Emotional Triggers: Hurtful Words

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by: Staci Stallings

Words are powerful.

One of the funniest memes in recent memory is when someone says, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”

As a writer, I trade in words.  I make my living from words. I do not take words lightly.  They are incredibly important.

The other day a writer friend of mine called me, and this is how she started the conversation, “I’m really sorry to call, but I’ve been working on this sentence for 20 minutes, and I can’t seem to get it right.”

And then we proceeded to work another 10 minutes… on that one sentence!

My children do vocabulary every week in English, so they are constantly learning new words they’ve never encountered before.  There is a young man at our parish who is here to study English, and he says all the time, “Tell me if I don’t say something right because if you don’t correct me, I think it’s right.”  And, of course, one of the first words he had to learn after moving here was “y’all.”  Some things cannot be avoided.

There are two sides to hurtful words. The first side is being the hearer or receiver of those words.  I won’t lie to you, it’s tough.  It just is.

When you hear hurtful words hurled at you, somewhere inside of you, defaults are going to start pinging.  True, it depends who says them and in what context as to which defaults it trips, but I’ll give you a few examples, and you can feel in your body what defaults are going off…

You are late to a meeting, and you walk in and the boss says, “Well, it’s about time.”

You come in after a hard day of work, and your husband says, “I thought you were going to pick up something for supper.” (That one flips all kinds of switches for me!)

Your neighbor calls and says, “Are you planning to keep my mower? I know I let you borrow it, but the word was borrow, not keep!”

Your friend says, “Who do you think  you are?”

Someone in traffic says, “What, do you think you own the street?”

Someone calls to tell you a bill has not been paid.

A family member says you totally messed something up because…

Most of these are mild compared with hurtful words we encounter every day.  Name calling, putting you down, calling your work or your worth into question.

We all experience these types of emotional triggers every day.

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So what defaults do you hit when these happen?  Anger? Hurt? Worry? Anxiety?

Do you seek to fight back with words of your own?  Or do they make you curl up and slink into the corner?

Words do hurt. There is just no getting around that.  But I content that if we examine our defaults, we can minimize the damage by selecting to think things like:

That says more about them than it says about me.


Wow. They must really be hurting to say something like that.


Hope that made you feel better because it sure deflated the rest of us.

How do you react to hurtful words?


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