We’ve all heard the childhood saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, but this isn’t really true. In fact, words can be the most serious means to cause harm to a person. It’s a wonder that this childhood rhyme ever became popular.
Growing up in a household filled with physical violence, you would think that the bruises and black eyes would take precedence over the degrading words and emotional abuse that I suffered from my family. This is not so. The words spoken over me were so much more damaging to my psyche then the physical hits I took. I will use one example, my father always told me that I was not smart enough and did not possess the intellect to go to college. Because of that, I never applied or considered college to be in my future. It was not until my twenties that I took it upon myself to go to night College, where I ended up with a degree as a paralegal and legal secretary. I never went to become an attorney, because that was for someone else smarter than I was. I'm lucky I was able to finish and complete what I did in spite of the many times my father would tell me how dumb and stupid I was.
Words aren’t just hurtful they can be downright dangerous. Words have the innate ability to either build someone up or totally tear them down. I believe there is a direct link between mental illness and a child’s lifetime of hurtful and derogatory words. When a child grows up hearing, they are stupid, or unworthy, or ugly, or fat, skinny, a hardship on the parent, were an unwanted pregnancy, etc. why would their self-esteem be secure?
My mother had a weight issue when she was young and she tells of how my grandmother would punish her by sewing her dresses out of literal potato sacks. She was teased and bullied for her weight and became bulimic, and has been her entire life. My mother has a sincere hatred for obese people and snarls at fat people in the supermarket and describes people with weight issues in very derogative terms. She is a size 6 and I am a size 12-14. She has often told me that she would love to share clothes with me but I'm too heavy to fit in her clothing size. She constantly sends me diets and makes digs about my weight. She once bought me a 3X shirt for Christmas and asked if I was sure it would fit me. I don't believe she realizes that she is just passing on the same shameful, hurtful things her family said to her growing up about her weight.
Many children grow up hearing many of these derogatory words or phrases repeatedly. It is inevitable that they take these words on, internalize them and come to believe they are as unworthy or undesirable as they have heard all their life. When you add in having to live and cope with personality disorders such as Borderline, it's on a whole other level. Borderlines have a tendency to split and see things as either all good or all bad. Therefore, when we are in an all bad or a “black mind” cycle of our disorder, we can hurt ourselves physically by cutting or self-mutilation and we also emotionally tear ourselves to shreds with our self-talk.
When I was with Mary Kay cosmetics for 25 years, I did more facials and makeup appointments than I can count. I met hundreds of women at their most vulnerable place, without their makeup on. When asked why they would not wear a bright color lipstick, they would confess that their father or an old boyfriend told them they had big lips and didn't want to draw attention to them. If they were unfamiliar with makeup application or caring for their skin, it was usually because they were told they were vain or self-absorbed if they took time out to make themselves look and feel better. The best part of Mary Kay for me was when that woman looked in the mirror at the end of our appointment, the change in her face and demeanor, the big smile at the reflection staring back at her. The self-esteem that was changed in a 30 minute appointment uplifted me as much as it did her.
Because of what I do now, as an advocate for the mentally ill and specifically for those with Borderline Personality Disorder, I spend a lot of time on social network venues researching and reading to constantly educate myself about what the mentally ill live and deal with. It is very hard for a non-Borderline to understand the compulsion we have with BPD when we are in Black mode, to tear ourselves down verbally. There is no capacity for us to find the Grey area, so we are swirled into the dark side of our mind and convinced there is no way out. I don't know how many times my husband, daughter, or a well-meaning friend, would say the normal platitudes and words they use to help a “normal” person out of bad self-talk. Their words fall on deaf ears, as I am incapable of processing any good at that time.
Being a Christian, I often find my Christian friends at the end of their rope trying to talk me down, or I should say up, from a black episode. They will read scriptures and quote verses to me, tell me that the enemy is attacking my mind; I am a child of God, and on and on. I know they mean well, so I listen. What they do not understand is that during those times my brain has no capacity to receive and process the good they are trying to say to me. Many times, I pretend that they are helping me. This is just my futile attempt to make them feel better, as I realize they are getting frustrated when I am not “getting it”.
I am going to take the liberty to share with you what goes on in the mind of someone with BPD when they are in Black mode, suffering from depression, just had an abandonment episode or were triggered by something that left them feeling hopeless. Read some of the anonymous postings from Facebook or Instagram, pleas of help from those with BPD trying to make others understand how they feel.
