Survivor smiling.jpg

When someone says hurtful things to us, the damage those words do to our confidence, our dignity, and our self-worth can stay with us for years.  Even decades.  Many people I know have lived with insensitive, unkind, or cruel words playing over and over again in their minds like an old record.  After we have listened to those words for that long, they tend to take root into our heart, and the once happy, confident child grows up into a self-conscious, insecure adult who is not living up to their unique talents and character.  They are missing their true destiny.

For years, I struggled with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.  My mother used to tell me on a regular basis how she never wanted to have children and how disappointed she was in me.  That was the record that played over and over again in my head.  As I grew up, I believed that I could never be good enough.  That I didn’t deserve the best that life had to offer.  That I wasn’t worthy.  No matter how many compliments I received at work or from friends, they were never enough to fill the bottomless pit of worthlessness inside of me.

It wasn’t until I matured and my mother grew elderly that I have learned to separate myself from my mother’s criticisms.  I have learned that my mother’s negativity towards me really stemmed from her own deeply rooted feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness (ironically brought on by the abuse from her mother.)  It had nothing to do with me.  What a liberating revelation!

Each of us has the ability to choose what we allow to play over and over in our minds.  Each of us has the opportunity to erase the messages that are damaging to our hearts, minds, and souls.  Each of us has the gift of replacing those negative words with encouraging thoughts that will inspire us to reconnect with our true selves, rebuild our talents and once again pursue our dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  In other words, you have the power to accept or reject anything that is said to you or about you.  You have the power to examine those words and decide for yourself if they are helpful to you or if they are harmful.  If they are helpful, then go ahead and play them over and over in your mind.  Let them encourage you.  Let them shape the person you are becoming every day.

But, if they are harmful, let me offer two options.  One option is to discard them immediately.  Throw them away and never think about them again.  Don’t give them any of your time or energy because they don’t deserve it.  Your mind is not a garbage can.  You do not have to let people dump their trash into your mind.  You can refuse to take it.  Instead, fill your mind with positive thoughts that you want to be self-fulfilling.

A second option is to reframe the negative words into a positive message – give them a different meaning than they were originally intended, like I did.  I was always taller than all the other kids growing up.  By the time I was starting high school, I was about six feet tall.  I’ve heard every “tall joke” in the book.  I used to hate when someone would ask me, “How tall are you?”  It always felt to me like they were saying, “You’re too tall!  You’re a freak!”  This only added to my deepening pool of insecurities.

One day I was shopping at Rite Aid and an elderly gentleman came up to me and asked me how tall I was.  I answered him with a sarcastic “comeback” that I had developed over the years.  I was actually quite proud of my comebacks.  Right at that moment, I noticed the man’s face.  He looked so disillusioned.  Right then something inside me told me, “Maria, you don’t understand what people are really saying.  They’re not saying that because they think you look awkward.  They are not saying that to make you feel bad.  They are saying that because they think you look statuesque, like a model.”

I was speechless.  I never, in my wildest dreams, interpreted comments about my height as a compliment.  I always heard them as cruel insults.  Now, I don’t know if that’s really what people are meaning to say to me or if it’s just my mind tricking me to encourage myself.  But, it really doesn’t matter.  Ever since that day, I interrupt those words differently and they don’t hurt me anymore.  And that’s what reframing is all about.

Have there been people in your life somewhere along the way who have said hurtful, painful things to you?  Are those words still playing over and over again in your mind?  If so, examine where those words were really coming from, what was their real meaning, and whose character do those words really reflect – yours or the person saying them? Could it be that their words are an outpouring of their own insecurities and disappointments in their lives?  Clean out those negative messages and replace them with a positive reframe or new messages that encourage and inspire you to be your best.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names won’t hurt us anymore.