Sticks & stones…words will never hurt me

Saying words will never hurt me is an act of defiance but in reaction the hurt enters

Sticks & stones…words will never hurt me

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”

This is a phrase I heard many times when I was growing up and I am sure I am not alone in this, having spoken with other men of my generation.

From very young, boys constantly get the message from society to stay tough and strong and to not let anything hurt and not to show any sign of weakness or sensitivity. This includes being impervious to any form of verbal abuse, verbal banter or disrespect. I remember in early high school there were boys who would relentlessly bully others every day with words. Daily I would witness myself or others being called a ‘poof’ or a ‘wanker’ or a ‘nerd’ or any other insult (twisting someone’s name into an insult was a popular one), which on the surface appeared fairly trivial but really they were designed to crush and humiliate. It was so regular and constant that it just became normal and accepted behaviour and par for the course of being at high school. Nobody challenged it or did anything about it to stop it. Even the teachers did it. Nobody even thought of reporting it and the message was just toughen up, join in the battle and get on with it. Listening to reports from my children today it seems nothing has changed and this is still very common today.

On reflection I have realised that this constant verbal barrage was an assault that really had an effect on me and many others in my school, affecting how I lived as a man beyond school days. I used to think it was just the words and their meanings that hurt me but now realise that it was the intention or force of hatred, jealousy and supremacy behind the words that really did the damage. These are things I still feel to this day in the way people speak to me sometimes. This unseen force is far more insidious or forceful than just tone of voice or body language.

Our words always come with a package of energy or force that we can all feel and register.

Many things in life are communicated unspoken – people can be nice, polite, courteous or humorous in their outward appearance or words used, but what they are actually communicating can be very different. I have always felt the deeper impact of words on my body and whatever I have tried to convince myself about it, my body has always known it was abusive. For example, have we ever had the experience of someone say something in a nice tone or way but being very aggressive, cold, jealous or competitive underneath? We should call it ice nice! We even have terms for it like “Passive-Aggressive” where on the surface the words and tone of what is said may appear okay, but the underlying energy is aggressive.

Sarcasm is a weapon disguised.
Banter is sophisticated bullying.
Backhanded compliments are crafted putdowns.
All is abuse by another name.

So why are we told as men from very young that we need to ignore or pretend that these forces we feel on our bodies every day do not exist and do not affect us? Are we not being asked to do mission impossible here?

The example of school yard bullying was also one of the first times I realised the force of words can be just as strong if not stronger than physical force.

At high school words were used to bully because everyone knew that if outright punches were thrown, they would get into trouble as there were rules around physical violence and there would be clear evidence of what had been done. But if words were used to ‘punch’ then there was little physical evidence to show and there were no consequences if you verbally bullied someone. It was just considered normal accepted behaviour in an all-boys school. I eventually worked out that one way of surviving this ‘war zone’ was to give as good as you got and so became very fast and sharp tongued with a ‘come back’ or retaliation remark, constantly raising the bar of abusive words higher until one of us submitted or withdrew.

These days this normalised abusive behaviour has spread and escalated through social media and the like so that children can be bullied in this way 24 hours a day through mobile phones and computers. This has been highlighted in recent times by some in society:

This normalised verbal abuse is also rife in modern day life as adults. We have decided as a society that physical violence and physical abuse is not okay but we have allowed, excused and tolerated verbal and/or written abuse. We seem to have decided that physical force or attack is worse than verbal or written attacks. But is it really? Do verbal and written attacks really hurt less as the saying – sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me – goes?

As a society we have drawn a line in the sand between what we say is abuse and what is not, but that line is not in-line with what our bodies actually know and can feel.

We have measured out verbal abuse and decided what is abusive and what is not. I have witnessed many times disrespectful verbal banter in workplaces, family and social situations. Sometimes I was on the receiving end, sometimes I have dished out my fair share of it. Generally, this was always considered acceptable normal behaviour as long as you don’t cross an artificial imaginary line of becoming aggressive or derogatory or discriminatory – then it was okay. But is it not all abusive at the end of the day if it does not come from love, respect, and decency?

