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November 14, 2018

Sticks, Stones, and Words Hurt!

By Nakalya Leggett, MSW, LCSW


In light of bullying awareness week, we wanted to provide some insight on a form of bullying that is not always as detectable: verbal bullying. Verbal bullying includes, but is not limited to, name calling, insults, teasing, or intimidation. This form of bullying is easily hidden because there is no physical evidence that physical bullying would leave and there is no paper trail that cyber bullying creates. As a result, this form of bullying is usually brushed to the side and not taken as seriously. Look at verbal bullying from Jasmine’s perspective, though, and understand the invisible, yet loud residuals that verbal bullying can cause.

Take a Journey with Jasmine

One day, Jasmine started to be bullied at school. No one really noticed because it wasn’t the type of bullying that would leave physical scars. Jasmine’s scars were internal. Jasmine was verbally abused. She suffered from what most teens going through puberty go through; she had acne. The acne was in the center of her forehead and very noticeable. Jasmine’s acne became the punch line her bullies would use against her. This resulted in her being called derogatory names that included, among others, “DIRTY. “ This was not all! Jasmine was not only dealing with bullying at school, but she was also trying to find her place at the table with her family. Jasmine’s family used to tease her with jokes about being pretty and prissy. The jokes appeared harmless on the surface. Jasmine was of mixed race, though, so teasingly being set apart as different further fueled her identity crisis and jeopardized her sense of belonging in the family. Taken by itself, this joke might come across to someone as a sweet compliment; however, with Jasmine already being bullied in school based on her appearance, it was hard to look at that statement as anything but negative. It sounded like another opportunity to say: “Well, I don’t fit here, either.” Now that she has grown to be an adult, many do not know of Jasmine’s struggles. They often compliment about her accomplishments and courage. They don’t see the residual hurt inside. Let’s continue the journey deeper!

Temporary Relief

To filter the hurt and hopefully not allow it to sting so badly, Jasmine used to create a worst-case scenario about her outfit, hair and overall appearance. She concluded that if she acted as her own worst critic, then those words would bounce off and she would be unharmed. Coping by using this distorted thinking produced unintended results. It worked well enough for Jasmine to function in school, as she often appeared “unbothered” to others. After a while, the jokes from others became less frequent. This surface level relief, however, came at the cost of long-term suffering. The temporary relief was that the bullying stopped over time — but now she is an adult, still searching for the self-confidence that was stolen from her in her adolescence. The idea of putting herself down seemed like the perfect solution, until it became the barrier to moving forward. Somehow, the end result would be her always talking herself out of having the confidence to wear certain outfits or apply for a job promotion, even though she knew she had the skill to do the job well. That internal criticism, which she had believed would make her stronger, was actually tearing her down and taking away opportunities.

Growth Mindset

Through healing and growth, Jasmine now prides herself in uplifting both herself and others with positive affirmations. She starts and ends each day with affirming words for herself. She has not only worked to stop giving herself negative messages, but is also actively being positive to herself and this is helping her to restructure the shaky foundation that self-confidence had come to stand on. The moral for all of us to learn from Jasmine’s journey is to be mindful of what you say to people. You don’t know what “hurt” is coloring their view of the world, or how your words may further damage them.

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