Has this ever happened to you?
Someone offered “helpful advice” that felt like an insult?
An employer gives you a performance evaluation, but you left feeling like they want you to be a different person?
Someone made a cutting remark, was critical, or insulted you, etc. Then, it’s immediately followed with “I’m just being HONEST.”
I remember being a freshman in college in a performing arts program. I’m in a conference room with seven faculty members for my first semester review. I remember hoping each professor’s feedback would all sound something like praise, with a little constructive criticism peppered in. Seven people in the room with seven different opinions, but the only one I remember (almost 15 years later) was “You’re just too vapid to play meatier roles. Stick with what you’re good at.”
Years later, while the memory of this story doesn’t give me warm fuzzy feelings, I know now that this comment wasn’t really about me. Even harder still to admit, I believe this professor felt like she was doing me a favor.
Ultimately, the motivation behind the comment is not what is truly important. We live in a world with imperfect, flawed people, who are in many cases doing the best they can. If you are someone who has relationships with another human being, chances are you’ve been the recipient of this hurtful, at times cruel, advice.
Unfortunately, we have no control over what other people say or do. Our power in these situations come from 1) our reaction to them and 2) our emotional investment in them.
Have you ever mentally replayed a comment someone made to you, over and over again?
Have you continued conversations in your mind that ended days ago?
If you can say yes to either question, chances are you’re emotionally invested in what someone has said to you. One of the things I like to do when this happens to me is journal about it. What was it about this comment that affected me? Is there any truth to the comment? What evidence is there to the contrary?
Oftentimes, as I explore my feelings, I find that there is usually little truth in what someone has said about me, and the truth (that is likely layered under a web of sarcasm and cruelty) offers me an opportunity to grow. Words are powerful, and we have the power to change the conversations in our minds form ones tear us down, to ones that build us up.
“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”
~ Maya Angelou