“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words would never hurt me.” As well-intended as this principle of life may be, the cloak of confidence it seeks to provide doesn’t always work. Words define everything. They dictate our thoughts, provoke our wellbeing, and is the conductor of our relationships. Even this very piece is dictated by words, and how well I use them will influence how they are received. Words are linked to our emotions and act as triggers that make us vulnerable, confrontational and jovial. How then are we expected to keep them at bay and not allow them to settle into our being?
The modern world is strongly influenced by image, and women, more often than not, are classed in various categories based on attractiveness, allure, and sex appeal. Inevitably, the way that this is expressed engages the use of words by employing morphology and semantics. Positive words are met with positive feelings, and negative opinions sometimes set us on a path of emotional self-destruction.
It’s an experience, for the most part, we all share as women. That single comment that made us hypersensitive to our stretch marks, or the boy at primary school who called us ugly, is a narrative by which we continue to judge ourselves even in our adult lives. We are all too familiar with the feelings strong, negative language has on us and the power it holds over our emotions, and in some cases acting as an emotional trigger that sets us off. By what we fail to realise is that words sometimes affect us at a deeper level when it comes from someone who looks like us, shares our experiences and ought to understand the struggle we face. Women fail to conceptualise that words hurt a lot more when they come from other women. And if what we hear affects how we feel, why are we so quick to speak negatively about other women?
I once read that hurt people hurt people. Funny enough, we are so hell-bent on calling other people out on the pain they’ve caused us without paying attention to the fact that we’re doing the same thing to others.
“That girl likes to sleep with too much man”, “I don’t like she body at all, it run fat.” “Wey boy, that girl have no bottom, why she wearing legging?”
Although men are no stranger to this narrative, it pains me to see other women engage in filthy, hurtful dialogue about their fellow sister. It appears the more negativity we received, some of us are first in line to dish it out without remembering the pain it once caused us.
When we engage in name-calling, we pretend to be blind to the potential hurt and emotional disruption that is an inevitable result. Research shows that language doesn’t operate at the conscious level of the brain, and we respond to words at a visceral and sometimes automatic level.
According to research by authors of Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress. In essence, words can literally change the way your brain deals with a situation. Their findings revealed that positive words can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. They propel the motivational centres of the brain into action and build resiliency. Negative words, by contrast, increases the activity in the fear centre of the brain that causes it to release dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, which interrupts our brains’ functioning.
Not only does it have an immediate impact, but it could also have lasting effects on self-esteem, the concept of self-worth and one’s ability to see themselves in a positive light. Without even realising, name-calling, slut-shaming, and alienating language, for some of us, marked the start of our battle with self-esteem, proper management of self-love and body image issues. For many of us, we weren’t made aware of an “issue” until we were teased about it or made the subject of a cruel joke.
Frequently, women are the front runners of vitriolic attacks on other women. This ultimately deepens the narrative and contributes to normalising deeply hurtful and insensitive language. We don’t exist in silos, and the very hurt we feel when subjected to offensive language, women on the receiving end of our cruel words are crushed by the same pain. Let’s support each other by lifting each other up with constructive language and words that foster love and togetherness.