I know from experience that words have a lot of power and that what you say matters. I’ve written here before about the positive power words can have, but I think it’s important to share that they can also hold a lot of negative power. In fact, I think the negative power might be a little bit stronger.
Granted, some people are more sensitive to things than others. I am one of those people for sure. But even the most secure or guarded people can be strongly affected by what you say. You might say something in passing and completely forget about it, but the person you said it to could carry it around for the rest of thier life. This is especially true if the person you are talking to is a child and still developing their inner voice.
My inner voice was very strongly affected by things said to me as a kid by my father.
I learned how to think about myself, how to talk to myself, and how to let others treat me based on the way he treated me and the things he said to me. There are certain phrases that I know can have a lasting effect because they had it on me. But it’s also important to realize that just because something said might not have an effect on us, it might have a strong effect on someone else. You never know whether something you say can take root in another person, so it’s best to be kind.
There are a few things I will never say to my daughter.
- What is wrong with you?
- How could you be so stupid?
- You can’t do anything right.
- And you wonder why no one likes you…
- Sometimes I really hate you.
- This isn’t good enough.
- If you want people to like you, you have to change…
- Why can’t you be more like…
- Stop being so dramatic- it’s not that bad.
- This is all your fault.
- I expected better.
- That’s not how you really feel.
- I’m so disappointed in you.
- You’re just like …. (with a negative connotation)
- You don’t know what you’re talking about.
- You’ll never be able to do it.
- You’re too sensitive.
- You probably deserved it. (about something bad happening)
There are also some more general ideas that I will never express to her.
I will never say anything to her along the lines of her not being enough. I’ll never tell her to make herself smaller to make other people feel more comfortable or make her feel like she’s too much by being herself. There will never be a point where I say that someone else’s life is worse because she is in it. Or that she needs to pull back on how high she sets her dreams because she’ll never be able to reach them. I will never tell her that her how she feels doesn’t matter or that something isn’t a big enough deal to warrant those feelings.
All of these things were said to me, and it really fucked me up.
My dad constantly put me down and made me feel small. He said every single one of those phrases to me often, and he told me that I was unlovable, broken, a major disappointment… At times, he told me that I was the worst thing that had ever happened to him, and that his life would have been so much better if I’d never been born. I wish I would’ve been strong enough to ignore him, but when it comes down to it, things like this resonate with kids.
Add in that other kids could be really mean too, especially because I wore my heart on my sleave, and I really learned to hate myself. Most of my life was spent with low self-esteem, low self worth, feeling like I would never be good enough and trying so hard to change myself to get other people to like me. I really believe that the things that were said to me so often were a big reason why.
It isn’t just the intentally mean stuff that has an impact either.
My mom has always tried to be supportive and I really believe that she has always wanted the best for me. But growing up, I would often hear her put herself down and talk negatively about herself. Then in a completely unrelated conversation, she’d tell me that I reminded her so much of herself. While she didn’t connect these things, my young mind did. I would immediately think about all of the things she didn’t like about herself and think that since I had those things too, she didn’t like me. That those things were wrong with me.
My mom also set high expectations, trying to push me further so that I wouldn’t repeat her mistakes. She had the best intentions, but it made me feel like I had to be perfect. This meant that when I fell short in anything, I would feel like a complete failure.
If I got one question wrong on a test, even if I still had the highest score in the class, I felt stupid. If I struck out in a softball game or didn’t win the spelling bee or didn’t get a spot on the competition team… I would be on the brink of a panic attack. I will point out that I think my need for perfect was not only to try to make my mom proud, but a misguided attempt to make my dad like me. To prove to him that I was actually good enough. That I did deserve his love.
(My mom and I have talked about this a lot over the last few years and have figured out ways to express the love and support without the high expectation implication and it’s amazing the difference it can make!)
Words affect us whether we want them to or not.
The things that people would say to me as a kid (mostly my father, but also the other people in my life) helped turn me into a people pleaser and an overthinker. I internalized everything and let it guide how I spoke to myself. The words, tone, implications… I never felt good enough or confident in myself and that led to me allowing other people to treat me terribly because I thought I deserved it. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties and in therapy that I realized I had spent my whole life hating myself, and that I actually deserved better.
I never want my daughter to feel the way I felt.
I make a very conscious effort to build my daughter up. To help make sure that her inner voice is full of love rather than hate. I try to be conscious that I don’t say things to her that would make her think something might be wrong with her or that she isn’t worthy of great things. Every single day I make sure to tell her that she is wonderful and that I’m grateful to have her in my life. That she is enough. I also try really hard to make sure that I’m not self-deprecating or putting myself down, because that’s definitely a learned behavior. I’m trying to show her how to stand up for herself and practice self love by example instead.
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
I have always tried to live by this phrase. You never know how much something you say can affect someone. Whether that one thing that you say will sit with them all day, all week, or maybe even all of their life. Despite years of therapy and hard work and a lot of healing progress, I still have a daily battle with feelings of not being good enough or deserving of good things. I’m learning to love myself, but still struggle with feeling confident. I firmly believe that this is a direct result of the things that were said and done to me as a kid, while developing my inner voice and sense of self.
Above I wrote down some of the phrases that I know stuck with me that I will never say to my daughter. But going a step further than that, I am trying to make sure that everything I say to her is said with love and consideration. And as she gets older, I plan to check in with her every so often to see how I make her feel. To be sure that there aren’t other phrases effecting her without me realizing it, so that I can adjust if I need to. My ultimate goal in life is to raise a kid who loves herself fully, and I really believe that this is an important part of that.
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You are wonderful and I’m grateful to have you in my life. You are loved and are enough and always will be.
In hindsight I wish I would have told all of you these things more often when I was “trying to make you not be like me”.
You are doing a wonderful thing here.
I love you Mama. So grateful to have you too. There are so many ways that I’m like you that I’m really glad about. You’re a great mom <3