Psych2goers, have you seen the bruises on the arms and face of your sister, and you have an instinct, that perhaps her husband has been physically abusing her?
Or perhaps you have a best friend, confiding in you about the behaviour of his significant other, who is behaving passive-aggressively and super controlling of what he does and who he meets?
Or maybe your wife is venting out about her boss who always nitpicks on what she does at work, and tries to get on her nerves?
Due to these episodes of physical or emotional abuse, your loved ones are deeply wounded. You feel empathetic towards them and want to alleviate their emotional burden, but you don’t know exactly how to do it.
Remember, words have incredible power. Improperly used, they can hurt and obfuscate. Properly used, it can empower and illuminate. Maria Richter and a few collaborating scientists have conducted a neuroscience experience, “Do words hurt? Brain activation during the processing of pain-related words”. They monitored the brain responses to auditory and imagined negative words experienced by the respondents. During this process, they discovered painful or negative words increase Implicit Processing (IMP) within the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sACC). In summary, this paper demonstrated that negative words release stress and anxiety-inducing hormones in subjects.
Therefore, it’s always a good thing to learn the appropriate words to say to someone who has been abused, to make them feel better, even just for a little while.
So, Psych2goers, below are 5 things that you can say to your loved ones who have been abused, to make their day brighter:
- “Their behaviour is a reflection of their toxicity, not who you are.”
Your daughter comes back home from work with a sulky face. As a mother, you try to greet her but she ignores you and immediately goes inside her room. The next morning, you go inside her room to wake her up for breakfast before she goes to work, but you see her swollen eyes, it looks as if she has been crying all night. You sit at the edge of her bed, and coax her to open up to you. She suddenly spills the tea. There is a bad rumour circulating around her workplace (which she did not do), her boss has scolded her very harshly, and her emotion is negatively affected by that.
The best thing that you can do is to validate her feelings and to let her know that the behaviour of the toxic co-workers or her boss are a reflection of their toxicity, and she should not let the event define who she is as a person. Toxic people will always find ways to boost their ego, thus she should know that the negative things that happen is not a deficiency on her part.
2. “Please don’t ever doubt what you mean to me – I value you so much and I’m so grateful to have you in my life.”
It is the weekend and you decide to visit your sister’s place for an overnight stay. Her husband is away for a company trip and she is left alone in the house. During dinner, you try to ask her about her marriage life, and she suddenly breaks down upon hearing your question. She confides in you that she has just figured out that her husband has been cheating on her, and apparently he is not on a company trip, but he actually travels with his girlfriend.
Embrace your sister. Allow her to cry and release her sadness, while uttering the above phrases. By telling her that you value her and being grateful for her presence in your life, she will definitely feel much better. Most of the time, when a person is having to deal with the reality of infidelity, one may question their worth or values. Multiple questions can pop up in their mind, “Am I unlovable?” “Am I not worthy of love?” Thus, this simple gesture of assuring her that she is valuable and that there is still a person who is grateful with her presence, can definitely lift her emotional burden.
3. “You are worthy of so much more than your mind is telling you.”
Your best friend has a terrible altercation with his significant other. One day, while hanging out with him in your favourite restaurant, he opens up and says to you, “Maybe there is something wrong with me. She always lashes out at me. I think I am not worthy of having a woman like her.”
Oftentimes, when a person is experiencing a difficult situation in one’s life, one will tend to have negative thoughts. They can also ruminate on the bad events and blame themselves over and over again. Tell them that they are worthy. Assure them that they are worth so much more than what their mind is telling them. This can help them to regain their self-confidence and self-esteem after experiencing such incidents.
4. “I see and appreciate the real you – you don’t need to filter yourself around me.”
Your significant other is having one of his down moments. He has an awful argument with his father and is feeling insecure of himself, and asking you, “What do you like about me? For me, you are too good to be true. I like your strengths and even your flaws seem perfect for me, but I have too many flaws. You must not like my flaws, right?”
The best way to console your significant other is to let them know that you appreciate them as a whole person – you love both their strengths and flaws. This creates a sense of vulnerability in the relationship which can be a stepping stone for both of you to grow and learn from each other. There is no perfect person in the world. As humans, we are flawful. To be in a strong and healthy relationship, you need to be able to compensate and teach each other how to improve oneself.
5. “If you need time and space to talk about what you went through please know I’m here for you.”
You return home from your early morning cycling and see your wife wakes up with tears in her eyes. Actually you notice she has been downcast since last night. You have asked her what has been causing her mood to be down, but she simply refused to talk at that time. This morning, you want to console her, but you wonder what would be the most appropriate words to tell her.
Sometimes, when a person is experiencing a hard time, one just needs time and space to process what has been happening. As a person who cares about the well-being of your loved one, you can always let them know that you are giving them that time and space to process things and when they are ready to let you know, they can always vent to you. This gives them the signal that you actually care for them and you will always be there for them when they want your help to sort through the difficult emotions.
Jack Schafer Ph.D in his article “Words have power,” stated that “Words cannot change reality, but they can change how people perceive reality.”
Never underestimate the power of words. Words are, if chosen well, not only powerful but extremely healing. They can always change or influence the internal and emotional states of others and strengthen our interpersonal relationship. Therefore, by uttering the above words, you can create a ripple of hope and happiness in the life of your loved ones who have been abused.
Murphy, E. (2021, April 2). Psychic Life and the Power of Words. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/language-and-its-place-in-nature/202104/psychic-life-and-the-power-words.
Richter, M., Eck, J., Straube, T., Miltner, W. H. R., & Weiss, T. (2009, October 28). Do words hurt? Brain activation during the processing of pain-related words. PAIN. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304395909004564.
Schafer, J. (2010, November 2). Words Have Power. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/let-their-words-do-the-talking/201011/words-have-power.