"You Broke My Heart!"
It was one of those mornings. It was so hard to get up. It’s so cold! Who wants to leave the warmth of the covers? With the wind chill dropping to near zero last night, I had to provide more shelter for Lucy, my outside dog, by providing a temporary kennel on the enclosed back porch. While the porch is still cold, at least it provides shelter from the wind. I knew my first task this morning would be to get her out for a potty break and to clean up the mess that outside dogs undoubtedly create when brought in. The thought of leaving my bed for the bitter cold was unattractive to say the least. The combination of procrastination and additional morning tasks means that I was running late for the rest of the morning’s pre-school chaos, which is always very chaotic at best.
I was scrambling eggs, making lunches, and going through the kids’ backpacks, feeling harried to say the least, when I discovered that my youngest had failed to do something yesterday that I’d spent a great deal of time, effort, and words telling her to do. I fussed at her. I didn’t yell. I didn’t beat her. I didn’t threaten her. I fussed. She immediately dissolved into a mush-puddle of tears.
My children are so different. I could yell, scream, and jump up and down at Gus and it would barely enter his consciousness. I could yell, scream, and jump up and down at Anna and she would just yell, scream, and jump up and down right back at me. But simply scolding Mia wounds her to the core.
I continued packing lunches as she cried into her cornflakes. (Frosted Flakes, to be exact.) After what I thought was a sufficient time to process her emotions, I said to her, “Mia, that’s enough. It’s time to quit crying and finish your breakfast. It’s not that big a deal.”
“Yes it IS! You broke my heart!”
Yes, my daughter is a drama queen. But she was speaking her truth. My words had indeed broken her heart. It certainly wasn’t my intention. But words are that way. You often think they’re harmless when in fact they are daggers in disguise.
It happens far more often than we realize. Little things that we say, often in complete innocence, do damage. Sometimes we realize after the fact the damage we have done. Sometimes we never know outside of seeing a change in a relationship that leaves us wondering what happened.
There are two ways you can go with this. You can be the kind of person who shares your thoughts and feelings regardless of their effect. Let the chips fall where they may, you’ve said your truth. Or you can protect others (and sometimes yourself) by bottling your words up inside. You don’t damage others, but you often end up hurting yourself.
For the better part of my life I’ve fallen into that second category. I’ve typically been so concerned about the feelings of others that I would choke on my words rather than allow them to hurt others. Don’t be fooled – it isn’t all altruistic of me either. I’ve always wanted to be liked and accepted, and this has occasionally been my dishonest way of staying in the good graces of others. In addition, I don’t always have confidence in what I say and feel or even in who I am, so I know if I keep my mouth shut I’m putting less of myself on the line for others to reject or attack.
More recently, I’ve tried opening up some and saying what I think or feel. Sometimes the motivation comes out of frustration or even anger. Other times it comes because I’m encouraged by some people in my life to be that way. Sometimes it works beautifully – I feel more in touch with myself and others, I feel more assertive, I feel empowered. Other times I’m afraid I do more harm than good, and just as my brief scolding broke my sensitive young daughter’s heart, I end up wounding others. The ones I hurt the most are usually the ones I love the most.
Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t. If I share my feelings I not only make myself vulnerable to rejection, I hurt others. If I keep it all in I might be safer from hurting or being hurt, but those trapped words and emotions wreak havoc. They will manifest themselves in some way – heartburn, poor sleep, moodiness, difficulty focusing, depression.
Words. Do I use them or do I repress them? Is it fair to use my words for my good if it ends up hurting the ones I love? Is it fair to me to spare others if repressing my words ends up hurting me? Or is there another way that I’ve just failed to learn so far? Until I figure it out, I think I choose heartburn over broken hearts.