As a society, have we actually got it right in terms of where we have put the line of what is deemed abuse and what is not?

When talking about abuse in our society we need to look deeper than just the obvious abuse, violence and discrimination that occurs, but also look at eradicating the abuse, judgement and discrimination that occurs everywhere in our daily lives.

Despite what society says, I have always felt the impact of words on my body – literally like an energetic wave or punch. For many years I believed I was the one with the problem and I was just being overly sensitive. This is what I was told by others many times if I dared to challenge or question the model of how life is and the quality of what was being said to me or others.

"It is not the words one puts out, it is the energy people feel."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 307

So how many of us have succumbed to this pressure and coercion and fallen for the fallacy that words SHOULD never hurt me? How many of us have thought we were weak or not manly enough if we actually feel hurt by words? And if we have felt the impact of words on us, have we vowed as men that no one is ever going to know outwardly what impact their words have on us? And does this strategy actually work?

Well, it might sound like a good plan, however taking a self-vaccination of 'toughening up’ has an unfortunate side effect of cutting us off from everyone around us. If we go for this solution we build a shield of defence, hardness and protection with EVERYONE, not just the ones we say attacked us. We think we can be guarded with one person and more open with another but really, once we are in the movements of protection, guardedness or defensiveness this can cause no end of complications, problems and limitations in all our relationships.

In recent times I have really witnessed the impact of any withdrawal or guardedness from me on others. It can become a domino effect where others sense my push away and can become more down, heavy, distant or guarded also.

Toughening up in self-protection cuts us off from true connection and intimacy with people. If we are on guard all the time and ready to bite back, in case someone says or does something abusive, then this wall does not let anything through, including love, so it leads to a lack of openness with everyone in our lives.

The other problem is that the wall is not impervious and frankly it is a bit leaky. Yes, it may be successful in not allowing the other person to see outwardly that we have been hurt by words. However, it is a ruse as underneath any hardened exterior we can still feel the impact. Worse still, going into hardness or protection means that we are hurting ourselves as well and adding to the pressure and force that we feel on us from outside.

Hardening ourselves in protection does not guarantee that other’s words or actions stop hurting, but actually adds to the force or pressure on our bodies. There is a natural sensitivity in us all as human beings that senses or knows when something is abusive or not.

The current statistics on men’s health and wellbeing suggest that there is a great deal of tension, aggression, mental and physical health issues, risk taking behaviours and stress in men’s lives, and as long as we have this mismatch between what the world or society says is acceptable and what our bodies actually register or know to be true, we will have this global unrest and unsettlement.

When I was growing up I bought into the idea that somehow words are not as harmful as physical violence and that we should not be hurt by them, however as I have grown older and wiser through my life experiences I would now say that words are far more deadly and insidious and leave deeper wounds and scars that take longer to heal.

So, what if as men we actually started listening to our bodies for the truth of what hurts us and what does not, rather than what society is telling us should or should not hurt?

The more we allow our natural sensitivity to be there and honour what we feel and stop seeing it as a weakness (despite what we have been told), the more we will experience and enjoy being open and connected to others and have deeper, more loving and meaningful relationships.

I know for me, it is definitely still a work in progress in terms of letting go of layers of protection that I had built up over the years, however every time I do allow myself to be more aware of what I am feeling and call things out that feel abusive to me, the better and deeper my relationships have become.

They say words are cheap, but they come with a high price for some and can leave scars that last a lifetime. However, there is a way to live as men where we do not have to be at the mercy of verbal banter and abuse in our lives and we do not have to keep contributing to the cycle of abuse, hardness and protection where nobody truly wins and everyone is left with much less than they deserve.

By honouring and accepting our natural innate sensitivity and awareness of what we can feel is going on around us and calling out anything that feels abusive, we don’t let it in and we don’t take it personally: then we can begin to change the game for good and no longer be at the mercy of words and their intent.

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AbuseBullyingMen's health

  • By Anonymous

  • Photography: Shannon Everest