Friday, May 29, 2009

Why Words Hurt


"From the fruit of his lips a man enjoys good things, but the unfaithful have a craving for violence." Prov. 13:2

Why do words sometimes hurt? They may hurt if we have been criticized. Criticism calls into question our ability, our intelligence and even our character. Sometimes the criticism may be just and hurts because it is true, even if it is offered gently. If the criticism is offered with a air of condescension and judgment, it stings like a serrated knife. No one enjoys such verbal accosting.

Words may hurt if they are thoughtless or careless. A joke told at our expense can make us the center of ridicule. No one wants to be the object of such negative attention. It makes us feel helpless and vulnerable.

Words may hurt if they pinpoint a mistake we made or a weakness we have. This is known as fault finding. We know the difference in someone saying, "You were late," as a simple statement, and someone adding a cutting edge to it, as in, "You were late!", with a razor’s edge in their tone. Words spoken like this point out a failure we have committed or a weakness in our character. Such words are embarrassing.

I think these reasons for words hurting have several things in common. One, we take them personally. If we could just dismiss criticism, cutting humor and fault finding, we wouldn’t be bothered by them. But, they strike us painfully in the heart so they are hard to dismiss.

Secondly, these words single us out for negative attention. We either feel reduced, intimidated or embarrassed. All of these emotions are the result of feeling attacked and ridiculed. They may also make us angry, leading us to strike back verbally. Other people might slip off and cry.

There is a third reason for why words may hurt us: the speaker intends for them to. No doubt all of us are guilty of criticizing someone, using jabbing humor and nitpicking someone’s behavior or character. Sometimes we may have done it without really intending any harm. Still, we may have hurt someone very deeply.

Then again, we may be guilty of criticizing, ridiculing through humor and fault finding because, indeed, we do intend to damage someone. Solomon said that "the unfaithful have a craving for violence." Tremper Longman interprets this statement to read, "The appetite of the faithless is violence." Whereas righteous people use speech that is "wise and helpful," the unrighteous "prefer violence to satisfy their appetite. They would prefer to hurt others with their words." ("Proverbs," 284)

So, one significant reason words sometimes hurt is because people intend for them to. They have considered the harmful affect of criticism, mocking humor and fault finding, know it will do damage to another’s heart, and proceed to unload their verbal violence with calculated cruelty. The verbal explosion they assault someone with satisfies some perverse pleasure in their own hearts. They may feel insecure themselves, judged, alone, hurt and insignificant. Rather than working on their own character flaws and growing in maturity, they prefer to slam someone else to the ground.

If you are the victim of verbal assault, realize that it could be offered by someone who is naive and doesn’t know the damaging affects of their words. But, be aware that there are some people who fully intend for you to feel the sting of emotion you experience. Your best weapon is to diffuse their power by acknowledging their intent, praying for them, and refusing to play their game. Also, make sure that your own character is growing and maturing. Be one of the righteous wise whose words help others. Don’t be one of the foolish unfaithful who rely on violence to feel satisfied and get one over on someone else.

Warren Baldwin


  1. I've experienced non-intentional verbal offense. It is usually when I am communicating with someone from another country. They just say what is on their mind, not intentionally setting out to be hurtful.

    I have to remind myself of the different social etiquette cultures and not become offended.


  2. Warren,

    Words hurt because words having meaning, and the meaning may differ from person to person. We need to be aware what seems a pin to us may be an arrow to another. We use to chant as a child, "stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." How untrue. Often the bruise or cut from a stick healed in a brief time, but words hurled stayed for years and left a deeper scar. God has warned us about the tongue, we must be aware of the weapon our words can be.

    Larry E,

  3. It can actually be seen in sarcasm that is meant to cut someone off at the knees or belittle them in front of others. Perhaps this is some way for a person to keep their own perception of status in check. It seems we often say things when we are hurt and in ways that are not loving and kind. We don't know what the other person has been through or where they are coming from. Working with the diverse population that I do, I have experienced words being said one way to be seen by another in a totally different meaning than expected. Our point of reference and perception of the world including the way we feel things should be can give us preconceived notions about people. Another things when talking about words and how they hurt is the fact that in the written word it is difficult to pick up on the tone or mood of the other person. Things can easily be taken the wrong way. This is one more reason we need to be careful how we talk to one another on line. My prayer is that my words would not hurt others, when I realize at the same time, my opinion may be different and that alone can cause a sting as well. Thank you for this reminder. Good post Warren.

  4. Thank you all for your posts today! I will be away from a computer for the next day or so, but I wanted to say thank you for visiting and sharing your ideas. wb

  5. True words. Sorry about the "Follower" internet explorer is having problems with blogger and for some reason if I have the follower button on my blog, it won't open up.

    Thanks again for stopping by and looking forward to getting to know more about you and your ministry.

  6. Amen!

    Warren this post is right on. Words are brutal and do hurt to the core of our being. Blessings on whatever it is you are enjoying while you are away.

  7. Warren

    Words also stay wedged in our heart...sometimes forever. The book of James pinpoints the wounding capabilities of the tongue!

    Thanks for posting this...always good to be reminded of the power we hold!

  8. Great lesson, I think as we mature in the Lord we can find it less painful when others spew out cruel words God helps us and strengthens us to the point where we can say "it's just water off a ducks back" Just let it roll off! I have had to learn this myself.. Once you become like a duck so to speak it is a lot easier to pray for that person! Great post :)

  9. I read a proverb recently that warned against saying negative statements with the follow up of "I was just kidding." I was amazed at the relevance that proverb has today. I read You Are Special by Max Lucado. Even though I drank in the simple message I still found myself obsessing about what others think. Thank the Lord for the LORD's never ending patience, mercy and forgiveness.:)

  10. Prov 27:19 - The directness of some people can hurt, but I actually appreciate their directness.

    Larry - I think you are right that the pain from words can last longer and go deeper than stones. I remember seeing a show where a boy said to his dad, "When you spank me it hurts for only a little while. When you call me stupid it hurts for a long time."

    Much2Ponder - Good points about sarcasm and unintentionally hurting people. As a preacher and teacher (in church and college), I have been in discussions where there were hotly contested debates and arguments. I can tell when someone is just really in disagreement with me and is vehemently arguing their point (even to experiencing anger), and when someone is maliciously sarcastic or mocking. The first I can take anytime; the later I don't like at all.

    jcdisciple - I don't know why there are some of those "blogger" hangups. Thanks for visiting.

    Robin - Thanks! On my other blog I mentioned that I took the family to the college softball world series. It was great!

    twofinches - Good use of James here. I guess we could say it is the "Bible" on the use of speech. It and Proverbs. You've given me an idea ... a thorough study of the tongue from James and Proverbs. I've actually done that with Proverbs but not James. I have two lengthy articles on the tongue/speech, one on improper and the other proper.

    Tamela - I am working toward that. Sometimes I do very well and sometimes I don't. One day last week I didn't! Oh well, there is still room for growth!

    Katie - When I first heard that Proverb in a sermon it hit me in the solar plexis. I have been a bad one for pushing humor too far and then having to say, "I was only kidding." If you have to say that, it may be long past being funny. It was that way with me, anyway. Thanks.