Shawna O’Hagan Morrow header image

Stop the Verbal Violence

in Courage

It’s been a long journey to get where I am today – I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m so much further along than I ever thought possible.  More than 30 years of self-hatred, never feeling good enough, always trying to hide and go unnoticed.  Today, I’m so much more confident, I’m very happy with myself and the life I’ve built.

Part of this transformation is because I’ve discovered my own self-worth.  I’ve realized that I am worthy regardless what others think.  I have a voice and I will use it, even if people don’t want to hear it 🙂

Another part is that I pay close attention to the external messages around me and in our society.  I carefully choose what I allow in my world – what I absorb and how it makes me feel.

In the past I would absorb what the media, magazines, movies, commercials and people around me would say about themselves and other people.  I took it all in as truth about my own worthiness.  It did not make me feel very good.  I felt inferior – especially about the messages of what women “should” look like.

There are many kinds of verbal violence that we encounter each day, but it’s how we respond that matters.

The Way You Speak To Yourself Matters

The way I would speak to myself could only be characterized as violent.  The mildest thing I would say (quite often) was, “I’m so stupid.  I can’t believe I did that” or “I’m such an asshole.” If that’s mild – imagine what the super harsh things were.  Trust me, I would never say these things to another human being.  NEVER!

This is not ok.  The way you speak to yourself really effects how you feel about yourself.

I once witnessed a life changing experiment about what physically happens when you say negative things to yourself.  The brave woman, the subject of the experiment, was super strong and physically fit.  She was asked to tell the group what she believed about herself.  Her response was positive; I believe she said she was “amazing and strong.”  The facilitator asked her to put her arm straight out to her side while the facilitator tried to push her arm down to see if it would move.  The woman’s arm was rock solid and it would not go down.

The facilitator then asked the woman to repeat 10 times (out loud) “I am disgusting and unworthy.”  The woman shuttered at the request because she did not believe what she was asked to say. The facilitator wanted to demonstrate what you say to yourself matters.

After the woman repeated the nasty words 10 times, She was asked to put her arm out again and the facilitator was going to try to push it down.  Her arm went down like a limp noodle!!!  I couldn’t believe it.  I was stunned!  The things we say to ourselves really do have an effect on our bodies.

At the time I witnessed this experiment I had been working on not speaking negatively to myself for months, but this visual will be with me for the rest of my life.

So how do you stop the violence against yourself?  First, be aware of how you talk to yourself.  Listen to what you’re saying.  Ask yourself why are you choosing to say such mean things?  The answers may surprise you.

As a person who was verbally abusive to myself – I say “No More!”  I deserve better and so do you.

The Way Other People Speak to Themselves Matters

Have you ever listened to how people talk to and about themselves, it’s frightening. Much like the way I used to speak to myself – they say horrible things about themselves in our presence.  I’ve heard some of the following:

“I’ve gained so much weight.  I need to go on a diet.”

“I look terrible.”

“I’m such an idiot.”

“I could never do what you’ve done.”

“When I lose weight, I’ll ….”

“If I were as gorgeous as (insert name here), I would be so happy.”

“I’m so poor.  I can’t afford that.”

All of these things may not seem “violent” but they chip away at our self-esteem and self-worth.  When we are around people who speak to themselves like this, it can make us feel bad about ourselves as well.

They’re not talking to us, but they are speaking negatively and we tend to think, “If she thinks she’s overweight, what does she think about me?”  And so the shame starts…  When people are being critical and negative towards themselves, we start to judge and criticize ourselves too.

So how can you handle this?  I simply say, “Don’t talk to yourself like that” or “That’s not true.”  Sometimes people look at me like I’m crazy.  That’s fine.  But it makes them think.  Sometimes I will talk about how important it is to speak to ourselves with love and kindness.

Either way, I always feel compassion for someone speaking to themselves harshly because I know it’s rooted in a place of pain and self-criticism.  I feel kindness and compassion for them and hope that one day they will be able to stop the violence.

I also make sure that I don’t absorb that negative message.  It’s my way of caring for myself.

The Way People Speak About Other People Matters

Now, that I’m more aware I am careful not to let in negativity.  I can create enough negativity on my own, I don’t need any help from outside sources.

Negativity comes in so many forms. I know that when we judge or criticize others, it comes from a place of insecurity or not feeling good enough.  When we hear people putting down or judging others it can affect the way we feel about ourselves.

“She should not be wearing that bathing suit.”

“He’s an idiot.”

“She’s not that smart.”

“Her arms are so flabby.”

“Men are stronger than women.”

“She’s a terrible mother.”

Whether it’s a specific criticism or a generalization, it does not build anyone up.  It only tears people down.

All people are beautiful.  I truly believe that if we are happy with ourselves, then we wouldn’t criticize others.  It’s only when we aren’t happy with ourselves that we seek to tear others down in a misguided attempt to feel better.

I make a very conscious effort to not say anything negative about myself or others around me.  I also work very hard to not absorb negativity around me whether it’s in the media or in person.

All of the above comments could seem harmless, but they are detrimental to the person saying them and people listening.  They can trigger shame within us and that has serious consequences.

How will you handle this?  I have voiced my opinion that their words are not kind or true. I have said that I’m not going to listen to such talk and walked away from a conversation that I felt was inappropriate.  I have asked the person why they are saying such hurtful things about another person.

Standing up for others is also standing up for myself.  It strengthens my self-confidence and solidifies my values.  I get to choose who and what I will allow around me, what enters my life and how it affects me.  It’s my choice and I’m trying to choose wisely.

The Way Other People Speak To You Matters

I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to avoid confrontation.  For me, this meant not speaking up when someone was disrespectful or condescending to me.  I felt small and I allowed the ill-mannered behavior because I didn’t feel confident.  I didn’t want to fight.  I wasn’t secure enough to say that was not appropriate.  I’ve heard the following:

“You’re a bitch.”

“Shut up!”

“You’re so stupid.”

“You have such a pretty face.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

These are just a few of the mild examples that I put up with in the past.

Until I realized that I was no longer going to accept that behavior.  I had a voice and I was going to use it.  I was no longer afraid.

It is not about being mad or angry, but I’m not going to sit and listen to someone put me down, call me names or claim superiority over me for any reason.  Not gonna happen.

Here’s what I’ve learned since becoming a coach, I can’t control other people.  It’s one of the best things I’ve ever learned.  I can only control myself.  I can set a boundary about what works for me and is in my best interest and following through with that boundary is the most loving thing I can do for myself.

So when I hear something that does not align with what’s in my best interest – I have a decision to make.  Do I allow it into my world or do I use my voice to not accept it and walk away?

It’s about knowing my worth and my value.

The way we speak to ourselves, about others and to others become the verbal violence that our children hear and absorb.  These messages will become their inner voice and they deserve to have a much nicer voice than my former inner dialogue or the things I hear people say every day.  Think about it.  Kids will think these examples are acceptable if we don’t show them that they are not.

What verbal violence do you allow in your life? 

I can tell you that the more comfortable I am with myself, the less I’m inclined to listen to this nonsense.  In the past few months I have:

  • Stepped up to a man screaming at a woman in a grocery store and told him to stop speaking to her that way.
  • Walked out of a restaurant with friends in the middle of dinner when the conversation was tearing people down.
  • Had a heated argument with someone about the way they were talking about someone I love.

I will not sit by and watch someone verbally abuse another person.  I will not stay in a situation where I feel that the conversation is derogatory.  I will not allow those messages to become part of my inner dialogue.

It starts with you and feeling comfortable and confident with yourself.  Let’s stand up, focus on our own self-worth and making the world a better place.

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