On March 15th EatingDisorderHope.com is giving away 10 copies of my book Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse. (To enter the drawing, click here.) For a preview of what to expect, here’s an excerpt from chapter 4, “Emotional Abuse Through Words”….
Conventional wisdom may teach that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but we know better. We know that words have the power to hurt or help, wound or heal. God, who spoke the first word, reveals this clearly through Scripture, where words are compared to everything from sharp swords to smooth oil, from being harsh to being sweet as honey.
As we think about the power words have had in our own lives, let’s first take a look at God’s truth about the power of words.
Psalm 55:21 speaks of how people can say one thing with their mouths but mean something completely different in their hearts: “His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords” (NASB). This is so true when pronouncements of comfort and love are in word only and are followed by deeds that testify to anything but.
In Psalm 57:4 King David articulates the plight of those who are trapped under the influence of verbal abuse when he says, “I am in the midst of lions; I live among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” This is especially haunting to me, as I have heard these thoughts and fears expressed by verbally abused children. These children and adult children truly feel devoured in spirit by the verbal abuse suffered – sadly, too often by those given to them by God with the charge to love and protect them.
Psalm 64:2-3 reveals the power of words and the true nature behind the motivation to harm with words: “Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked, from the noisy crowd of evildoers. They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim their words like deadly arrows.”
In the hands of the wicked, words become the weapons they use to launch harm against another.
Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Verbal emotional abuse is the harsh use of the words that produces anger. It is this built-up , unresolved anger that festers inside a person, damaging self-esteem and poising relationships.
Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” When honest affection and love are expressed through words, they bathe the soul in comfort. This comfort is desperately needed in this world and in all our relationships – and it is what emotional abuse utterly destroys.
While each person is different, there are several distinct methods the emotional abuser can use to dispense his or her abuse. It may be a single form or a combination of forms; however, most are recognizable:
- The overbearing opinion – whose intensity of opinion overshadows everyone else
- The person who is always right – who turns the words “I told you so” into a verbal indictment
- The judge and the jury – who reserves the right to pronounce judgment on all actions on any given day in any given mood
- The put-down artist – who uses words to crush the spirits of others
- The stand-up comic – who laughs at you, not with you, and encourages others to do the same
- The great guilt-giver – who burdens others with false guilt for all of his or her own problems
- The preacher – who has a long-winded sermon, full of fire and brimstone, for ever occasion
- The historian – who has a photographic memory for the lapses of others but a blind eye to his or her own shortcomings
- The silent treatment abuser – who transmits volumes of negative thoughts without saying a word
The words and phrases we use are very important, as is the way they are delivered. Yet often we are the most careless with this vital form of communication. Now take some time to consider the type of communication you have with other people in your life:
1. As you think over your life, how have words been used as weapons against you?
2. Have you experienced a time when the words of another were “softer than oil” but ended up wounding you deeply, as with a sword?
3. In reading over the different types of verbal abusers, did one or more stand out to you? If so, why?
4. Were you able to identify yourself in any of these examples?
5. Do you have patterns of speech you’d like to change?
6. Identify the main types of verbal abusers you have dealt with.
7. What effect did their words have on you?
8. How do you feel about them today?
9. What lies have you believed because of their abuse? Be specific.
It’s time to begin to reclaim the truth and put the lies to rest. As you think about the lies you have believed, think about the truth. What is the truth about you?
Most of the time, words roll off our tongues without our thinking much about them. It’s time to consider our words carefully – what we say and how we say it. Perhaps the Golden Rule has no greater application than in the realm of communication. Internalize this statement: “I will strive to speak to other people the way I wish to be spoken to – with kindness, respect, and consideration.”
SOURCE: Chapter 4, “Emotional Abuse Through Words,” in Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.