“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
That rhyme became my childhood mantra. Each time my insides were bruised by hurtful words, I’d repeat it silently to myself, hoping it would liberate me from the pain. As a child it seemed like a practical way of dealing. Words can’t physically hurt me—right?
But the damage was happening on the inside. The mantra wasn’t complete. It didn’t work because it was only half true.
Dad once told me kids made fun of his ‘banana’ nose and Dumbo ears when he was young. A shy Italian immigrant, he was the bullied kid, the target of ridicule. Dad never admitted it, but I knew. He probably became an expert at ignoring it—just like he told me, “Just ignore them Valerie.” I envisioned him a lonely fourth grader singing that silly jingle to himself as he fought back tears.
As his nine-year old daughter, it was obvious those names still held welts under his skin. Practically 25 years later the torment was still in his eyes. “Whoever made up that stupid saying is a total idiot,” I thought.
Words penetrate deep, deeper than the mightiest stick or stone. They pierce the core and remain there like jagged little splinters irritating our insides. But it’s not the most hateful bully that does the biggest damage. What the bully does is provides the ammunition to create an even worse enemy—ourselves.
Hurtful words sink deep and they become part of our identity. Most of us don’t have a stable enough foundation to disregard the messenger as a tormented soul. His words generally don’t bounce off us like rubber (and stick to him like glue).
Instead, we absorb every dagger and make it part of our consciousness. And we get it everywhere! Not just the words aimed directly at us, but the words and images from society and media. We’re constantly bombard with insufficiency and inadequacy.
I applaud our modern public school system for trying to nip the bullying epidemic early. From the first day of kindergarten the term ‘bully’ is introduced. Children are taught about the imaginary ‘bucket.’ You’re either a filler or a dipper; a giver or a taker; the helper or the bully. The emphasis on being a ‘Bucket Filler’ is demonstrated in a number of creative ways. Shining light on these concepts is vital, but there is one critical aspect missing: the emphasis on how we treat ourselves.
How can we regard others well if we never focus on the starting point – our inner commentator?
Maybe if we start addressing this inner voice as early as we introduce reading and math, we’d have a society with a foundation strong enough to remove the splinters before they even penetrate.
The golden rule: Love our neighbors as ourselves. Sounds simple, but have we ever been encouraged to love ourselves? We were born with this knowledge, and slowly with the help of society, peers, family it’s been chipped away.
Can we look in the mirror and honestly admit to loving ourselves—fully, unconditionally, exactly how we are, without any reservations? It’s much easier to admit to not being good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough or worthy enough. We can easily point out what we lack and focus on our imperfections or weaknesses.
In fact, we’re experts at it.
Can we instead embrace ourselves with compassion and love and accept the magnificence within us? It’s not until we notice it in ourselves that we see it in others.
And when we do, loving our neighbors becomes effortless.
Fill your own bucket and watch what happens.
The most substantial aspect of a mindfulness practice is becoming our own spectator and observing our thought patterns, our inner dialogue. Recognizing the consistencies, the recording that plays on repeat, immeasurably expands our awareness. In this space we are no longer victims. Our inner power becomes clear, allowing the opportunity to change the words we choose.
Can we say, “I’m enough?”
The debate I often hear is: “If I believe I’m enough, I’ll stop striving for more.” Actually, it’s the opposite. The more we think we’re not enough, the more we’ll continue striving to be enough. Never feeling like we’ve arrived.
We’ll continue the pattern and chase our own tails. Once we honor ourselves with the belief that we are enough, we’ll have no choice but to fulfill that belief.
If you think you can you’re right. If you think you can’t your right. Remember: Words are powerful—they shape our thought patterns, attitudes, behaviors, and create our reality.
When you notice yourself dipping into your bucket—stop. Change the wording and serve your growth. Fill yourself instead and become your greatest ally. Using affirmations, even if you don’t initially believe them will get you on the path. Eventually you’ll notice your mind shift and you’ll believe the positive just as you once believed the negative.
Here’s a suggestion from the wonderful Louise Hay:
I can feel good about myself!
I can make positive changes in my life!
I can ____________ (insert whatever it is you want)
I can do it!
Twice a day, stand in front of a mirror and repeat these positive affirmation 10 times. (If you have something more specific you want to work on, you can write your own.)
If doubts or fears or negative thoughts come up, just recognize them for what they are—old limiting beliefs that want to stay around. Say to them gently: Get Out, I no longer need you. And then repeat your positive affirmations again.
That which we constantly affirm becomes true for us.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives