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The Force of the Tongue

Updated on April 1, 2013
RGraf profile image

Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Does What People Say Hurt You

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Why, Oh, Why?

Why is it that we humans cannot seem to grasp how deadly our tongues can be? We talk about how hurtful others are and then can turn that same weapon onto others not even realizing or caring what damage it causes. I can say this from personal experience on both sides.

In my younger years I developed a huge self-esteem and self-confidence issue. Mainly it was because I always seemed to be living in my siblings’ shadow. My siblings were 20, 18, and 15 when I was born. In other words, I was raised an only child. And though we moved from that “home” when I was 8, we returned about twice a year. And every time I did, I discovered that I was a nobody. It never failed to happen on each visit. “You have a fourth child?” “Well, as long as you are alive, Barbara will never be gone since you look so much like her.” My parents would get with my grown, married siblings and talk about people I never met. No one realized how hurtful those words were and the lack of words by keeping me out of conversations. In a way, that all turned out good. I used to want to move back there but as the years went by I found that home was a relative term. That served me well in later years when I got married and had to move far from “home” and make my own home with my own family.

Growing up in my own household could be hard with hurtful words. Now, at times words are meant to hurt. That happens anytime someone lives with someone else, but I think the ones that hurt the longest on the ones that they never realize where wrong. My mother said repeatedly how glad she was that I was a “Plain Jane”. Now, I was not raving beauty, but I wasn’t near as homely as those words made it sound. Later in life, I mentioned how hurtful those words were and she was shocked. She only meant that she was glad that I wasn’t so popular that I neglected family quality time. That was not what those words told a tender teenager who already had issues. It took me until college to feel like I could even hold my head up with strangers around for fear of my plainness.

During college, I had a hard time with a professor. I was doing a paper on why banning of books was wrong. My very own English teacher was trying to get me to change my stance. She believed that since I was a Christian I had to believe in banning books. At one time she asked how I could even call myself a Christian with taking that stance. Despite what others called a very good argument against banning, I received a C. The low profile in college continued since I couldn’t even write good papers.

The last year of college was the toughest academically. I was majoring in accounting and the hardest courses were in that fourth year. I made the very first C in a class that year and two D’s. This was hard enough for me to swallow since I never made below a B before and graduated second in my class in high school. What comforted me was that all but 1 in my graduating class had the same grades in the same classes. This was something my mother could not understand. Neither one of my parents attended college. In fact, my mother dropped out of high school to get married in ’48. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of what my parents accomplished. They provided a safe home and all our needs. My father made sure we all went to college because the world was changing and to get a good paying job would begin to require more advanced education. But, for some reason my mother began to doubt what I said about college. She refused to believe that professors could grade you just on whether they liked you or not. She didn’t understand how it all worked. So, she would make comments that I was just exaggerating things to look better. What hurt was that her neighbor who was going back to school for his master’s would confirm it and only then would she believe it. Self-esteem still plummeting.

(Don’t get me wrong here. I love my parents dearly and they meant well. But like so many other people, didn’t realize how hurtful they could be in trying to “help”.)

It Continues

I graduate from college and get married. Trust me, that had its share of hurtful words. My mother-in-law did not take too kindly to her only child marrying a Southern girl. In fact, nothing I did was right. The wedding was not as proper of a wedding as it should be (in other words, not like they were in her home town). We didn’t pay for the entire family’s hotel like we should have……… I was in tears by the wedding day and wishing that we had eloped with everyone on both sides of the family in our faces. Every decision made for what was supposed to be the most exciting day of my life, was criticized. Why did I want a wedding so late in the day? All weddings should be held at 11:00. (What???) Why are you not having the bridesmaids wear traditional formal gowns instead of the dressy dresses you choose so that they can wear them to other occasions? Why are you having only finger sandwiches, cake and punch instead of a full meal (though at that time that was not the norm in the south)? Why are you having so many bridesmaids (5)? Why are you choosing “those” colors? Why do want to have the wedding there? Why aren’t you telling Mom to butt out more? Why, why, why? I never cried so much and anticipated a day to be over so quickly.

As I got a life of my own, got a job, and tried to create a home, I realized that the sharpness of the tongue continued. 16 years later and the tongues are even sharper. What gets me is that it comes from family, friends, and even acquaintances.

