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The impact of words

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. ~ Brené Brown

As a student, I was bullied on and off for several years. Seventh grade was by far the worst; to this day, it reddens my cheeks to repeat some of the things that were said to and about me during that time. Unlike some who are bullied, I constantly prayed that the teachers wouldn’t notice, because I felt so shamed by it all. After a particularly humiliating incident involving a magazine that some girls illustrated to represent me, a teacher stepped in and confiscated the “artwork”. She asked me if I would like her to contact the parents of the girls who were responsible for the drawing and I said ‘no.’ I felt that I would only be humiliated further by bringing anyone else into the situation. Behind cupped hands, the taunts and laughter continued on for the remainder of the year, until I graduated. Though there were other factors involved, I struggled with depression and self-harm for many years after this.

These days, I am a counsellor in training, working toward finishing my graduate diploma. I see a lot of adolescent clients and one of the most common underlying issues amongst them is bullying, along with depression. It isn’t hard to see that the two issues are closely intertwined. The reason for this may seem obvious: bullying consists of hurtful words and actions, which make us sad. The reality is that words are incredibly powerful; they have the ability to build people up or tear them down. The words that are spoken over us play a role in shaping our view of others, the world, and ourselves. If we are told that we are valuable, intelligent and capable human beings enough, we begin to believe it. The same principle applies to negative words; if we are continually told that we are worthless, stupid, and ugly, we will begin to believe that. Such words can cultivate a deep sense of shame and inadequacy, which are common triggers for depression and anxiety. Developmentally, adolescence is a time of forming one’s identity; trying to figure out who we are is a vulnerable process, which only exacerbates the impact words can have.

So what can we do to support others who are having a hard time with bullies? How can we work to prevent depression and suicide in teens, rather than react to it when it’s too late? We can start by practicing empathy and compassion, which is established by simply putting ourselves in a person’s position and imagining what it would be like for them. We can guard our words and use them to speak life over others; we can choose to encourage and love. We can choose to look past the qualities that irk us and seek to connect with the inherent value that lies within each and every one of us instead. We can embrace one another’s weaknesses with an attitude of acceptance and point out each other’s strengths. We are all capable of living wholeheartedly and we are all worthy of love and belonging.

Kendall Jordan


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