10 WAYS TO NOT LET PEOPLE’S WORDS AND OPINIONS HURT YOU
Whether it is a parent giving you their opinion on your next career move, a friend evaluating what clothes you’re wearing, or your partner saying hurtful words in the heat of the moment, we all have times we feel hurt by what other people say to us.
I struggle with this almost every day.
So I decided to take this question to social media, and posted it on my Facebook wall. Partly, it was to experiment and see what happens, and partly, it was out of desperation of feeling worn down emotionally from hurtful words.
My post received lots of comments, and this blog post is dedicated to all of the amazing individuals who contributed their wisdom: Julia, Shawn, Raymond, Kritisch, Ling, Chirag, Aditya, Sura, Rese, Lauren, Jenny, Susan, Nabeel, Julie, Gabrielle, and Tin.
When someone says words or opinions that are hurtful in nature, here is how I am learning to approach it:
1. It usually isn’t about you
Hurt people hurt people (as a friend of mine use to say). People who are saying these words to us usually are experiencing a negative emotion themselves, which is causing them to hurt on the inside. Some people are able to process that pain, but people often react to it before responding appropriately; lashing out at others, taking a higher or lower position relative to others, and sometimes saying unskillful things out of anger.
2. Words mean different things to each of us
We are all trying our best to communicate these mysterious sensations in our bodies called emotions using an agreed upon means of communication (language). Language is nuanced, complex, and not universal. We all have different meanings and value we place on certain words. Some words for us have more emotional charge than others because of what we’ve experienced in the past or connotations we have heard them used in.
3. Words can’t hurt you without your permission
In one of Buddha’s stories, he encounters an evil man who tried to verbally assault, ridicule and demean him. But then, without success, he gave up. When he asked the Buddha why he didn’t react, the Buddha responded, “If you offer me a gift and I do not respond, to whom does the gift belong?” People can offer us their words or opinions, it can’t hurt us unless we let it first land in our heart and mind.
4. Allow yourself to feel your reaction
So if you’re human, you’ve likely allowed the words to land and hurt you. Emotions are largely uncontrollable to the extent that they will occur whether we want them to or not. As I’m learning, however, this doesn’t mean you have to act on the emotions that are arising. Rather, it is okay to simply watch them come up, fill your body, and eventually they will dissolve. A reaction to them happens, only because we don’t have the self-awareness and presence of mind to stop ourselves from reacting, and instead, witnessing the emotion rising and falling.
5. Notice the wound inside
The words and opinions land, they have hurt you, and you unfortunately forgot to just witness them and abruptly reacted to the other person, perhaps throwing a few resentful and hurtful words back at them. Now what? A great suggestion I received was to notice the wounded place in each of us.
Notice that the person who is saying these words to you is speaking from a wounded place, and notice your reaction to them is from your own wounded place. In their wound, perhaps they have an unmet need, unfulfilled expectation, or past unresolved trauma that is causing them to react in this way; perhaps they weren’t loved, didn’t have good role models, or were spoken to in an abusive way. The point is the disappointment and hurt they feel is coming from somewhere, so try to understand it and empathize.
6. Speak your truth
By being able to see the wounded place in the other, we are then able to see the wounded place in ourselves. Why did that person’s words hurt you? I believe that people give us pain in order to help us heal the unhealed parts of ourselves so we can become stronger. We must look into our own wounds to see where they stem from, why what the other person is saying to us is affecting us, and look for what we can learn from this. Usually, they are just digging into a wound that already exists. So instead of making them liable for the entire wound, I find it is more valuable to look at your wound and honestly share with them where it came from, why what they are saying to you isn’t helping you to heal that wound, and what you need to do so.
7. Put both wounds on the dissection table
With a view to the other person’s wounded place, and a gentle approach to your own, you are then able to put both your and the other person’s wound out on the table. Together, you are able to look at your own, and theirs, from different angles, for the purpose of fostering understanding and acceptance.
We all have wounds, and often words and the way people say them unintentionally hurt us. Looking at them together helps build, forgive, and move on from the words that were said. Once we get to the root of our wounds, we often see that we all have wounds, and we are all innocent for holding on to them, not forgiving those for causing them, and not ever having the opportunity to heal them.
8. Practice more daily self-love
This is the means building self-awareness, compassion, and acceptance. When we can love and accept ourselves so fully and deeply, we are able to step into our power. With this heightened sense of our truth, nothing anyone says can affect us. We are able to better discern our emotions and respond appropriately instead of reacting, foster harmony versus conflict, and heal ourselves of our past.
9. You always have a choice.
They say you are the average of the 5 people you spend your most time with. If someone in your life isn’t adding value, and regularly bringing you down with their words, maybe it is time to consider changing your environment and distancing yourself from them. I have had to remove these people who are “energy vampires” from my life in the past, not necessarily because of them, but also because I deserve peace.
10. Keep becoming the expert of yourself
If we know ourselves, including the beautiful parts and the ugly wounds, no one’s words can ever affect us. Healing is an ongoing journey, and it takes work. Wounds don’t just go away, and growth happens with a lot of experimentation, many attempts at changing our values and beliefs, and a willingness to adopt a new way of looking at ourselves and the world around us. Trust that you’re on your path, keep practicing these steps (or your own), and be proud of yourself for growing towards the best you can be for yourself and for others.
With greater peace within us, and helping others to heal themselves of their own wounds, imagine what a world that would be.
Today’s practice: How do you not let people’s words and opinions affect you?