A hundred compliments may be paid, enjoyed, and swiftly forgotten but we will treasure one cruel word for a lifetime.
Shouldn’t it be the other way ’round?
As I pondered all the cruel words I ‘treasure,’ meaning that I recall them frequently and devote too much time to thinking about them, it occurred to me there is a very good reason for this.
You’re going along through life quite nicely, feeling okay about yourself, when suddenly wham! Cruel words blindside you, making you question everything from your physical appearance to how you eat, speak, walk, think, and work.
The pain of thinking you were doing fine and the shock of being informed that you’re somehow intrinsically flawed is a deep wound to the psyche.
Once bitten, twice shy.
We don’t want to make the excruciating mistake twice of believing we’re a fine, normal person, only to be suddenly notified that we’re not. The shock was so horrible, we never want to experience it again.
So we hold the cruel words tightly. Pondering them over and over, for days, weeks, months, years. Afraid to reject them out of hand, lest they were in fact true. Terrified to self-approve again lest we be shocked by the vicious denouement of our failings, real or not, again.
A similar analogy is being on the receiving end of a schoolmate’s crush. You go along in the happy glow that someone likes you, but when you approach them for a date, they grimace and snarl, ‘You!? I wouldn’t be seen dead with you.’
You thought you were doing okay. You’re blindsided to find out you weren’t, at least, according to that person. You’ll hesitate to make the same mistake twice. There are plenty of fish in the ocean, but the rejection was so blindsiding, the shock keeps you terrified of approaching anyone else.
Cruel words are like that.
You hesitate to self-approve ever again so you don’t face the agony of being informed that you’re quite in the wrong. That the ‘self’ you’re stuck with is so unacceptable to a parent, sibling, boyfriend, girlfriend, schoolmate, employer or, tragically, an anonymous online troll.
The cruel words are bad enough. The chance that they may be true is even worse. The possibility this kind of blindsiding agony might happen again unthinkable.
So we ‘treasure’ those cruel words as a buffer against ever being hurt so cruelly again. They’re our shield. Never again will we be shocked. Our low self-esteem becomes in itself a kind of defence. We hold the cruel words close, play them over and over, as a continuous loop, as a talisman so the horror never happens again.
In the process, we hurt ourselves ten times worse than the original words. Probably they were quite wrong anyways, spoken in angry or from jealousy. They never had any validity.
Isn’t it time we dropped our defences?
We’re strong now. Grown up. Adult. We can judge ourselves objectively, approving our goodnesses and strengths, curing our faults. We’ve treasured the cruel words long enough. At one time, they served a defensive purpose but now they’re hurting us.
Isn’t time we stopped treasuring cruel words?