Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sharp as knives

I was re-reading this old post about some insults being more hurtful than others, and I thought how true it still is. Some words are just water off a duck's back, others are like six-inch knives. It all depends on how you see yourself and what crushes your self-image. These are the insults that wound me:

"Mean". Who wants to be known as mean, either emotionally or financially? Never showing warmth or sympathy or understanding? Or keeping every spare penny to yourself? Not me. Generosity is much more attractive. And it spreads happiness.

"Cowardly". I like to think that if someone was in trouble and needed help, I would do what I could even it was a bit dangerous. And I like to have the courage of my convictions, saying what I really think and not what's polite or convenient.

"Bad-tempered". My father flew into colossal rages, terrifying me and my mother and sister, and I vowed never to be the same way. To this day I seldom get angry, and I'm very patient with other people's failings and idiocies (and even their insults!)

"Stupid". Stupid I am not. I may be slow to react, I may consider things carefully, I may see things from a strange viewpoint, but that's not stupidity, any more than the obvious, predictable response shows intelligence.

"Lazy". I don't know how to be lazy. Not interested, maybe, or having better things to do, or not seeing the point, or not wanting to be a dogsbody. But not lazy. If I'm really committed to something, I'll put my heart and soul into it, I'll do whatever it takes.

"Anti-social". I like my own company, I like to sit and think, but I also enjoy being with others if they're funny, intelligent, open-minded and compassionate. Unfortunately a lot of people are dull and narrow-minded, and I avoid them for my own sanity.

Now if people call me a leftie, or a nutcase, or ungodly, or effeminate, that's just fine. I freely admit to being all those things - in a big way. What's to object to? But some words are thorns. They pierce me easily, and it can be hard to pull them out. They can get lodged in my psyche like splinters.


  1. It seems to me that you don't like being lied about.

    If you've had those labels attached to you in the past and they aren't true then do bear in mind: what other people think about you is none of your business.

    If they aren't true then they don't apply. The people who say those things to you are trying to be hurtful.

    Their opinions therefore don't matter.

    I like you anyways.

  2. Rosemarie: That's perceptive of you, I hadn't thought of it like that. You're right, I don't like people calling me things that simply aren't true. If they're true, then fine, I have no problem.

    But I would say that what other people think of me IS my business in that I want them to see me accurately. Not that most of them ever will....

    And thanks, I like you too!

  3. Roses: The problem is that even if what someone says seems obviously untrue, a part of me will wonder if it might just possibly be true, so I fret over it.

  4. Nick, time to remember the childhood rhyme: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me".

  5. If someone insults me then I consider what they've said to see why that's their perception of me. Maybe they have a point and I should take notice. If it's someone who doesn't know me, or I don't care what they think of me, I can brush it aside anyway. People I do care about can hurt me, obviously.

  6. Some of the words that can be most hurtful are ones that feel like a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are. On the other hand, I think it also stings when the insult holds a grain of truth. Nevertheless, I don't really care if someone whose opinion I don't value wants to say I'm mean or lazy or whatever. I just ignore that. If it was someone I did care about, I'd want to know what promoted the negative assessment to see if it was something I needed to work on.

  7. Nick,

    You've always appeared to me to be a very nice man. The hurtful things you mention were hurtful because of who said them (parents, friends). It seems those from whom we seek approval or affiliation have the most power to wound.

    What I hate more is discovering that I have been the source of gossip...It always strikes me as a stupid way to spend one's time and I tend to avoid gossipers as much as possible.

  8. Grannymar: If only it were as easy as that! Names always have the potential to wound, however thick-skinned we think we are.

    Z: I'm obviously far too sensitive! Yes, I analyse people's remarks in the same way. And even if it's someone who doesn't know me, I think, maybe they see me more objectively and they've got a point!

  9. Agent: I think you're right, it works both ways - a basic misunderstanding can hurt but so can a grain of truth we don't want to admit. And yes, I always want to know what it was about me that prompted a seemingly ridiculous description.

