Sticks and Stones

Not only can words hurt, they can also have a long-term effect on the targetted person as well as those around them.

Written by Melissa Gilmore

3 min read

a man with a teary eye and a tear
a man with a teary eye and a tear

Being a hypnotherapist, I am in a privileged position to hear people’s stories. Even though each person’s life is different, there are some commonalities. One such example, is the impact of words. Whether they are said in jest or as a deliberate insult, they can hurt you to the core of your being and leave damage that could last throughout your life. In the right environment and with the right support, the wound can heal. The resulting scar may or may not fade, the skin may or may not get thicker – but it is possible to reduce or eliminate the pain. Here are some common thoughts and beliefs that I’ve heard:

‘I think that I’m useless, because that’s what my teachers used to tell me!’

‘I can’t leave my house without make-up on, because the kids in my street used to make fun of my appearance.’

‘I used to be praised and got attention when I got top grades, now I’m afraid of what I’ll be, if I’m not the best.’

'No matter what I did, they always said that it wasn't good enough. I always did what I could, but it was never enough.'

Which comments have you experienced that have had an impact on you? Have they focused on a part of your physical appearance that you can’t or don’t want to change? Perhaps, insults about your personality or where you live? Your job or financial status? Have these comments been said by people you care about, strangers, classmates, colleagues? Perhaps you are realising that it could be you, saying those comments?

What we say and how we treat others can have a long-lasting, negative impact on mental health. Plus, words and actions can have consequences beyond the target of these words – affecting their loved ones and other people around them too. For example, that bullied boy may one day grow into a father, whose trauma negatively affects how he raises his children. Making a negative comment about someone’s weight may lead to that person developing an eating disorder that affects them for their whole life. Criticising someone’s driving skills may lead to them becoming anxious and then giving up driving and the associated freedom it can provide.

Words can be so damaging and long-lasting. What makes this even more poignant, is that as humans, we are more likely to remember or focus on the negative more than the positive. Plus, we tend to place more importance or relevance on the negative. This is often known as ‘Negativity Bias’. If you work in a supermarket on the till and you have many positive conversations with the customers, you will inevitably remember or dwell on the comments of that one person who was rude or critical of you. It will linger in your mind and dominate any positive comments or words that you had also heard throughout your shift.

As adults, we can sometimes ‘let go’ of the negativity after a while, but it’s not always easy – especially if such comments are repeated. In general, with children and young adults, their brains are yet to develop the skills of critical thinking and tend to be more influenced by emotions. So, the negative comments may become more embedded into their minds, which may then go on to affect their thoughts and behaviour. Any adults reading this, may be able to recall words and comments from their childhood that still affect them today. Some may not be able to recall the words consciously, but may be reacting to them subconsciously on a regular basis through thought patterns, behaviours, motivation and relationships. For example, what is the reason behind not wanting to climb the career ladder at work? What is the deeper reason behind not wanting to socialise? What is making someone stay in an unhealthy relationship? The impact of words can be significant and deeply-rooted.

So, how do we deal with the hurtful words directed at us? For the world in general, education, compassion and empathy will go a long way to healing wounds, breaking down barriers and making society a better place for everyone. While this is a work in progress, there are ways, therapies, techniques and people to help build up our confidence, focus on the positive and love ourselves.

As a hypnotherapy client, you have the choice to delve deeper into your presenting issue and ‘a-ha’ moments can really happen. You can shift your thinking towards the positive. You may start to care about yourself in the same way that you might care about someone you love. You can become the confident person that you wish to be. You can reduce the pain of previous words and start to heal those wounds. You can begin to thrive.


(Updated May 2023)