Joe South wrote and released a protest song in 1968 called “The Games People Play”. The lyrics identify various forms of interpersonal and social problems that occur between people including intolerance, hated, and irresponsibility. One of the verses points to hypocrisy:
Oh, the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean
So often my therapy clients struggle with similar issues. Their identity, confidence and progress in life can be seriously impaired by just a handful of words that were said to them. Following are some of the steps that we take to help resolve the trauma and get them “unstuck”.
- Timeframe – When were the words uttered? Often hurts occur in childhood when we don’t have the maturity to process them. Children might not tell anyone or find support to work through the impact. Sometimes the words in adulthood are said impulsively or without thought. It is important to remember that you might be the only person in the world who even remembers what was said. In fact, you might never see the speaker again. They might even be dead. Let it go!
- Source – Unhappy people are often not nice to others. Those who talk in anger or while using substances, are not reliable judges. Some people project their own inadequacies on others and accuse them of the very thing that they are doing. If you want good information, find good sources who are healthy and wise.
- Intent – Bullies say things to bring you down to their level. Traumatized individuals can lash out without much provocation or processing. Even well-meaning people can say things that were meant to encourage but carry a tone of harsh judgement. Consider why the person said what they did to you. Don’t make excuses but try to gain some understanding.
- Assumption – Did you read things into the words? Perhaps you didn’t get the true meaning. It is important to analyze the message in the right context and not embellish or dig for hidden meanings. This is particularly difficult when using text messaging. Ask for clarity when you are confused.
- Truth – Once you have identified messages that have caused you hurt, begin to debunk them. Many times, you will find that the words were said without thought, delivered by someone who was not an expert or received incorrectly. What is the truth? Make a list of the strengths, abilities and accomplishments you have had. Consider positive words and given compliments from other people over the years.
- Repetition – Years ago I heard a Social Worker talk about a theory called “Big dog, little dog”. He explained that the dog you feed is the one that grows. So, if you keep feeding the negative words and memories, they will grow, become bigger and even more harmful. On the other hand, if you start feeding the positive words, thoughts and accomplishments of your life, you will get far better results. This is good for the future too. Say what you want, not what you don’t want.
Not everyone is consciously playing a game with the words they say. Some actually speak before thinking while others have just never learned to communicate in a clear and encouraging fashion.
When you let the words of another person affect you negatively, they have power over your emotions. You can decide not to let them have that power.
And like I have said many, many times – it’s not what happens to you that is as important as how you deal with it!
Let go of the past, stay out of worrying about the future and learn to live in a contented and peaceful present.
Oh, and also remember that the words you say are powerful. Distribute them with kindness and consideration.