Words Will Never Hurt Us

by Jennifer Paros

“Don’t pay any attention to the critics – don’t even ignore them.”

                                                         --Samuel Goldwyn 

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

When I write it’s common for me, at some point, to start to worry about what others might think of my work.   But this fear of criticism is always about thinking I am someone I am not - thinking I am vulnerable in ways I am not.   

We teach each other that to be criticized is painful.  That if someone tells us we’re ugly or stupid, they are mean and we are right to feel hurt.  Whether we’re right or not, it’s still awful to hurt.  So maybe we ought to rethink this.  On the surface level, one body has attacked another body; one ego has charged another.  One little “I” has gone after another one – ant on ant.  It’s like the name “Bobby” has disapproved the name “Susie”.  These are our identifications, our presentations, stories we’ve told about ourselves - pitching themselves against each other.  

But our behavior, appearance, and thoughts are not who we are, for they can all be altered. I understand the challenge of living in a body with a full-blown personality chomping at the bit, and it’s important to remind ourselves where we REALLY reside so the world and other people’s opinions aren’t so daunting and seemingly powerful. 

“If you listen to the sound of your own voice, you can rise above doubt and judgment.”

                                                                      --Nancy Lopez

Several years ago, I was listening to a recording of Deepak Chopra talk about an experience he’d had during his schooling in India.  He described how one day the visiting guest speaker, who was a yogi master, entered, took out a knife and plunged it into his upper arm.  The class gasped but there was no blood, no sign of the attack he had perpetrated.  Then, someone in the front of the room (a professor, I believe) started mocking the yogi and suggesting the whole thing was a fraud, a trick.  Suddenly, blood started pouring forth from the wound and spraying all over.  The yogi realized what was happening and quickly regained his focus.  The bleeding immediately stopped.  Chopra describes this as a moment in which the yogi, stimulated by the barbs of a fierce ego (front row center), momentarily fell back into his own ego-identification – the part of him that can bleed, can be wounded. 

I bring this story in, not as a scientific testimonial to what is physically possible, but as a metaphor for the way wounding, pain, and attack operate.  When we are baited by an ego at large, it is only when we identify with our form and personality that we experience ourselves as vulnerable.  There is no sense of safety in fighting back to defend something as wobbly and filled with quirks as a personality, but when we rest in who we really are, there is no need for defense. 

Nothing can harm what we actually are.  No framework of thought has the power to steer us, build us up, destroy us or predetermine our lives without our collusion. It’s easier to feel good when people are cheering or throwing us compliments, but the truth is it all remains on the surface.  If we are in pain over what one name called our name, we are in pain because we are not seeing our true selves. 

The naming of things never influences the thing itself. All names are made up. They’re labels, but when we start seeing these words as defining and powerful, we forget that we’re their creator, not the other way around. 

My youngest son has been diagnosed  on the autism spectrum, and so has been labeled autistic.  He’s been given other labels at other times too.  The labels have never helped me understand him better. What truly helps me - and him - is meeting him below any label or assessment held on his surface behavior.  

A self-concept is an image, an idea, a naming, and a packaging of the story of who we think we are.  So it can be argued and attacked, but criticism and rejection are only players on the surface of things; they do not apply to the depth of the experience of who we are.  It is our decision with which self we identify.  And this is the choice that determines whether or not words will ever hurt us.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.

Jennifer ParosComment