When I was a kid, there was an oft used saying; "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." I would use that as a pithy line to whomever said something mean, or my mom would say that to me when I complained that someone hurt my feelings. Well intentioned, right? Maybe. But it's not right. In fact, it is seriously and harmfully incorrect.
Words matter. Think about something that someone has said to you that stung. You can (and should) put a good boundary up and scan for any truth to it, but nonetheless, it stings, even as it hits your protective boundary.
Now, think about when someone said something truly mean. It doesn't just sting, it reverberates in your brain, cuts to your soul and wounds you deeply. Even if you know the person said it in anger and, "didn't really mean it--I was just mad"--it is difficult to forget and forgive (I will blog on forgiveness another time). We tend to carry those wounds around like a bag of stones or an ugly scar.
There is research about the weight of criticism vs the weight of a compliment. It takes many more compliments to negate or lessen the impact of a criticism. Something like 10 compliments to 1 criticism--and--we don't forget the criticism and we minimize the compliment. I remember when I was a TA at Pepperdine. I had one evaluation that said, "She is the most unethical professor I've ever had." I remember the chair of the department blowing it off, knowing it wasn't true. Even as I knew it wasn't, it still hurt. And do you know what? I remember that but I don't remember the compliments from the other students.
Words matter. Think about that the next time you are angry at your spouse, partner or children. Take a breath. Think about the weight of your words. Think about the damage that it will cause. Think about the impact it will have on your relationship. You may be able to get past it. You may even get to a place where you have a really great relationship, but you will never forget it.
Sticks and stones may break my bones--and words can hurt my soul.