The power of words is undeniable. They can affect how we think about ourselves and the world. They can discourage, or they can inspire. They can validate, or they can wipe away self-worth. They can bring us to the brink of war or create a dialogue for peace.
Like many people, I grew up with verbal abuse from my parents. I was called “stupid” “idiot” and “moron”. I was called a “pest” and “ingrate”. I was called “useless”. I was told repeatedly all the ways my dreams couldn’t possibly come true. Words from my parents and older brother Kevin often made me feel small and inconsequential.
Words threatened me with violence if I misbehaved or disobeyed. Words threatened me with violence and death if I told anyone about being molested and raped. Words were used as weapons against me.
Of all the words thrust upon me, none cut more deeply than the day my mother shouted, “I wish you’d never been born!” as she beat me with a belt for running away after being raped by Kevin at the age of ten.
Those six words had surfaced throughout my life. They caused me to question my very existence. I used to think, If my own mother wishes that I hadn’t been born, what right do I have to take up space in this world? Who am I to believe that I can one day be a person that had value?
I wore her words like a second skin. They influenced everything I did, every thought I had, every hope I ever dreamed. I became a people-pleaser not only to keep myself safe from harm, but in hope of receiving validation that I was a person worthy of respect, worthy of love, and worthy of being taken seriously as a human being with dreams wanting to be fulfilled and a voice wanting to be heard.
Today, I sometimes use the words that were thrust upon me so many times as a child. I never use them toward other people. I direct them toward myself. How many times have I called myself “stupid” when I’ve made a mistake? How many times have I questioned my ability to achieve a goal I have set for myself? How many ways have I sabotaged my dreams, telling myself I can’t instead of I can?
Today, I am aware that I do this. When I berate myself in some way, I recognize the voice inside my head as that of my parents’ (mostly my mother’s) and my older brother. I gently stop myself and lovingly affirm that I am a smart, creative, kind, and compassionate woman. I affirm to myself that I have all the tools necessary to achieve whatever I desire. I recognize that yes, I may have made a mistake, but making mistakes doesn’t make me any less worthy. I recognize that whenever I make a mistake, I learn and I can apply that knowledge to future endeavors.
It is sometimes difficult for me to speak kindly to myself. It requires me to reprogram my mind to believe in myself and all the things that I can accomplish. It requires me to eradicate decades of words and phrases that demeaned and diminished my sense of self. It takes learning to speak to myself the same way I would a friend.
I want to always speak to myself with words that encourage and motivate me in a positive way. I want to speak to myself with words that uplift and inspire; words that support me in everything I do. I don’t always succeed, but I have come a long way in using my words to heal rather than to reinforce the harm they have inflicted upon me.
Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash