Moodscope's blog



That Which Hurts Us Most. Wednesday July 5, 2017

[To hear an audio version of this blog, please follow this link:]

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"

Yes, that's what my mother always told me to say to the playground bullies at school. But it never worked, did it? Because it is words which hurt us most.

Several years later, one of my A level exam questions was, "The pen is mightier than the sword: discuss." Well, you try bringing a pen to a swordfight and see who comes off worst; but that wasn't what they meant. The words of one man can move a whole culture more powerfully than can the swords of ten thousand men. Why else would dictators imprison their dissident writers?

Our bodies will heal from most wounds inflicted in the playground; a blackened eye, a blooded nose, maybe. But the words: oh, those words echo down the years and ricochet round my head even now. The wounds from words can fester forever.

For words to hurt us, they need to have some basis in truth – or at least the truth as we see it. And, context is all. If someone were to laugh at me for being too skinny, or too tall, or too young – then those insults could not reach me, as a five foot and one inch middle-aged woman carrying thirty pounds more than her maximum healthy weight. But imagine if we lived in a society where the ideal height was 36 inches, the ideal shape was spherical, and the accepted age of maturity was 150. Then, those words might very well hurt, as they would point out my inadequacies. They would sting as being the truth, just as "Short, fat and frumpy," might sting now.

I was once turned down for a job. I was well qualified for the job, had the right experience and had prepared for the interview. I was turned down because the directors thought I was "too boring." When I tell you the position was that of accountant; deputy finance director, in fact – hey, are you laughing?

I was not hurt by that judgement, but flummoxed. I had many faults as an accountant (not being very good at accountancy was the least of them), but the one thing I certainly wasn't, was boring! Those directors had not seen me correctly at all! When I learnt from an image consultant how to dress and present myself authentically, I could see just how I had unintentionally disguised myself as a nonentity. I'm an image consultant myself now – and definitely not boring!

I don't know how to make hurtful words sting less. I can't advise you on how to heal the wounds they leave. What I can say is – that if you take an emotional step back, and analyse those words, you can then dissect them, examine them and judge which parts are the "truth" that stings. If you then start to play with the context, you might even find yourself laughing. And laughter is always good medicine.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

Permalink  |  Blog Home


Eva Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 6:57am

Hi Mary, this is interesting, I have often ruminated over personal remarks in the past . It used to cause me grief, luckily I (through mindfulness) don't get caught up very often now. I've been thinking about unkind actions, I heard in a podcast that a girl was brought up to believe that anyone saying anything unkind to her was speaking from a place of hurt, so she never took the words or actions to heart as she saw the unkindness as the other persons sorrow.

I was woken up the other night at 2am by a man screaming in the street, I was too tired to act on it and he didn't stick around for long, at first I thought he must be really aggressive, but as I thought it through I wondered if he was actually defensive and distressed and this reminded me of that podcast.

I'm trying to hold that in mind now if I return to old memories of sad times, could those people actually have been manifesting their own fears in their insults?

Good food for thought.

David Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 7:28am

A sentence can be caustic, hurtful but also sweet as a nut.

Orangeblossom Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 8:17am

Hi Mary, thanks for the brilliant blog which resonated very clearly for me. I enjoyed reading because it was far from boring!

Sally Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 8:51am

A very interesting blog, Mary. Words have played a big part in my life, ( I used to teach languages!) and I used to attach great importance to the judgment of others... until it broke me! I have learnt that words that judge another are a reflection of the one who pronounces them. It is something I hold on to now.
To give an example, if a driver on the road gets mad, I think "What happened to him/ her BEFORE this outburst to cause such an extreme reaction?"
Words do often say more about the other person. The trouble is, when those words are uttered by a parent , we believe them implicitly as a child and build up an image of ourselves made up of judgments made by others of our perceived personality. It may take a lifetime to unravel and unlearn.
Our self confidence as an adult is built up block by block. That's why it's so important to have people around you who have your interests at heart and who will love and encourage you.

Poppy Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 11:16am

It's not usually the words that bother me but the fact that someone actually wanted to cause me pain. I can still hear the words of childhood echoing through the halls of my memories. I'm on Facebook with some childhood friends now, and I experience their words leaping out of the computer screen even today. How ridiculous is that? I wish I could silence those echoes. I find myself a very lonely person.

Eva Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 11:10pm

Hi poppy, I'm sorry you feel so alone, you arn't so on the blog here, there are many different people who read and comment. I hope you feel that this is a safe place to come. It is horrible to feel that people want to hurt you, can you see that they might be defensive and blinded by their own pain? It doesn't justify their actions, but it helps me when I feel as though their reaction to me was unjustified, it helps me to understand that they might just be striking out at me because they couldn't strike out at the person or situation that caused their pain. It's still not right, but in someway I can reframed and pity them rather than feeling sad or angry. I hope that this helps.