“I try to hide how damaged I've become”.
“You destroyed me and I apologized”.
“Cutting is not a trend, it is an addiction. It's like screaming but no one can hear. It's a battle I live with every day”.
“I’m not sad anymore, I'm just numb, and somehow that's worse”.
“I’m feeling a rage attack coming on and I’m trying to decide if I should embrace it and go with it or try to fight it down”.
“Life is full of fake people, trust no one”.
“I will never understand myself, so how can anyone ever understand me?”
“I just can't do this anymore. Right now everything is spinning out of control and I just want to kill myself”.
“I am not important; everyone will do just fine, if not better, without me here.”
“I am a walking disaster. Who could ever love me?”
“I am sorry you will never be proud of me. I am sorry I didn't turn out the way you wanted. I am sorry I will never live up to your expectations.”
“Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be happy with myself. I worry that if I can't be happy with myself then how can anyone else ever be happy with me. It makes me very paranoid and it is a constant cycle of insecurity, lack of confidence, indifference, and it is destroying me from the inside.”
“You cannot destroy me; I am the one that destroys me.”
“I am a mistake.”
“I know what it's like to feel like you want to die every day. How it hurts to smile and act like you feel normal. How you hurt yourself on the outside to try to kill the thing inside of you that hurts so much.”
“Sometimes I want to stop taking my psychiatric medication just so I can feel pain again.”
“I am sorry for being so effed up. I am sorry for being such a disgrace and failure. I am sorry for being me. I do not deserve to exist.”
“I fight just to stay alive every day. It is not a fight that people understand. I am my own Warrior.”
I could go on and on listing quotes, especially from the younger generation or the newly diagnosed who are trying to find their way through the maze of the darkness inside when you live with BPD. When a teenager already suffers from Borderline, and then they are cyberbullied or bullied in school, there is no wonder why the end result is suicide. If the same person has BPD, and also has psychosis, they can turn that inward pain outward and we end up with a school shooting or a bomb threat... I personally feel that this is their warped attempt at getting others to feel and experience the ravages of the emotional pain they are feeling inside themselves.
I hate to recognize the fact that many of these shootings and tragedies that are not Isis or Terror are inflicted by young teenagers with mental health issues who have not been afforded treatment, the proper psychiatric medication, or a chance to understand their disorder and therefore, they have become a threat to themselves and to society. I do not want to face this about the community for which I am advocating. It is necessary. It is reality. I have heard many pundits on the news say that we should go back to the days of institutionalizing the mentally ill. That the mentally ill need a way of being shut down, marginalized, locked away somehow so that there is no chance of these tragedies repeating themselves by persons who cannot seem to control their emotions.
There has to be a grey area found in this equation. This is why my message is to Empathize, Educate and Advocate for the mentally ill. Emphasizing alone is not going to do it. I speak to so many people whose loved ones suffer from some type of mental illness and they are incapable of telling me what that illness is; the symptoms of the illness, or disorder, or how to treat the symptoms. This includes parents, spouses, siblings and friends of the mentally ill. The deeper I get into the community, the more I see the lack of education and knowledge when it comes to mental illness. Those who live with mental illness are basically dumped into a catch-all category of some kind of “psychosis”, I hear schizophrenia thrown around a lot and then I also hear depression. Of course, there's always the good old Bipolar.
People I talk to about this topic will throw around words they have no clue about and ways to treat the people who suffer that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. To say we are lacking education about mental illness in our society is putting it lightly my friend. Most people are downright ignorant and this can include First Responders, the very people who are there to help us out of situations, should we get into one. Hospital staff, nurses, even Doctors assigned to emergency rooms, can be totally clueless as to what to do with a mentally ill person exhibiting symptoms. How do I know this? By experiencing it first-hand myself.
This is why the topic of self-speak and self-awareness are so important in the mentally ill community. It’s only recently in the last twenty or so years that the psychology of self-speak has come to awareness. We are now taught how the words we say to ourselves can directly affect how we feel or how we act. There is direct proof that when we say I feel like crap, we literally begin to feel bad. Yet saying I feel great, even if it’s not true can help us to feel better. Its proven that the things we say to ourselves help manifest our beliefs, feelings and surroundings, yet many still hold that the words they say to others don’t matter and aren’t hurtful. WAKE UP! You tell someone they’re ugly long enough, they come to believe it. It’s called conditioning! Even saying something hurtful a single time can create great internal harm to a person because you don’t know what hidden triggers or insecurities they hold inside themselves.
