The other day, a friend said something that really hurt my feelings.
She didn’t say it to me directly, but told me later that she had said it to someone else and the sting of her words stayed with me for a few days. As I’ve been sitting (and stewing) over her words, I’ve wondered why they’ve hurt me so badly and why I’m still feeling their little jabs to my soul when our conversation ended days ago.
I had to get really vulnerable and ask myself why I was so hurt by something she mentioned so casually and in passing. As I dug deep into my experiences (thank you Brené Brown) it quickly became clear why my friend’s words have left such a lasting (negative) impression on me:
I’m not upset with WHAT she said; I’m upset with HOW she said it. I’m upset with the words she used and the way she chose to use them. What she said about me was true, but the way she said it was hurtful.
When Warner was sick I learned that people speak from their experiences. Their words are formulated and spoken based on their past wins and losses and how it made them feel. I also learned that when people say something that hurts you, it’s not often intentional (unless they’re just a poor excuse for a human being, who thrives on wounding others). We connect our understanding of our experiences to other people’s pain or joy; using words that may have helped us during that time to help someone else. And sometimes? The words don’t work and their meaning can get lost in translation.
I’ve found, in times like these, that it’s important to be gracious. Most people, unless they’re the aforementioned asshole, mean well and truly want to help. Sometimes, something as easy as a smile, a genuine “thank you” and “I appreciate your empathy” do the trick, even if you don’t completely understand.
I have started to carefully select my words: whether I’m writing to you, writing an email or texting Kyle about what to have for dinner. This isn’t to say I don’t throw a cuss word or twelve into a story at any given time, because HAVE YOU MET ME but when I speak or write to people, I want to leave them better than I found them. I want to be gracious. When I speak from my experiences, I try to speak (or write) words that are relatable rather than judgmental, that are kind rather than hurtful, that attempt to be understanding rather than vague.
In the case of my friend and my hurt feelings I try to remember this: words are powerful, but your reaction to them speaks volumes.
So, rather than get angry with her; rather than stew over the sting and continue to feel the jabs in my soul I said this:
“Hey, I know what you said the other day wasn’t meant to hurt me but it’s been on my mind and it really hurt my feelings. Can you help me understand what you meant by what you said?”
And she did. And I learned another valuable lesson about people and their words: at our core we all just want to feel understood.
Your words are powerful, and so are your stories. Choose your words like you choose your friends; and when you don’t understand them (the words or the friends) ask for clarification.
You’ll learn more than you realize.