Words (Part Two)

When I was young, there was a piece of advice that teachers, parents, and other adults would say to children in regard to verbal bullying. Just seven words meant to help a young person learn to deal with it. The problem is that those seven words are entirely belittling, dismissive, and patently false.

“Nobody can hurt you without your permission.”

This is an utterly horrible thing to say to a person who has been hurt by the words of another. I don’t know who coined the phrase, but I have heard it so often it almost makes me ill. With each passing day there are children who take their own lives after years of verbal abuse. The idea that you can turn your sensitivities off, therefore denying permission to the words meant to hurt you, is absolutely condescending and not at all helpful to a victim of what can accurately be called non-physical assault. It implies that the hurt you feel is, in part, your fault. If you weren’t so sensitive, if you would just realize that words can’t hurt you, everything would be fine.

“Nobody can hurt you without your permission” is not something we should be teaching our kids … unless we are okay with also saying “suck it up, life is tough, deal with it.” If you are a parent who does say this to your children, as many do, I urge you to think twice about it. Life IS tough, but how do you figure it helps your child to tell them that when they are hurting? Your responsibility is to teach your children how to cope with the stresses they will encounter, not just tell them to “suck it up,” or that these stresses are only significant if you give them permission to be.

The truth is that words CAN hurt you. We are not one-dimensional creatures who only feel physical pain or pleasure; we also have emotions. We have sensitivities, sets of which are unique to each individual, and nobody should be made to feel afraid or dismissed when expressing that their sensitivities have been hurt. Life is tough, but it is also beautiful. By giving our children the skills to cope with the stresses, they will learn to appreciate and enjoy the beauty that this world has to offer. By telling them that nobody can hurt them without their permission, we give them nothing.

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