A dear relative is an extreme neat freak. When I say extreme, I mean spring cleaning every week. (No joke.) Which is ok in their house, but when she informs me within minutes of stepping into mine that she can see a spider web, or why don’t we have the house a little more picked up (despite three small children), and if we need help cleaning why don’t we just ask? What is that really saying? “You obviously aren’t good at keeping a house.” “You need me, the greatest of all, to instruct you.” “You are failing at this adult stuff.”

My children all take after their father when it comes to how they dress for the weather. It takes a lot to get them cold. It was a night where the temperature was in the low 50’s. All the children declined a coat because they just end up sweating profusely and getting sick to their stomachs. We were at a family gathering and a relative was very concerned that my children were not dressed properly. Well and good if said once and dropped. But no, to every person who arrived after us she had to inform them how dreadful it was that the children did not have on coats (inside) and they just had to be cold. My stomach would turn each time these words were uttered (which was close to a dozen). I broke down into tears and when she found out why she was shocked. She was just making a statement. I didn’t have to get so dramatic about it.

For our wedding we got two microwaves for gifts. One was extremely large and the other was smaller. Both were given by family and we knew it was a hardship to give those gifts. So, what do you do? You keep them. We found out that we used them both quite regularly and it really came in handy as our family grew. But, some people just couldn’t handle that. One family member thought it was ridiculous to keep two microwaves and that we should return one. In fact, she felt so passionately about it she mentioned every time she entered our house, once a week. One day I had had enough and told her to please stop harping on the subject and let it drop since we all knew how she felt. She was shocked that we were upset because she was just stating an opinion.

Opinions are just that, opinions. They are not facts. They are not gospel. They are a person’s personal stance on a subject. They also do not mean that a person is right.

But I do believe that the true definition of this word has escaped the vast majority of the population. Opinions have been expressed to me so much that I have been told to just accept them as fact and make life easier by going along with them.

When I make my children sit right in church, it never fails to get at least 5 comments on being too harsh with my children. They are just children after all. Message: You are a bad parent.

When I get my hair cut, didn’t I realize that that style was not for me? Message: You have bad taste.

When the toddler loses her shoes again and there is no back up pair because she lost them both (probably on purpose in the trash), didn’t I know to anticipate that and keep an extra pair in my purse? Message: You are a bad parent.

When the week is stressful with running here and there, don’t I know that I should stay up until 4:00 A.M. to do dishes? Message: You are a bad housekeeper.

I’ve been told on a daily basis that I’m not organized enough, not harsh enough with the children, too harsh with the children, need to take better care of myself, keep a cleaner house, start living healthier. This is usually by people who never had children, don’t have near the things to do that I do, or have any idea of what my life is really like.

Once, I had a woman I know tell me how I’ve got to be a better example to others and keep my house spotless and my office perfect looking. Doesn’t matter that I was working 4 jobs, raising 3 children, and helping a husband run a business. This was said every time she saw me and every time she saw anyone else who knew us. Word got back to us real quick. My daughter wanted to know why she didn’t like me since she never said anything good about me.

The purpose of this article was to emphasize how deadly our tongues can be. When we comment on someone’s weight, what are we really saying? Do you have to say that it looks like I’m gaining? I know that, but your words cut deep and hurt. Do you have to point out that my children were not the best mannered? Trust me, I know that and the wrath of Mom is waiting for them at home. Do you have to point out that I forgot to bring something to a family gathering? I know it, but a flat tire and 3 screaming children kind of got in the way.

When I first began to write articles, I was excited because though I knew I was no Pulitzer Prize winner, I was taking a chance and broadening my horizons. I was growing. I was so excited to show some dear people in my life the articles. Their words? “That’s nice” in a very patronizing tone. I almost never wrote again. The message I received? “Keep up your little hobbies because they aren’t that good.”

If people are confronted with the results of their words, they would just say that they were making an obvious statement or just expressing an opinion. But if the wounds that the words made could be seen, they would be mortified at the blood that flows from the razor sharpness of a tongue.

I was told once that I was too sensitive. I responded that maybe they weren’t sensitive enough since they lost so many friends due to their vicious tongue.

Please be careful of the words you speak. They can cause heartache. They can rip families apart. They can forever destroy relationships. They can take something good and create something ugly. I have watched families, workplaces, and churches ripped apart because someone could not hold their tongue and see the wounds they caused. Before speaking, check to see if it really needs to be said.

The tongue is a powerful instrument that can be used for good and for destruction. How do you use yours?


Do you watch what you say before opening your mouth?

