Living with Illness

Words and Mental Illness

We all know the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  The reality is though that words do hurt each of us.  Words can pierce the soul and leave people devastated. For someone with a mental illness words can be like a worm devouring your mind, with the words going round and round until you start to believe it’s true and that becomes part of your identity.

We all do it. We all say words in the heat of the moment. Words we will later come to regret. Words that shouldn’t have been said but we see coming out of our mouth, and wishing we could take back but knowing the damage has been done. It’s a moment when our sinfulness and selfishness are on display, as we speak those words that hurt another. I know I have and I’m sure you have said words that you wish never came out of your mouth. Words that are just a passing comment that you no longer remember, but deeply impact the recipient of those words. Words are often said in humour but not taken that way. Words are powerful. Words can tear down and can build up.

Words can create a mental illness. They can leave an individual emotionally scarred and left wondering if everyone has the same thoughts about you as expressed by the one who has consistently belittled you with their words. It can leave someone so confused as to who they really are. It can leave some petrified of interacting with others and having to deal with deep psychological trauma.

Once you’re in that cycle of psychological trauma, you’re even more susceptible to the words spoken by another. These words crawl into your mind, slowly eating away at you, telling you you’re just not good enough, telling you no one wants you around, and all because of words spoken by an individual, who has no idea of the impact this has on those of us with a mental illness. 

Words matter to people with mental illness because our minds play tricks on us. Our illnesses are very much based on words that go round and round in our minds. Words that often belittle us. Words that often make us become so anxious that we haven’t done something right. Words that are so destructive and so tormenting that often the words of another gets trapped in a cycle of our core beliefs about ourselves.

We start to doubt ourselves based on the words spoken by another. We start to question everything about our identity. We start to believe that no one wants us around or that everyone must think that about us, simply because of the words carelessly spoken and said in the heat of the moment. Often that individual remains unaware of the profound impact this has had on us, just like I too remain unaware of the impact my words have on another.

Instead of acknowledging the impact that this has on a person with a mental illness, as the fact we are sick and most often struggle to control the thoughts in our minds, we are often told to just snap out of it. Eventually I will, but a mental illness means I can’t just snap out of it. Or we are told that you are just too sensitive, that you get caught up on the little things or to just get over it, and move on as we all get hurt by others.

All this is probably true, but for someone with a mental illness you are going to be sensitive to comments because the majority of the time your at war with yourself and what your brain tells you that you are. When you say something remotely close to my core beliefs about myself, my brain will use it to tell me that I’m this horrible person that no one wants around. Yes I may get caught up on the little things, and I admire those that can not take to heart the words spoken by another, but sadly for some of us we are dealing with a mental illness where words matter.

However, as a Christian I know I need to come back to what the Bible tells me who I am in Christ, rather than the words spoken by another. I know I need to forgive people for the words that have hurt me, and realise that I too need to seek forgiveness for the words I have spoken that have hurt others. I know that living with a mental illness means that often it may take weeks, months and even years for the words that had a profound impact on your life to no longer matter, but I know that forgiveness will bring an unspeakable peace from Jesus, and help me to begin to heal from the words that were said.  

Author

briar@strengthdignityhope.com

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