Home » Blogs » Strength Over Adversity » Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones….

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones….

“But names will never hurt me.”  I get the point of this rhyme and I do think that it’s a good way to remind children to remain calm and good-natured if they are ever the victim of name-calling.  But I respectfully disagree.  Name calling does hurt; and sometimes name-calling and emotional abuse hurts someone more than physical abuse ever could.

My mother was a pro at name-calling and I think for at least a quarter of my life, I wasn’t even called my own name.  I was called other names; names that picked at my self-esteem and made me cry harder than any beating Mom would give me. The names Mom gave me during childhood included:

  • Kidney Kate – I was born with kidney issues and had to have surgery at a very young age. Every time she called me that I was reminded that I was different on the inside – and not in a good way. I had a defect and she made sure to point it out any chance she could.
  • Bubble Butt, Cow Thighs, Ham hocks – Puberty…before I got tall. I think those were Mom’s favorite years. Every day on my way out the door to school, I was called one or all of those names.
  • Bug Eyes – Mom hated my eyes; she always said they were my father’s eyes. I still find it difficult to look people in the eyes.
  • Anorexic Annie – my personal favorite and the one name that affected me so deeply that I wrote a whole book about it. In a bid for control and to stop the “fat” insults, I turned to anorexia. She had that name ready for me when I got into the car the day I got out of the hospital.

Then of course, was the name-calling that was filled with profanities and venom; the name-calling that dripped with hatred while her fists were flying and her eyes were on fire.  I hated those names; they were names I wouldn’t call my worst enemy let alone my own child.  Mom had an uncanny ability of knowing how to abuse me without even laying a finger on me – and that abuse hurt me the most and left the deepest scars.

Of course I believed what she said, she was my mother, why would she lie?  I would look in the mirror in the morning, hear her taunts in my head, and instead of seeing a tall, lanky girl smiling at me; a sad, fat, defected girl was frowning back.  I believed that everyone in my life; family, school peers, teachers, and neighbors, saw the same thing that Mom did when she looked at me.  I spent most of my life ashamed and apologetic for things that were out of my control.

I had no coping skills as a young child to deal with Mom’s name calling.  I had no choice but to accept it and believe it.  But as I got older, I began to question the things Mom was calling me.  I began keeping journals and writing down how her name-calling made me feel.  I joined the track team at my school and found something I was really good at, and an activity that made me feel part of a team.  I remember coming home from a track meet one night and showing Mom my first place ribbon in the 200 meter dash.  Her comment was, “I can’t believe your cow hocks made it over the finish line.”  I loved hanging my ribbon on the wall of my bedroom that night.

Her taunts still affected me, but as I found more and more things I enjoyed doing, started socializing and going out with people, and began learning who “Sarah” was, I slowly realized that I wasn’t any of those names she called me.  I realized that I was so much more than a worthless piece of garbage, that I did have more potential than a sewer rat, and that I wasn’t destined to live on the streets.  Once I began surrounding myself with people who lifted me up instead of bringing me down, the taunts slowly began to leave the bathroom mirror in the morning.

I do wonder why Mom called me the horrible names she did and why she chose to pick on my weakest points any chance she could.  I wonder why the physical abuse just wasn’t enough and why she chose to throw in such terrible mental abuse.  My only guess is that was how she felt about herself; maybe she felt inadequate for giving birth to a daughter with kidney issues.  Maybe she didn’t like her body and projected that onto me.  Maybe she was ashamed of herself for letting me get anorexic and that was her way of letting me know.  All I have are maybe’s.

But regardless of the reasons Mom did it, the words came out of her mouth and I can’t make my ears unhear what she said or make my brain completely forget how it made me feel.  But what I can do is remain positive.  What I can do is remind myself of what I have accomplished and how much more I have to do.  I can surround myself with positive people.  I can remind myself that I am Sarah; not Kidney Kate or Anorexic Annie.

Names do hurt, there is no denying that.  Words can leave a sting that lasts much longer than a slap across the face.  Some words you have a tough time forgiving and can never forget.  But once you start figuring out who you are, realizing how special and unique you are, and realizing how much potential you have, the sting will eventually go away.  What makes you happy?  For me it’s my children, rollerblading, and my career.  Find your happy – believe in you.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones….

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

7 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
, . (2015). Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones….. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2015
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.