4 things to consider when people’s words hurt you
(and why you need to close the back door 🚪)
Hello lovely readers,
I’m writing this week’s blog whilst sitting in the spring sunshine. That alone is something to be grateful for. I say this with caution as you may be reading this in the pouring rain and I may now have made that feel even worse than it did. Sorry.
I was chatting with a wise friend the other day and we got talking about how certain people, or even environments can have a profound (usually negative) impact on our state of mind. He used a turn of phrase to describe these kinds of situations that I had to write down, and share with you as it was so on point.
Some people just seem to have a back door to your soul.
A back door to your soul. I think that what he meant by this, was that they have a way of getting under your skin, impacting your mood, state of mind, emotional wellbeing, decisions, behaviour, and even your health. It’s not good, it doesn’t feel under your control – and in fact, these people have a wrong level of control over you and can take your peace.
What they say to you seems to wriggle in, right under the surface and find its way to your places of vulnerability, and then give those insecurities a good old airing. They’re often parents, or family and friends, perhaps bosses – and a common factor is that the power equation is not balanced. They have been given a place in your mind that is not theirs to occupy: however significant they have been in your life.
There are a few people who have sat in this place in my life. Perhaps more than a few, if I am honest, as I am more prone to react to the words of others than some (our personality plays a part in this). For me, it has ranged from family to friends to leaders and bosses. And I could recite to you some of the things that have been said that were probably untrue (or at least in part), and definitely unfair in their delivery. In these situations, you find that the power of these people’s words just hits different. It lands deeper and unsettles your peace. You leave the situation feeling smaller, less confident, doubting, or perhaps even a sense of shame.
They’ve been given direct access to your innermost thoughts and feelings – that back door to your soul that my friend was speaking about.
Have you had these moments? Do you find yourself frustrated and irritated that yet again, your guard was down and now you’re left picking up the humiliating pieces of your sense of self? Well, I think it’s time we’re honest that this happens to the vast majority of us (I know this because I talk to a lot of people in my line of work) and so you are not alone. What’s even more annoying about these kinds of situations is that we never asked to be put in them. We didn’t ask to hear the snide, cutting, patronising, controlling comments – and now here we are sorting out the aftermath.
Here’s a few thoughts from me
• Be aware
There are people that you will just know have too much power over your state of mind. They have a way of diminishing you, and you know who they are. We have to take responsibility for the part we play in this. If it is right that you remain in relationship with these people, we must then learn to be on guard in our interactions with them. I have to sometimes talk to myself before meetings and interactions with certain people to remind myself that I do not have to let their words land in the very heart of who I am. Being forearmed is so important – there have been some moments in my life where there has been some quite unexpected hurt and I have come out of the room/ call/ conversation totally sideswiped by their words. But if I prepare myself, I may reduce the impact of their words.
• Find your tribe
We all need those that lift us. Those that know us, cheer us on, know that we are not perfect, and so challenge us, but do so in a way that enlarges us, and does not belittle us. I am so grateful for the people that play that role in my life. When we have found these people, we also need to choose to let them in. Sometimes it can feel embarrassing to repeat what people have said, and how it has made us feel. You might think that they will think less of you, or to repeat it means you have to relive the whole sorry episode again. Please can I encourage you to say it anyway? Honestly, I can relate to this whole set of emotions but have also appreciated the truth and support from others when I’ve done it. It really does seem to make things smaller when we bring them into the light.
• Let it go
Easier said than done, right? But the key to our contentment lies not in what we experience, but what we choose to do with the experiences and situations that we encounter. Public disclaimer – I am not very good at this, words and experiences can circle around my mind for a very long time. But I also know that when I choose to talk back to those words, to speak truth, to wish no harm, to focus on what is in my control, I can gently close that back door, sweeping out the words and dusting myself down as I go. Practices such as prayer or meditation, or mindful thinking (whilst walking or running for example) can help with this letting go.
Mo Gawdat, the brilliant and interesting author of Solve for Happy, talks about the choice and responsibility that we have to ourselves. He suggests three questions to help us take back ownership of the emotions we feel.
Is it true? (Is what I am feeling true? Did they definitely say what I think they said?)
Can I do something about it? (if so, do it)
Can I accept* it?
*Committed acceptance – not just lying down and accepting this is it – but doing something to make your life better despite the situation or difficulty.
• What about you?
In whose life might you be in this position of power? Who has let you into that space? There are people that I am sure that my words hold a high level of power – my children, for three examples (even if nobody else!). An ancient proverb reminds us that the tongue has the power of life and death. How am I using my words? How are you?
I know that none of this is easy. If it was, we would all be flourishing in every department, all of the time. And nobody wants to hear it’s on us to sort it all out. I mainly wanted you to know that you are not alone in experiencing these moments. We don’t have to be passive travellers in our own lives. We can make choices that bring back a level of control, responsibility, and acceptance.
Here’s to your peace of mind today.
Don’t forget to close the door,
P.S. I wrote some more on letting go if you’d appreciate some more thoughts on the subject