LP Thu, Jul 6th 2017 @ 12:41am

Hi Poppy, I've been cautious about connecting with people from school who haven't naturally stayed friends. I think they remember the old hurts or gossip and bring it up. It's irrelevant now but could touch a nerve best left in the past where it belongs. I get what you mean, it's hard making friends if your lifestyle doesn't enable it.if it's something you would really like, you might find that it happens one way or another. Wishing you well. LPxx

Molly Sat, Jul 8th 2017 @ 3:14am

Just jumping in here, after reading Eva and LP's comments. Poppy, be very wary of Facebook. I have come off it as it was causing me issues. I made friends with people from school and I agree with LP. If the past gets brought up, which it is bound to, then leave it well alone. You will make new friends, in some form or another, you have made friends on here, I know it is not real life but if the past causes you hurt (and I think it does for many people, so you are not alone) then I would suggest you don't go back there to the past. Delete those childhood friends from facebook! Make a fresh start. I don't know if you will see this now but keep posting on here Poppy, and remember what Eva said, if people are striking out then they have their own issues, don't be dragged down with them. Facebook is addictive and it took me a long time to stop even looking at it. Plus people all have a mask on when it comes to Facebook, it is not real. Don't put yourself through any more pain. Sending love to you. Molly xx

Geoff Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 1:09pm

It's only recently that I have manged to put hurtful words behind me. for years, I carried around what my mother nad father said to me as a child. "IIf you don't study and do your homework, you'll never be as good as your brother." It's taken me almost 50 years to get over that and let it go. I hope that this experience has made me more aware of what I say to people and not to judge them.

Molly Sat, Jul 8th 2017 @ 3:38am

Hi Geoff, comments made to us when we are children can be so damaging can't they. On the plus side, it is good you feel you have gained from your experience to help not to judge others. I was such a shy girl, needed alot of love and attention, didn't get it! I had full potential to achieve much more than I ever did. My sister took over. She didn't achieve academically but her confidence shined through and even now her confidence seems to win the day! Geoff, I applaud you for being on this site, as I try to applaud myself, because surely that means we are in tune with our feelings, and that is a gift in itself xx

The Gardener Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 2:48pm

Stimulating blog, as usual Mary. Oh Geoff, the cruelty of playing family members off against each other. My ma-in-law would tell me what a paragon of virtue my sister-in-law was, and her children paragons of good behaviour. In reality she was horribly cruel to my s-in-law, in fact I reckon she wrecked the marriage by destroying any confidence of my s-in-law by harping on that she was unworthy to be married to the 'brilliant' son. My husband was the 'farmers boy' derogatory, can still rankle. My ma considered her life's work was to 'take me down a peg'. As poor Mummy never said a sensible thing in her life she did not hurt me. I hate myself for saying horrible things to Mr G - I get riled, tired, even frightened now - luckily he does not remember a thing.

LP Thu, Jul 6th 2017 @ 12:46am

Handy that TG! Dont be hard on yourself, it's natural to respond like that under so much pressure. Xx

Melanie Wed, Jul 5th 2017 @ 3:11pm

Thank you Mary. I found this very helpful and thought provoking - especially about dissecting the words and working out where is the "sting". I think it is also helpful to realise that sometimes these hurtful words are not about us at all - they are to do with how the person saying them is feeling about something else (as Eva and Sally reflect above). And to realise that they are not true - even if the part that "stings" makes us feel they are! Love to everyone

LP Thu, Jul 6th 2017 @ 1:02am

Hi Mary,
So true. Even though we know it's their insecurities etc, the words still get through. Better to be who we are than like them! Re the interview, their loss eh? :)

Such a good point, contrary to the sticks and stones saying, in terms of history politics media parenting and playgrounds words can be powerful.
They can be powerful for the good as well as destructive. So it's good we can choose which we prefer! We can't stop them, but we can choose not to accept them. Respond like "art, you're alright, think I'm good for insults just at the moment thanks!" :)
Fab blog Mary, thank you! LPxx

LP Thu, Jul 6th 2017 @ 1:04am

Auto spell check is a nuisance! Don't know where art came from! I typed Er!

You must login to leave a comment.

What is Moodscope?

Moodscope members seek to support each other by sharing their experiences through this blog. If you’d like to receive these daily posts by email, just sign up to Moodscope now, completely free of charge.

Moodscope is an innovative way for people to treat their own low mood problems using an engaging online tool. Anyone in the world can accurately assess and track daily mood scores over a period of time. We have proved that the very act of measuring, tracking and sharing mood can actually lift it. Join now.

Blog Archive


Posts and comments on the Moodscope blog are the personal views of Moodscope members, they are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. Moodscope makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any of the links.

Moodscope will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

We exist to help people to positively manage their moods. You can contribute by taking the test, sharing your experience on the blog or contributing funds so we can keep it free for all who need it.

Moodscope® is © Moodscope Ltd 2018. Developed from scales which are © 1988 American Psychological Association. Cannot be reproduced without express written permission of APA.