"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.