You’re at a friend’s house, and your kid is pushing every button you’ve got. After a morning of battling wills, you finally lose it and let slip a glimpse of your worst self.
When the smoke clears, you slump down on the couch beside your friend—the one who’s known you all your life. She touches your shoulder, looks you in the eye, and says:
“You’re a hopeless wreck, girl. I can’t believe you ever thought you had anything to offer. What a joke.”
Back in high school I thought myself a good listener. I’d always been that girl people came to when they needed to unload. It was exhausting at times, but I enjoyed feeling helpful. So when I heard about a school-run peer counseling program, I signed right up.
Wouldn’t you know, the first student I met shared suicidal thoughts.
I was sixteen. I didn’t have a clue how to respond. To become part of the program I’d pledged to keep everything confidential, but there’d been specific instructions regarding suicide.
Still, I was conflicted. The girl had been brave enough to trust me with her darkest thoughts. How could I betray that trust?
Finally, I did what I felt was right: I followed the rules and reported what I’d heard to a teacher.
Later that day, the girl—red-faced with tears and rage—tracked me down in the music room and lambasted me as a snitch and a liar. In her mind, I’d rushed off from our conversation, gleeful with the anticipation of sharing her dirty secrets with the faculty overlords.
As painful as the accusations were, they didn’t sting nearly as much as the words of a boy who had witnessed the incident. After the girl stormed from the room, he looked at me with a sneer and said, “You’re really bad at helping people, aren’t you?”
Them’s Bullying Words
I haven’t thought of that incident in years. I suppose it came to mind today because its effect on me was so similar to the first story—the one about the mom-friend and her not-so-gracious “encouragement.”
Yes, that one happened, too. About ten minutes ago. Except it wasn’t a friend speaking those words to me—it was me speaking them to myself.
You’re a failure.
You can’t do anything right.
What a horrible decision! What were you thinking?
You’re really bad at this.
You’ll never get it right.
Earlier this week wasn’t much better. On Monday I was journaling about time management (scintillating, yes?) when I realized writing was making me feel worse, not better.
I looked back at my lament on the challenges of Working From Home With Kids During Summer Break and noticed these words, written by my own hand, about myself:
naive, stupid, bad, wrong, mistake, failing, fool…
Them’s bullying words, my friends.
Bullying words belittle, threaten, and condemn. They breed fear and discouragement. They tear down those who need desperately to be built up.
Those who are hurting, remorseful, downtrodden, or defeated don’t need to be told how they ended up there. They need comfort. Forgiveness. Compassion. Love.
We know this, don’t we? When someone we love is knocked flat by the myriad challenges of being human, we know better than to kick them while they’re down.
Why, then, are we so quick to kick ourselves? Why do we become our own bullies?
Too many of us know how to speak life to our friends, spouses, and children, but don’t have a clue how to speak life to ourselves.
Here’s an idea: let’s stop being bullies. Let’s speak to ourselves as we would speak to a beloved friend—with compassion and gentleness. With love and truth.
Let’s be the first, when we fall, to say things like this:
It’s going to be okay. You’re not failing—you’re learning and growing.
This hard place isn’t the end, and it doesn’t define you.
You were made by the Author of purpose, beauty, and life, and like everything He touches, you have so much to offer this world.
Our words—including the ones we only say in our heads—can inflict wounds, or soothe them. There are already too many bullies in this world. Let’s give ourselves, and others, the gift of speaking life.