It was the perfect day.
My husband and I spent the day with our kids walking through the park. Close friends from out of town we hadn’t seen in years joined us.
The weather was gorgeous. Our kids were laughing. Everything felt so peaceful and happy.
After we said goodbye to our friends we went to grab an early dinner. We found a restaurant we loved that allowed our dog to sit outside with us. The perfect ending to our perfect day.
Until she showed up…
An old woman walked by and sat down at the table next to us. She told the waitress she wasn’t going to order anything, she was just resting. There was something odd about her, her eyes were ice cold. I wondered if she was homeless.
As she sat there, she began to stare at us, wickedly.
Before we knew it, she started yelling at us. Calling us “disgusting pigs” and making comments to the wait staff about my dog.
She continued to harass my family and even got up and walked closer to our table yelling all sorts of nasty things at us, most of which were aimed directly at me. Given our mixed raced family, I couldn’t help but wonder if her comments were racially motivated.
I could feel every cell in my body filling with anger. Who was this nasty woman who was ruining our dinner and who dared to act like this in front of young children?
I wanted to shout a few choice words at her but my kids were there. I felt so much pressure to both protect them and set a good example for them on how to handle confrontations. But truthfully, I had no idea what to do…
I finally told her that if she didn’t back away from our table, I would call the police.
She responded “Good, call them so I can tell them what a disgusting pig you are!” as she waved a crooked finger in my face. I said okay. And I dialed 911.
In the meantime, the manager was trying to get her away from the restaurant, but she refused to leave and continued to stand there, screaming at us. When she finally heard me on the phone with the police, she quickly walked away. A true coward.
By the time the police came she was gone. They mentioned they’ve received several calls about a cranky old lady in the neighborhood who harasses people.
Now, I knew this woman was crazy, but as a sensitive person I’m extremely affected by other people’s energies and words and her venom had completely consumed me. Every cell of my body felt enraged, shaken and angry. I felt like our entire day had been ruined by this ten minute ordeal.
And I even had the creeping feeling that maybe, somehow, I was deserving of such abuse…
The Choice You Must Make
Just a few minutes after the police left, an old man walked by our table as we were still trying to gather ourselves. He looked at us with our young kids on our lap, dog at our side, and said:
“Enjoy guys, these are the best years of your life…”
His expression was so kind, and his simple words were so full of truth and love.
It was as if, within a span of just a few minutes, we had received messages from both the darkest and brightest sides of humanity, and it was up to us to choose which side we internalized.
I wanted so badly to embrace the message from the wise old man, but it was the mean old lady whose words infected me entirely. I could barely think about what that man had said, let alone be present for my daughters. And that frustrated me even more.
I was determined not to let this woman win the war for my thoughts so I did everything in my mental power to work through the experience and pull my thoughts out of her icy grasp.
If you’ve ever been subject to the cruel and venomous words of a toxic person, here are some of the things that helped me recover and gain control of my thoughts:
Don’t Believe the Lie
That cruel woman’s words had no truth to them. She didn’t know me or my family. But when someone tells you how disgusting or stupid or fat or whatever you are, even if it’s a complete stranger, there’s a small part of you that allows those words to creep in as your truth.
Fight against those lies, don’t believe them. You can determine your truth. You can choose which words you open yourself up to and which ones you close the door on. To get through this experience, I fought hard to make the words from the wise old man my truth.
Ask for the Love You Need
After all the noise that woman shouted at us, I needed the silence of a quiet embrace. So I asked my husband to hold me, so that I could feel grounded. In that moment I knew I needed his presence, love and comfort, more than I needed words.
My husband would never have known this if I didn’t ask for it. Love yourself enough to ask for exactly what you need.
Use Nature’s Healing Power
Toxic words are so poisonous, it can be hard to get them out of your mind. Following that ordeal I was having trouble being present for my daughters so after we got home I took a walk through the woods with my dog.
I could feel my cells relaxing with each rustle of the wind in the trees. When negativity consumes you, nature is always there to show you how soft and beautiful the world can be. It will bring you back to you.
Find Compassion for Your Attacker
At first I hated this woman, she seemed so evil. But then I considered a different perspective. She probably had dementia or some other mental illness. The ugliness that came out of her mouth likely reflected that illness, more than a true evil.
Perhaps this woman, as harsh as she was, needed my compassion. Once I took that perspective, I no longer felt like a victim. No matter who your attacker is, finding a compassionate outlook for their struggle can elevate and strengthen you.
Take Your Time
It can take a long time to recover from venomous words. Trying to rush or bury the emotions they’ve stirred only makes the poison seep deeper. Take the time you need to process things and heal. However long, it will be worth it.
I have two little girls counting on me to channel my best, no matter what life throws at me. I needed to ask for the embrace, go on the walk and take the time to heal, so that I can show up for them, fully present, as they deserve.
Choose Your Focus
Once I had calmed down and no longer felt like that woman’s words held me in their grasp, the words from the wise old man took center stage. And they still do today.
Every time I feel overwhelmed, spread too thin or run down as a mother (which is often!), I remind myself that these are the absolute best years of my life, just as his kind words promised.
Move Forward with Love
We all hear awful words. We all experience awful things. We all struggle in hard relationships. But we always have a choice. We can choose to internalize someone’s venomous words or actions as a reflection of our self-worth, or we can fight hard for ourselves. We can choose our truth, ask for what we need, and find deeper compassion for both the ones who hurt us and for ourselves.
Whose words are you believing that are based on lies, manipulation, condescension or lack?
Whose words are telling you that you’re not good enough? Perhaps the harsh words are even coming from yourself.
How can you fight harder for yourself and your well-being? How can you separate yourself from the harsh words and find your truth?
Perhaps hardest of all, how can you find compassion for the person hurting you, and more compassion for yourself?
And how can you honor the people who need you and your love, by living from a place of worth?
I will forever be grateful for that wise old man who so innocently blessed us with his kind words, never knowing the harrowing experience we had just had. His serendipitous kindness showed me that no matter what, there is always a choice. We can either believe the things that makes us feel small, or we can fight hard for ourselves and our worth.
My hope is that you will always choose to fight for yourself. No matter where you are in life, or what you’ve been through in the past, you are worth it.
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Overcoming Cruel Words Cheat Sheet
Never allow cruel, belittling or condescending words to steal your self-esteem again. Use this cheat sheet to quickly heal and turn those words into something empowering.