Sunday, 14 May 2017

Is it ever "ONLY" words?!

I woke up to a really nice message, today.  That message came from someone who, a couple of years ago, had read a blog I wrote on here (about a certain book series I despise) and had disagreed with me to the point that she'd felt the need to attack me personally, in the comment section.  This person had contacted me to apologise and explained that she'd been going through some awful stuff and had taken her anger out on me and was wrong to have done so.  I told her that I had no hard feelings towards her whatsoever (because I genuinely don't), and I wished her well for the future.  I know that it's not always easy to own up to a mistake and to say "I was wrong," so I give her absolute credit for having the courage to have done so.  I really do hope that she will be okay and that she will have the wonderful life she deserves.

The trouble was, I didn't remember the comments she was apologising for.  And the reason I didn't remember them, was because there were so many abusive comments on that particular blog post, from so many different people.  When it feels like dozens and dozens of people are throwing stones at you, it's hard to remember which cut came from which rock.

And that's the thing: each and every nasty comment on that post was like a tiny weapon, sent to cause harm.  And whilst the person who messaged me to say sorry is completely and unreservedly forgiven as far as I'm concerned, I can't understand why the other people in that comment thread never stopped for a second to think "I shouldn't have said that."

People say "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."  And that, dear readers, is utter rubbish.

I've written about the fact that words can hurt just as much as a physical blow before, but it never ceases to amaze me just how much damage they can cause, or how many people seem to think that words are simply meaningless things, to be tossed out with no thought for their effect on the person hearing or reading them.

I've known how much words can hurt, from a young age.

From when I was twelve years old, being told on the school bus (every single day) that I was so hideously ugly, that nobody - not even my parents - could possibly love me, and I ought to do the world a favour and kill myself, I knew the power that words had.

Because those words didn't just come out of the bully's mouth and then evaporate into nothingness.  They stayed.  They seeped into my brain and whispered to me, at night.  They played over and over in my mind, like an irritating song on the radio.  They clung to my clothes, so it felt like everyone who looked at me could see them.  They enveloped me until I became them.  And they hurt.

They hurt so much that it was like being punched in the stomach, or kicked in the chest.  I felt them.  I felt every syllable, slicing through me; a stabbing pain that left me utterly breathless.

But, according to some people at the time (a few of my classmates and even one or two teachers), what was happening to me didn't seem too big a problem, because it was "only words."

That's not a new thing, Ed.

Fast forward a few years, and 27 year old me found herself in love with an abusive man.  And this time, once I'd finally found the strength to walk away from him, it was me minimising my own experience.  Despite everything he'd done to me - every time he'd screamed in my face, or told me I was "weak and pathetic," or refused to let me touch him, because I made him feel "repulsed" - I found myself using the same phrase: "It was only words."

Because he never hit me, because he never raped me, it was somehow less awful.

Of course, it wasn't.  It was just a different kind of awful.  I know that, now.  But the very fact that I could minimise my own experience in that way, made me realise how common it is to think along those warped lines.  It's an excuse we make as a society too often: 

"They're just words, get over it."

"You're being way too sensitive."

"You really need to toughen up.  Just ignore them; don't read the comments if they upset you."

But words have a massive effect.  How many victims of bullying have to take their own lives, before we're prepared to accept that?  

A harsh insult, delivered with the intention of causing hurt to the person on the receiving end, is a weapon.  It may not look like a knife or a gun, but its impact can cause damage, all the same.  And it completely blows my mind that the people who post hateful words online, or who bully people in person, either don't think about the enormous damage that their words could - and often do - cause, or that they just don't care.

The person who messaged me, asked if I would mind finding her comments on the aforementioned blog post and deleting them for her.  She didn't stand by them and didn't like the thought of them still being there.  I completely appreciated that and I agreed to try to find them and get rid of them.

But, I had underestimated how difficult doing so would be.  You see, that blog post (Fifty Abusive Moments in Fifty Shades of Grey) has been read more than 1.3million times.  It's had 877 comments on it.  And, whilst some of those comments had been really lovely, supportive words from people who agreed with the contents of the post, there were many comments that were... Less so, shall we say.  In fact, there were so many that were hurtful, rude or downright abusive, that I had stopped reading any new ones, several hundred comments ago.  Finding this person's specific responses was going to be tough.