  10. e: Thank you! I don't find it's just friends and family who have the power to hurt. Total strangers can hurt just as much if they say something that seems completely wrong or insulting. Though I'll forget about it more quickly because I never see them again.

    I don't worry about gossip at all because usually I never hear about it!

    By the way, I'm having a lot of trouble commenting on your blog at the moment. If I use Internet Explorer my comments vanish, if I use Google Chrome the comments box doesn't appear at all. Any suggestions?

  11. e: I managed to comment finally! The comment box came up on Chrome.

  12. It has been a mighly long time since anyone called insulted me to my face. I was either too important, in their eyes, or was not simply important enough! Since my retirement, I am too old and decrepit to matter to anyone.

    I don't know quite how I will react if someone did call me names or gave me sobriquet.

  13. Ramana: Glad to hear nobody is insulting you! Unfortunately over here the old and decrepit are not free from insults - especially in certain so-called care homes.

  14. Ii too have a problem with bad tempers
    I also grew up with parents that could be " difficult"
    It's a hard thing to shake

  15. John: Bad temper is very unsettling to children. It makes them feel insecure, scared and unloved. Parents who refuse to control their temper are very irresponsible.

  16. I haven't read everyone's response thoroughly but I do like Rosemarie's!

    And Grannymar said 'Sticks and stones..' Well, I've always had trouble with that one: true though it might be in the physical sense, words CAN hurt, and very deeply.

    You've always seemed like a very nice man to me, too. I can't imagine you being a mixture of all those negative qualities, it just doesn't seem to add up. I think the truth is going to be a mixture of things here.

    Yes, it's true that if we are aware of a weak point in our character, for instance, laziness, an accusation of being lazy will hurt more than an accusation of something that is way, way wrong - which you can just laugh off.

    But it also hurts when someone who should know us well suggests that we are something we are not, because it means they're not paying attention. It hurts when someone who knows us well insults us by suggestion we are still something we have learned NOT to be. For instance, OH will often say to me 'You can never take the slightest criticism' and I'm instantly both angry and on the point of tears, because this USED to be true when we were first married, but over the years I've really worked on this and now most of the time, while I'm not happy to hear it, I can listen and accept (even if not very graciously sometimes!) and try to learn. To hear that he is still living in the past on this one means he is not acknowledging the work I've put in on it and my own personal development. And that's why that one in particular stings so much.

    I find insults are so much easier to brush off from total strangers!

  17. Jay: Thanks for the compliment! My nasty streaks are kept well out of sight!

    Yes, a comment that tweaks a known weak point can sting quite fiercely. Especially if it's one I'm particularly embarrassed about!

    That's true about accusations that take no notice of changed behaviour. Jenny has been guilty of that on occasion (and no doubt vice versa)!

  18. I was labeled "lazy" at home when I was a kid because I would rather read than do housework. But one month when I dutifully did some every day, no one noticed. The label was too strong. It was a valuable lesson --- you can't believe everything other people think.

  19. Jean: It's interesting how labels take on a life of their own even when your actual behaviour flatly contradicts them! Sometimes people just prefer a wacky image to the humdrum reality....

  20. Interesting post. Labels are too easy to affix and their glue can take a long time to melt. I'm like you more sensitive than I care to be. And that old adage about sticks, etc. is meaningless. Words can hurt. I grew up in a house like yours and the words used then still haunt me.
    I can mull over a tossaway insult for hours, sometimes days depending on who said it.

  21. www: Words can hurt very deeply. And yes, I can still remember some of the poisonous words my father used on me when I was little.

  22. I used to think if you can't say something nice then don't say anything at all. Of course people sometimes need to be told a few truths, but it can be done in a civil manner. People sometimes say nasty things to me, but they make the mistake that they think I care. Life is too short.

  23. Bonsaimum: It's funny, sometimes nasty remarks just wash straight over me because they're obvious nonsense. Other times they get a grip on me and I keep wondering if they're true or not.