The words we say to anyone, ourselves and others need to be censored more carefully for awareness of how they could impact the receiver, yet most speak first and think second leading to if you didn’t mean it, don’t say it. Often the words we direct at a person go unrecognized as to what those words did to a person because most of us have learned to hide the hurt or internal damage the words caused. Healthy adults have learned the coping skills to deal with hurtful words and phrases hurled at them. Yet most of us are not healthy adults. No one reaches adulthood without having lived through and endured their own trials and tribulations. Therefore, when the same words are used towards someone with a mental disorder, and they already feel those words throughout their entire being, we have the perfect mix for a suicide or school shooting.
Only each person can know how their lifetime experiences have impacted them. For many, they live with hidden issues including self-esteem, depression, anxiety and many other issues and/or mental health problems. This then becomes a critical issue that children are told to shake off or ignore the harmful words pounded into them, when full-grown adults are not even capable of doing so. How can children who have not yet learned coping skills that take many years to manage be expected to shake it off when most adults still struggle from their childhood hurts from words? Harmful words are bullying, plain and simple and it needs to stop! Speaking of bullying, I feel that we have minimized the use of that word to the point that it almost has no effect. Everyone is “bullied” today. Everyone is a victim. Everyone is marginalized. Everyone is part of a movement that expresses how downtrodden, abused and bullied they have been. I'm not going to list the movements because you know them all just turn on your TV set.
Had I been raised from birth in a nurturing environment of love, support and positive reinforcing words, I do believe I would be a much different person today. The sad fact is that many more of us are raised in environments similar to or much as I was. We each have our own little closet where we lock away the bad and terrible things, the hurtful things that were said to us or happened to us. In an attempt to live in denial of the content of our closet, we do many things. Some of us self-medicate with alcohol and recreational drugs, perhaps pornography is your way of numbing out, or having affairs in an attempt to find love in all the wrong places. Perhaps you have taken the infliction wrought on you as a child and you are now imitating and inflicting that same torment to your own child or children.
In crawling out of the darkness, it must first be willed, forced, inflicted on our damaged mind and emotions to do so. It is not a simple whim or desire to say affirmations. It is not a futile exercise of writing affirmations down on index cards. Unfortunately, it has taken me many years to learn this. For most of us who have suffered from hurtful and damaging words, you will have to take a battle stance in your mind against that which has been ingrained into your essence. It is no easy task or small preparation to walk in the face of damage done over years and try to defeat it, change the words, and thereby change yourself.
My battle starts in the morning with waking up and making a choice to get out of bed and face the day. It continues with a choice on how to ease myself into my schedule and things that must be done. With the use of positive and uplifting music, perhaps some positive reading, chatting briefly with a positive friend, all of these things help me to want to face my day. My self-talk is not internal. It is in your face, or I should say my face, and it is out loud. The words and things I say to myself I sometimes scream aloud in the shower, repeating over and over again that I am worthy and capable. That I am strong, I am a warrior, I am an overcomer, that I am a victor not a victim. Seriously, if someone were to record my morning routine in the shower, while I put my makeup on and get dressed, you would pee yourself laughing! My husband has learned to just walk in and walk out shaking his head. He knows it is necessary and what I am doing determines whether or not I will leave the door that day.
The same self-talk continues throughout my day. Sometimes I forget people are around and I get a few stares, but it is okay. I am talking myself through what normal people take for granted, day-to-day life. I am encouraging myself all day long. Come on girl you can do it! Get your rear end to that gym! Put that ice cream down! Go do what you said you were going to do what today! Keep your promises! Show up! Participate! Be kind! Make someone's day today! It is a constant battle for me.
When I am knocked down in my mind and my emotions take over, I get fierce. I get angry and loud with my self-talk. I am stern and do not allow myself to fall victim or become swallowed in defeat and depression to the best of my ability. Sometimes, it just doesn't work. Then you do have to have to resort to ice cream! Or chocolate, either will do just fine.
I hope you will take away from this blog that the consequences of the words said to us, the words we say to others and the words we say to ourselves MATTER. It is so much more than positive affirmations. For those of us who live with mental disorders, it is a daily battle to choose to uplift ourselves verbally so that we can participate with you. After all, we are Warriors!
With you on the journey, Alice