I won't lie to you; I didn't find them.

I did find a man calling me a "disgrace to writing."

I did find a woman telling me I was "utterly f*cking stupid."

And I did find one girl who told me "you should feel lucky that my phone cut off mid-rant, so you're only getting some of what I want to say to you," followed by a dismissal of the idea that I'd ever experienced abuse ("a real abuse survivor doesn't talk about it all the time - you're an attention seeker who just wants traffic to your pathetic little blog"), along with the charming end to her post: "YOU ARE A WHINY, SELFISH, PATHETIC, LYING, NASTY, CRYING LITTLE BITCH."

I Cribbins cried.

For context, let's just remember that the reason for all that hate?  Was because I was highlighting abusive moments from a so-called "LOVE story," and referring to my own experience of abuse when explaining why I think romanticising abuse in fiction is so dangerous.  Yes, what a bitch, I am.

Like I said earlier, it boggles my brain to think that the girl who wrote that despicably nasty comment, either didn't consider the effect her words might have on me, or genuinely wanted to hurt me with them.  And it's made all the worse by the fact that she also mentioned in her comment that she was a "real abuse survivor," so surely, she of all people should know what it feels like to be verbally attacked in such an awful way?!  She was probably angry, because I - a fellow survivor - was in a place where I felt able to talk openly about my experiences and I had regained the confidence and strength I lost, enabling me to firmly call out abuse for what it is.  Perhaps she wasn't there, yet.  Maybe she was still struggling to come to terms with her experience of abuse - I know I certainly misdirected a lot of anger and frustration, during my own recovery process.  But it's not an excuse to talk to people like that, without thought or apology.

I'd never noticed that girl's comment before, because, like I said earlier, I'd long since stopped reading the comments by the time she posted it.  But, once I read it, the effect was the same as it would have been, had she written it five minutes ago.

I felt that gut-punch sensation, that physically hurt as it took my breath away.  My head went light and nausea enveloped me.  For a few, horrible but brief seconds, I asked myself: "Am I just an attention seeker?  Was what happened to me abuse, or am I just calling it that to make people feel sorry for me?" (that was another of her claims).

But then I realised that all this had proved, in her apparently toned down comment, was that words have far more power than we can imagine.

They have the power to build people up.  To make them feel loved and safe.  But they have the power to break people down, too.  To make them feel frightened and isolated.  To make them feel worthless.

When a person is capable of doing that with their speech or their writing, it's not "only words" and it never will be.  Words can be used as weaponry, just as easily as they can bring comfort.  And it's not up to us to "toughen up" or "stop being so sensitive."

It's up to people to think about what they say, before they say it.  Or, like the person who messaged me, to think about it afterwards and offer an apology.

Words are wonderful things.  I just wish people considered their effect, before they use them to cause harm.


  1. I completely agree with you. Verbal attacks hurt just as much as physical ones. Most of the bullying I suffered through in elementary and high school was verbal and it always left me in tears or the urge to yell at them. The worst part is that many people fail to see how damaging it can be and they just say we need to toughen up.

    But man, if I had a dollar for how many times I have faced being attacked on every social media platform I've used since the beginning, I'd be a billionaire. I actually went through a similar situation to yours. I ranted on Twitter about something that was bothering me, and this girl proceeded to call me names, said I disgusted her, that I was delusional of a band that we both liked, and that I was a horrible person that needed to "grow the hell up" all the while I tried to be mature and tell her "It's my Twitter, don't follow if you don't like it" but no, she kept telling me what I should and shouldn't tweet and that I should get my head out of my ass. At one point I documented every incident with her just in case things got worse before blocking her for good. Only then did I learn at the same time she attacked me, were times she was dealing with her own health issues and took them out on me. She never apologized, probably because I never unblocked her.

    Then there was another time I took my anger out on someone else by saying their photo was disgusting. She and her friends got mad at me. Turns out I was sick with a cold that night and in a grumpy mood. A month later I apologized and explained that I shouldn't have done that due to being sick and miserable. She forgave me and I have not taken out my anger on anyone ever since. Lesson learned.

