is no apparent physical violence then the victim was not really abused.
They are so very wrong.
Bruises go away and when treated properly, broken bones heal as well. The most exhausting aspect of an abusive relationship is the verbal and emotional abuse that is suffered by the victim. Those words become grenades that leave permanent holes which never quite heal, breaking more than mere bones. After a day of severe verbal abuse, I remember looking in the mirror and not even recognizing my own face. The deep lines under my eyes formed scars that were far worse than any black eye he could have given me; the swelling in my face worse than the harshest slap, and the exhaustion more far-reaching than any could fathom.
If he had caused physical harm, I could have called the police and received medical treatment. What he did, caused me to suffer alone, and in silence.
I have been told throughout my life to, “Toughen up,” or, “grow thicker skin,” and to some extent I have; but, I refuse to completely harden up and stop emotionally investing in people.
“When you’re drowning you don’t think, I would be incredibly pleased if someone would notice I’m drowning and come and rescue me. You just scream.”
― John Lennon