Watch your words

(Photo by Selma Komisky)

Watch your words

By Jehn Kubiak

“You can practice and still never get better.”

“You’re being dishonest.”

“You need to get over your fear of failure.”

“You’re too quiet to lead a team of writers.”

“How can I trust you in this position if you’re acting so emotional?”

“You’re a failure as a captain.”

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will definitely hurt you. Whoever came up with the original rhyme probably had great intentions––rising above hurtful remarks––but that has created a culture of complacency. One that lacks vulnerability and doesn’t deal with feelings well.

People we trust should have our backs, right? That’s what I thought until the people I loved told me these things. I was shocked and thought, “They must be true. Otherwise, why would people who love me say those things?”

As a result, I struggled with immense insecurity and had a rock-bottom level of self-esteem. I actually didn’t know “who I was” until my junior year of college. Before that, I just became a chameleon––someone who changed colors for each and every person. Therefore, I could be extraverted and bubbly with one person, yet shy and somber with another.

I also often resorted to people pleasing. I nearly overcame that, but then a situation triggered the need to live up to others’ expectations all over again. What happened?

A supervisor at work verbally bullied me.

What? Yes, you read that right. Someone who was supposed to support me, and encourage me through failure. Instead of that, I received criticism. I told this person that I was recovering from an anxiety disorder, and instead of being there for me, this person drew back anytime I became stressed. I made quite a few unintentional mistakes at this job, so this supervisor thought I was just a troublemaker and told me I couldn’t handle the job if I had emotional breakdowns over making mistakes.

Sadly, even though I respected this supervisor,  I had to report them to human resources. I couldn’t bear this happening to someone else. However, the journey to justice wasn’t easy. Hardly anybody believed my story at first; they just blamed everything on me. They said I didn’t ask enough questions. That I was too forgetful. That I was just making things up or over exaggerating things. But I knew I wasn’t. However, hearing those messages all the time made me feel like I was truly a failure.

Seven months later, I started having flashbacks from that situation after some uncontrollable things happened at two of my jobs. I heard those horrible things all over again, and the feelings mangled my heart to the point where I couldn’t handle them. Due to that, I almost quit one of my favorite jobs. I told myself, “not again. I can’t do this. I can’t cope with the idea that my manager will hate me for messing things up.”  Thankfully, the opposite happened: my manager told me he would do whatever he could to help make work a safer place.

Even with this reassurance, I still struggle with feelings of shame and inadequacy due to a previous bullying incident in high school. One of my best friends verbally bullied me through gossip. She turned all my other friends and teammates against me, so I spent my senior year of high school with two close friends. That incident made me hate how God created me: quiet, introspective, introverted, and sensitive. Traits that others saw as weaknesses.

After reflecting on both situations, I realized that words really hurt, sometimes more than physical pain. It’s possibly because words of affirmation is my love language, or because I’m a writer. Regardless, some people don’t understand how heavily their words impact someone else.

The news so often tells stories about sexual, domestic, and child abuse. How often do you usually hear about verbal abuse? Almost never.

Perhaps this is why James devotes an entire section on the tongue’s power in his epistle. This struggle wasn’t unique to today’s society; it still existed during biblical times.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.”

– James 3:9-10

As Christians, we’re supposed to speak words of truth to others. This doesn’t mean we can’t point out their weaknesses or shy away from tough love, but that’s the catch: we must rebuke out of love. We must have a desire to help the person grow instead of a desire to tear them down.

Think of Jesus’ ministry. He definitely criticized the Pharisees and called people out on things, but he never disrespected the person themselves. He knew how to chide with care. Consider what you say to someone carefully before words leave your mouth. You never know how the other person will receive them. While some of us have scaly skin, others have an easily penetrable heart. And we can’t just tell sensitive persons to “get over it.” You can still share a hard message with kind words.

The verbal abuse I’ve faced throughout my life has caused numerous issues that have led to OCPD, PTSD, and depression. Thankfully, I have developed management strategies for those and have endured therapy, but that journey was long and difficult.

It’s time we stop making excuses for those who tear others down just because they’re not feeling-oriented, or because we live in a culture that tells people to constantly “Toughen up.” God calls us to set a standard of righteousness, and part of that includes choosing words that uplift our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.