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    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Chris, you are so right.

      Marisue, thank you. I keep telling myself to learn from it all. I just make all new mistakes :)

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

      When fostering children, it was a tough call to build them up, research says a ration of 11 positive to one negative and that's not really enough but it's a good start. See how fragile we all are?

      Self talk can help us overcome the atmosphere we find ourselves our own best friend. You're so right, we need to predict outcomes before we speak if we're going to question or criticize.

      Questioning to learn is one thing, questioning to doubt frequently is another.

      great insight, Rgraf, look what great teachers you had. Now, you know just what to say, or not to say.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Very insightful hub. Sadly, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" does not always hold true. Thanks for sharing :D

    • caligirl32 profile image

      caligirl32 8 years ago from California

      That was an excellent hub. I can empathize with you about people not being sensitive enough or just having a sharp tongue. My sister, though I love her dearly, has a tongue that can cut like a knife and she has over the years used it to express her "opinions". I often am the one who has to be the peace maker with her and my mom because of the hurtful things she says.

      I hope those people in your life will learn to realize that their words are more deadly to a person then their actions. Keep up the good work.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Misty, Thank you. It is so sad to hear how many people are hurt by words. Yet at the same time, not so surprising since few people watch what they say. I'm still battling my self-esteem and it can be scary.

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 8 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      Excellent article RGraf, and I know exactly where you are coming from as I too have experienced many unintentional, but none the less very hurtful, remarks over the years, and it all led to much of my low self esteem today.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Real Tomato - thank you :) I'm guilty of not thinking before speaking and I always feel so bad afterwards. It hurts more when no guilt is felt and more tongue-lashing occurs.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin


      Thank you again for your kind comments. Every time I read James (which is quite often) I get very upset that we don't spend enough on the topic of controlling our tongues. When it is not controlled, it destroys others, ourselves, and hurts the Kingdom.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Dottie, thank you. You are very right. It is how we use it that determines the characteristics and the results. My experience with most people is that they use it more for destruction than building.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      SK, small but so powerful. Maybe that is why we take it for granted and not pay too much attention to it.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      FP, glad you took something away from it. I have to make sure I apply it myself. It is so easy just to open mouth and let if flow. Stopping and thinking are not things we are taught.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Bristol Boy,

      Thank you for the comments and for stopping by :)

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin


      You are so right. Words do hurt. That is why we have to really watch what we say because it can be so painful. Words can do damage that can take decades to heal.

    • The Real Tomato profile image

      The Real Tomato 8 years ago

      The tongue can certainly be used like a razor and leave scars. Just as equally it can be like a healing balm. I think the problem lies ( as you stated) when people don't think before they speak.

      Such an important topic - and I for one am glad your still writing. :)

    • profile image

      Eddie Perkins 8 years ago


      Very good article - again.  The uncontrolled tongue is so destructive. 

      Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.  See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.  But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. James 3:5-8 NKJV

      We all need to learn to sacrifice the tongue upon the altar and under the control of the Holy Spirit – especially on the internet where real people with real feelings are only faces. (or is this only my opinion).

      Blessings ~ eddie

    • Dottie1 profile image

      Dottie1 8 years ago from MA, USA

      The tongue is neither good or bad in itself. The manner from which it speaks is directly related to the temperment of the person using it. When speaking from a critical spirit, words cause distrust and can lead to death. While speaking from the heart can raise a spirit up and can even save lives.

      This is a good reminder to think before we speak. Nice job, thumbs up!

    • Shalini Kagal profile image

      Shalini Kagal 8 years ago from India

      How true! Such a small part of the anatomy and yet what hurt and damage it can cause!

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      Very thought provoking, RGraf. We all say a lot of things without thinking about them first and I'm sure many of these are hurtful. I'm going to be thinking about this hub the next time I'm tempted to air an unpalatable opinion.

    • BristolBoy profile image

      BristolBoy 8 years ago from Bristol

      This is a very long, but yet gripping read, which is not easy to do so I congratulate you on that. Well done.

    • Elena. profile image

      Elena. 8 years ago from Madrid

      RGraf - That was a tough read. You're so right that words are a powerful instrument. You're also very right that opinions are just that, opinions, and everyone's entitled to their own. It'd be very cool to say that words can't hurt you if you don't let them, but I don't fully subscrive to that, they can actually hurt even when you don't want to let them. Thanks for sharing all these personal experiences.