Do you remember the playground phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? Typically sputtered in the face of bullies, it came from the mocked, the teased with hands on hips and tongues sticking out, served up as a means of restoring a tiny bit of balance to the playground hierarchy.
But as much as our childhood selves fought to portray an aura of strength despite harsh words, the truth is that words hold great power—perhaps even greater than sticks and stones. If you’re anything like me, the taunts and mockery from childhood and beyond still slosh around in your heart, reminding you of what they thought, of how much “less” than them you were, of how short you so often fell.
My husband works early mornings, and I often get up with him to keep our sleep schedules in sync. This leaves me with a fat slice of alone time in those early morning hours when all the neighbor windows around us are still dark as twilight hangs low in the horizon, preparing itself for a chase by the sun. By the time I get back from walking the pup and start warming my face over a steaming cup of coffee, sunrise paints the kitchen walls in soft pink, then bright yellow.
With space for reflection, meditation, preparation, these little bits of quiet and slowness heal and renew my introverted self.
But some mornings, the peace steals away and fear pushes through the door without so much of a knock. On those mornings, coffee gets cold in the cup, routine wavers, beauty slips on by unnoticed. On those mornings, all I can think about is how inadequate I am for everything that awaits ahead.
When we think about the power of words, we often remember those childhood bullies. Sometimes we think about parents who berate their children, friends who passively-aggressively critique, or social media ragers that lack filters. We know that words hold power; we’ve felt the effect of them ourselves and we’ve seen the way they knock the wind out of bodies folding onto themselves. And yet rarely, here in the mess and chaos of adulthood, do we stop to think about the power of the words that we say to ourselves.
Have you ever thought about it—the effect that your words, your thoughts have on your own tender being?
We say so much to ourselves, perhaps without even realizing it. And those words, with all the power that they hold, determine so much about our daily lives, our demeanor, our mental health, our state of being. Weekly, sometimes even daily, we meditate on the fact that we aren’t enough, and eventually, we start to believe it.
These words, these thoughts all lead back to the basic beliefs that we hold about ourselves and the fear we let edge in along the way. Do we believe we’re worthy of belonging, of friendship? Do we believe we’re worthy of joy, purpose, fulfillment?
Here in the sunshine of a new day, we might be able to answer an easy yes, but in the darkness of early mornings, when the coffee is still brewing and the colors haven’t yet splashed through the window onto the wall, what does fear whisper to you?
One recent morning, this happened to me: fear pushed through and began rooting. Often I simply try to push through, ignore the fear and doubt as much as I can and hope they eventually ease up. But this morning, they would not let up. So I did the only thing I knew to do and that was to write. I took a piece of paper and wrote down every single fear as they each marched through my mind.
Almost immediately the tension in my body released, the vibrating speed of my mind slowed. I felt my focus return and fear lay down to rest, even if just for a moment.
Some of us have made such close friends with negative thoughts that we hardly notice when we feed ourselves another helping of it. We’ve bought into the playground rhyme that only sticks and stones can hurt us. But oh, how our words hurt us.
If we think we’re incapable, we’ll never volunteer to take charge of a new project.
If we think we aren’t enough, we won’t pursue that new friendship.
If we think we aren’t worthy, we won’t accept the gifts of presence and belonging.
If we think we’re broken beyond repair, we’ll never seek help.
I’m right there with you—these thoughts plague me. In fact, these words are so powerful that they’ve impacted the course of my life.
But not anymore. Sister, we both have too much to lose, too much to live for. If negative words can impact us so deeply, imagine the women we can become through positive, truth-filled words.
Let’s start by simply acknowledging the power of the words we speak to ourselves. And whenever you feel overwhelmed, I invite you to participate with me in my practice of listing the fears, owning our thoughts, chronicling it all so we can begin taking steps forward without them.
Because, despite what we’ve told ourselves for so long, we truly are enough, capable, strong.
Angelina Danae is a writer that obsesses over the Oxford comma, female empowerment, and creative living. When she’s not drinking coffee, snuggling her dog, or recording podcasts with her husband, you can find her in the kitchen, probably trying to uncover the mysteries of life in a bowl of dough. You can read more of Angelina’s work at https://www.angelinadanae.com/