The Myth of “Sticks and Stones…”
by Janelle Breese Biagioni
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Remember this saying that our parents taught us to use when kids at school were taunting or belittling us? Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am sorry to be the one to tell you… it’s a big lie! Here is my take on it, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your hurtful words will forever scar me.”
Families endure incredible stress when a family member sustains a brain injury. There is so much to deal with on a day-to-day basis including appointments and developing new routines. Everyone’s role and set of responsibility shifts; the uninjured, including children, take on some of the responsibilities for the injured person. This may be temporary, but sometimes, it is permanent. The survivor has to work hard every day to accomplish what may seem like a small step to others. Their rehabilitation requires focus and energy. Often, overcoming fatigue and maintaining a level of concentration seems insurmountable for them. It’s exhausting for everyone.
Exhaustion can lead to short-tempers and cause each of us to respond to a loved one in a ‘not so nice’ way. The injured person may lash out because they are frustrated or in pain or overwhelmed. Family members experience their own feelings of helplessness and frustration and they too, lash out.
Often, when a survivor begins to lash out or has an outburst, they are not able to diffuse the situation themselves. Or they may no longer have the filters to make them aware they are being inappropriate. Some survivors that I have worked with have no memory of the outburst once it is over. They either forget about it, or let it go and then falsely assume that their partner or children or parent should be able to as well. On the flipside, a family member may say something unkind and inappropriate to the survivor, like, “What do you know – you have a brain injury?” They may apologize and move forward thinking they have done their part to smooth over the other person’s hurt feelings.
It is important for people to apologize for their inappropriate accusations or statements. Generally, people can put this behind them and move forward together. However, when the outbursts (from both sides) become the ‘norm’ and occur on a regular basis, the scars left behind become deep and are not so easy to heal. Eventually, the relationship becomes too much and breaks down.
It isn’t easy (or pleasant) to look in the mirror and admit that you are responsible for being unkind to your loved one in the name of being tired, in pain, or overwhelmed. You can be all of those things and you have the right to implement strategies, help and pacing techniques so you can cope, but it is never okay to take it out on your family. The same goes for family members – you may feel overburdened, exhausted and sad that life has changed so much. You too, deserve attention and support to cope with these changes; however, being unkind and hurtful to the other person isn’t an option.
All of this makes sense, right? After all, we all know the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them do Unto You. No matter what is happening in your world, take responsibility for your words and actions towards those you love. If what is coming out of your mouth is not respectful, kind, or loving ask yourself this… Would you like to have the same thing said to you if the situation were reversed?
It is difficult in the moment, but when things are getting out of hand, try to take a step back, stop, breathe and think before you speak. Remember your thoughts (positive or negative) become actions (positive or negative) and bring guaranteed results (positive or negative). Which would you prefer?
None of this means that you can’t have an argument or disagreement with your loved one. Those are normal occurrences in a relationship; however, demeaning, hurtful exchanges are not acceptable for any reason. Here is a little trick I learned many years ago in a course, if you stand facing one another and hold hands during the conversation you are less likely to say something that you will regret.
Today, be aware of how you speak and what your body language may say to others. If that is not the message you wish to convey, or you are sounding like someone that you don’t want to be, make a change to do things differently. It is a brand new day and you get to make brand new choices.
March 19, 2012