As Cher sang, “words are like weapons, they wound sometimes.”  We can hurt or help with our words, as well as our actions. All of us have been in situations where, in the heat of the moment, we have said things we do not mean, things calculated to wound, to harm the person we have said them to. Most of us have experienced the pain of hearing horrible things said about ourselves, just or unjust, and have gone on our way with the realisation that other people do not view us as highly as we thought.
The way my bipolar disorder is set off often involves the words of others. I am a perfectionist, and if, when I am working, I do not feel I have done a good job, if I feel that I have let others down, if I feel that I have disappointed my boss, I start to feel anxious. If my boss criticises me, I turn that into a cacophony of hatred for myself, and if I am criticised without cause, I still obsess over my faults. In my last job I was bullied by my manager, who often told me I was useless at my job, that I was doing everything wrong, that I was not good enough; as a result I became very anxious, very stressed because I tried to be absolutely perfect, and in time became very depressed. I have always been unable to take criticism lightly, because I care very much about what other people think of me, and about whether I am doing a good job.
I, too, have criticised others without good cause, I too have hurt others. While I do not think I have bullied anyone, I have certainly said things that I should not have said. I should know better, because of the way words can harm me, and linger in my consciousness far longer than they should. As a Christian, I certainly should know better. The Bible talks quite frequently about the power of the tongue, and gives some guidelines as to what we should use it for.
The letter of James, in the New Testament, has quite a long piece about the tongue:
Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3:5-10)
It is a challenge for me to keep myself from criticising others, from exaggerating things in order to make myself look good. I am not saying that all criticism is bad, but when we fail to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) we can hurt others, and also hurt our witness as Christians. Sometimes I think that we fail to comprehend the damage we can do, that we really can hurt other people when we criticise others without love in our hearts, without gentleness, without seeing the other person as someone God loves. If we go through life uncaring about others, saying whatever we wish with no regard for the consequences, then we do not present a very Christian picture. Jesus criticised others, but he did not damage the wounded.
I think my major issue is that if we look at others as though they were as vulnerable as someone who is anxious, depressed, suffering mentally, then we would temper our words and speak much more gently to them, for fear of causing hurt. I wish people would be like that with those of us who are mentally ill, but more than that I wish we would speak to everyone in gentleness. We are to be peacebringers, not people who cause strife and pain, and I think that we do not really realise the power of the tongue, and how much hurt we can cause.
Boasting is not really a besetting sin of mine, although I know how unattractive it can be in others. That said, putting ourselves down all the time isn’t good either – because it is unjust, because even if we hate ourselves God does not hate us, he values us and places a very high price on us. It is a struggle for me to try to stop myself saying “I am useless, I am worthless, I am nothing,” to try to remember that God values me, even if I do not, that he thinks I am worth a great deal. I try to stop myself saying negative things about myself, things that, when I am well, I know are not true. The tongue has power, James views it as the rudder of the body, that it can change the way we think about ourselves. If we continually put others down, we will become a person who does not care about others at all; if we put ourselves down, if we allow ourselves to criticise ourselves without a cause, then we will hate ourselves.
I try not to voice negative and hurtful words about others. I’m afraid the mental control and discipline not to think those things is taking a little longer! The real challenge is not to use my tongue to hurt myself – like many people with low self-esteem I value others more than myself, and while I would not want to hurt someone else, I am quite happy to hurt myself. Perhaps a way to do this is to, whenever I think of a criticism of myself, follow it up with an affirmation along the lines of “God loves me,” “God calls me friend,” “I am God’s child” and similar. I intend to put that into practise, and try to rest secure in the knowledge that, even if someone is bullying me, even if someone is criticising me, even if I find it hard to believe that I am not awful, that God teaches his truths in the Bible, truths that say I am loved and valued and not worthy of all the self-hate that I practise. It is hard, for it is the product of a lifetime to focus on my faults, but sometimes we need to focus on our good points, and if we cannot think of them then we need to focus on what God thinks about us.
So, to conclude this somewhat rambling post, we need to think about others when we speak, and not seek to wound or criticise without love; and most of all we need to speak gently to ourselves, be kind, be loving, and remember that God himself loves us very much.
 “If I Could Turn Back Time”
- Power Of Mindset. Power Of The Tongue (richavady.wordpress.com)
- A Daughter’s Worth Week 4 / Day 2: Know How to Choose Your Words (girlfriendscoffeehour.com)
- Big mouth, big trouble, big consequences (inspirationalchristiansfortoday.com)
- Sticks and Stones… (christylwade.wordpress.com)