    I think the problem that arises here is it's the Internet and people think they can just get away with being nasty. They have no consideration for how that person might feel. Most people might shrug it off and be like "whatever" but some might be really hurt by it. A few days ago I saw an article about a girl who was playing Overwatch online, and she was sexually harassed by her teammates for 16 minutes. She reported it, recorded and uploaded it to YouTube as a means to say "hey this is NOT okay. Just because you can be nasty online because you can get away with it, doesn't mean that you SHOULD" she could have just muted them but sometimes in the long run that doesn't stop that behavior. Hell, I even told my parents about that article and they said the exact same thing like "oh sorry there's nothing you can do about it, welcome to the online gaming community" Bull. Shit. No one, repeat. NO ONE should have the right to harass people online because they feel entitled to, feel that that person shouldn't be there, or they've had a shitty day. Words do hurt and I think everyone needs to learn to consider other people's feelings before hitting the send button. You never know if it'll hurt them or not and I learned that lesson by what happened when I was sick that night.

    1. I think you're spot on; people seem to think that the Internet somehow has different rules. But why should it? If we don't tolerate harassment, bullying or hate-speech in any other walk of life, why is it somehow acceptable if it's happening online? It still has consequences - the words still reach other people!

      I think you were strong to have realised that what you said was hurtful and to have apologised; I wish more people would. It broke my heart recently, when I apologised for my role in an argument that happened months ago (for the second time), but the people I apologised to STILL refused to say sorry back and failed to acknowledge their own roles in what happened. I just think it makes us better, stronger people when we can look at our own mistakes and own up to them and it's such a pity when people either can't or won't do that.

      Words can absolutely hurt and can cause devastating effects. I know I still carry around a lot of the nasty things school bullies have said to over the years. You move on from things and you get on with your life in time, but when words cut deep, you often find it very hard to forget them.

    2. Yeah because no one's in charge and most people think it's better to just shrug it off with their "welcome to the Internet" attitude. Which is bull. Saying that and having that attitude is basically just giving mean people the right to continue being mean to others. Some of us are sensitive because of what we've been through in our lives. Why do you think I'm not on YouTube? I tried to do singing videos and got a lot of hate, I couldn't tolerate it. I tried to do vlogging like you but I was still getting shot down for what I talked about (I suck at talking in front of the camera anyway) So why do bloggers like you and I feel the necessity to speak up about this stuff? Why do we moderate the comments, document the bad ones and report/block them? Because we don't want to hear garbage. It doesn't mean we're incapable of taking different opinions, but we just simply want a mature discussion where no one is name-calling and spreading hate. We don't want trolls trolling us because they may think it's funny, and most people may think it's funny but we don't. It's certainly not funny to call someone say...uh..a ret*** (I'm cutting that word out of my vocabulary permanently because it can really hurt me because I have autism) or a Nazi. I've been called a ret*** before and it hurts like hell.

      You're right, I was, I just remember looking back at that girl's picture and then she put up a similar one and then I just felt now was the time to apologize once I realized what I did. I'm sorry you went through that. In fact, I think I remember reading it on one of your posts here. Sadly, most people don't seem to feel the need to apologize, especially if it's someone they don't know in person. But through another lesson did I learn that these things can be hurtful more than we realize and that apology may be necessary if you don't want to get in trouble. A couple of years ago I said something nasty to a friend because we had a disagreement. She threatened to report it if I did not apologize, so I did and told her I never meant it as an insult. Then she backed down, we stopped speaking for a whole year but then after that she contacted me, we made amends and became friends again. I think only people who have gone through a similar situation like this or yours will understand how Internet anonymity doesn't make it excusable. Again, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

      We wish we could forget the past taunts we been through but we find a way to thrive through them, silencing haters whether we stop them from being fed by cutting them off or limiting their access (eg. moderating comments), reporting, etc. I really hope that someday the world wakes up and realizes taking out rage on some random innocent person online because you're jealous or had a bad day is not the solution.

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