At the risk of offending the Bard of Avon, I believe that names, and how we use them, are important. I guess he knew that, though – the Capulets and Montagues lost their young beloved family members. Remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Not true. So not true.
Language is important. Words hurt. Badly. Indelibly. Physical scars heal relatively quickly. Verbal barbs can last a lifetime. (Please know that I’m not talking here about physical abuse – that’s a whole different issue, which I’m not really qualified to discuss in depth.)
I grew up around an alcoholic father. His disease was almost my downfall. When my father was sober, he was a kind, gentle, giving, nurturing soul. Everyone loved him. At night, behind closed doors, he drank. Every night. At the dinner table, with each martini, he morphed from the good Dr. Jekyll to the evil Mr. Hyde. He was, as they say, a mean drunk. Especially to those who crossed him. I crossed him. A lot. And paid the price. He called me despicable. Stupid. Told me I’d never be as good as my brother. He used to say to my mother, “talk to your daughter,” as if he wanted no part of me. As if I were not of him. Words hurt. Believe me. I know.
Sometimes, the language we use on ourselves is just as bad, if not worse, than the words of others. Sometimes, the words are taken directly from those who use them against us. I truly believed, for most of my life, that I was stupid. Even now, when I am in a fragile state, I often call myself stupid. It’s a habit, hard-wired into me by a lifetime of hearing it from my father. I’ll tell myself I’m an idiot, a stupid idiot, a moron. I’ll remind myself that I’m crazy. Screwed up. A loser. A nothing. That I should never have been born.
I’m still struggling to heal from the harm my father’s words did to me. My therapist has started me on a new experiment. Now, I try not to pat myself on the back too hard when things go right – not to say things like “Damn, I’m smart,” or “I’m so f*cking good!” or “That was so brilliant!” The idea is that the highs compete with the lows, and my brain is on a seesaw of emotions. Now, I’ll try to say, “Well, that worked,” or “You really worked hard on that,” or something like that. I’ve noticed a difference already. My lows don’t have quite as many “stupids” in them. I have a jar into which I deposit a quarter for each such iteration. I’m hoping not to fill it this year.
As Stephen Sondheim so wisely wrote, “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.”
Tomorrow – “Einstein Was Right On Time.” Looking forward to it.