“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
I’m calling bullshit on that one.
Question: Has anyone ever said something to you that affected you or wounded you so deeply that you’ve never been able to forget it or fully recover from it? I’m talking about a comment, or insult, or statement/observation that felt like a dagger in your tender heart? At the initial moment of trauma, you were so ‘emotionally flooded’, you didn’t even know how to respond. But now, months, years or even decades later… you can replay that scene, and hear those words, and it feels like it happened yesterday.
Like a record player stuck in a groove, endlessly repeating one line, it becomes the soundtrack of your life. It can drive you insane. We carry these words around with us and they haunt us. Sometimes they are un-truths, but we believe them. Sometimes they are un-kind, but we can’t shake them. Sometimes they are off-the-cuff, but they lodge in the deepest recesses of our psyche and give birth to our core insecurities.
The imprint of those moments are so strong in your memory, they can instantaneously bring tears to your eyes whenever you reflect on them.
And that voice is relentless. It is merciless. It is the heavy weight that sinks your buoyant heart to the bottom of an ocean of despair.
That is what the song “Sinking” is about. Those moments. Those words.
One of my favorite psychological terms is “emotional flooding”. I like it because it perfectly describes how it feels when someone says or does something that hits “below the belt”.
Maybe you’ve heard that term before? If not, let me explain…
Emotional flooding feels like this: You’re walking along, not a care in the world, and someone says something to you. If the same statement were to be overheard by another person, it would mean very little to them, but to YOU it is as if the hoover dam just broke and in nano-seconds, you are completely submerged in hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.
Or, another example is… emotional flooding feels like this: Imagine if you were on a submarine and somehow the door is ripped off, and water is pouring in faster than you can strategize how to escape. And before you know it, you are floating.
We don’t see it coming. It happens without warning. And often it comes from the people we care about, or the people who have power over us, which makes it hurt all the more.
In my own life, when I have been ambushed by this type of flooding, I wish I could climb up on top of my feelings. I wish I could be stronger than them, but they dominate me and I feel powerless to rise above them.
This is normally the part in the story when I tell you a very personal and poignant moment that brought this song into being. But, I will be even more honest than usual and say, I’m too scared to share those with you. Of course I have them, as I’m sure you do. But I’m just not ready to go there.
I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to unpack and explain all the tiny jabs that sent me spinning in life, but they all seem so small & silly written in black and white. And I’m starting to realize their power (and their pain) is generated in my own mind, not necessarily in the gory details of what was actually said. When I try to articulate them out loud, they sound insignificant. And I feel insecure that they would NOT be devastating enough for you to care about. I’m worried you’ll think they weren’t that big of a deal, because you don’t know all the tiny details that made them so hurtful.
But we can’t control what statements stick to us like velcro. I wish we could. So, would you just believe me when I say that I have had significant ‘word wounds’ in my life that I still have not recovered from.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet when he says, “Do not think that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life also has much difficulty and sadness, that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words.”
Going back to the song, the lyrics in the verses & first choruses speak of the endless “round and round” I have endured through many years of rehearsing those statements that cut me down to size. And the “sinking” feeling every time I attempt to overcome the voice of the critic in my own strength, only to be emotionally flooded, and find myself sinking once again. But the song takes a significant turn at the bridge when it says, “Oh now the way you’re talking has got me thinking up-side-down”.
There’s a great children’s book called “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. In it, the lead character is a little wooden boy who has spent his whole life being critically judged by others. Everyone gives him ‘bad marks’. He is literally covered in them. But one day he meets a girl, and she is different than the rest. She has no marks at all. He doesn’t understand how this is possible. So he asks her.
I love the way the illustrator brings her essence to life. I wish you could see the picture of her at this moment. She is dressed in all white and she has this huge smile on her face that says, “I know something you don’t know!” But not in a cruel way, she is not taunting him. It is a compassionate and empathetic smile on her face.
She is living in a different dimension. She’s tapped into a bigger truth, and that bigger truth allows the little things (the critical judgements and ‘bad marks’) to literally fall off her. They just don’t stick. She tells him to go visit “Eli” who is the maker of the wooden people. And in Eli’s presence “the marks” magically lose their stickiness and just fall off.
Have you ever known a person like that? I have had the honor and privilege of meeting some of these kinds of people in my life. People who have turned my world up-side-down when they share their perspective with me. When they ‘reach for me’, pull me out of my mire and bring me up to their level and I am forever changed by their wisdom.
At the end of the day, as much as I’ve been wounded by hurtful words, I have also been healed by loving words. Words of truth. Words of kindness. Words of tenderness. Words of bravery. Those people in my life who have spoken a word of hope to my weary heart have been the mouth piece of God, who I believe is ever-present and longing to comfort & heal us. And without fail, these people have one thing in common… they all spend time with God. And in God’s presence, “the marks” just don’t stick.
Because truth is only found in God. The deepest truths of our acceptance is only discovered in God. We are loved by Love itself.
The ONLY WAY these special people in my life have had anything worthwhile or insightful to say to me, is because they have walked through the fire and lived to tell about it. They, too, have suffered much. And their own pain has now been resurrected into new life as they impart their knowledge to me.
Viktor Frankl writes in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”
I believe in redemption. I see it every day of my life. In some ways, our suffering does not have to be in vain. If we share our story, and it inspires someone else to keep going, we have found a meaning that is worth more than gold. I believe the meaning can emerge through sharing the burden with each other, and not allowing anyone to suffer alone.
Some of my “meaning” comes from sharing these songs with you. That makes me feel like the wounds are not in vain. They don’t get to have the final say. It has meaning. I have meaning.
And so do you.