Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Those words bring to mind a tender image of my younger self that I’ve tried so hard to bury and keep buried. I see her sitting on the floral quilt that adorned her antique bed—rocking back and forth, repeating that stupid phrase over and over. My younger self hoped those words would magically dull the stinging sensation in the corners of her eyes and numb the pain that she felt from the words that weren’t supposed to hurt her.
I was sensitive. Some even said too sensitive. Thus, I adopted this method to hold back the tears that should have fallen freely. I remember sensitivity having a negative connotation attached to it, for whatever reason, and I didn’t want to be viewed as a “dramatic” crybaby.
The phrase was birthed out of good intentions, I suppose. Perhaps to remind young people not to let negative words or the harsh opinions of others gnaw at their authenticity. Yet, the more I used it, the more it gnawed at my authenticity. It taught me to minimize my feelings and prioritize the comfort of others.
I conceded to words that triggered negative emotions in order to avoid the judgment of my own reactions. Opinions like, “You’re pretty for a Black girl,” or “You only made it this far in the process because the company needs diversity.” Words will never hurt me, right?
This flawed logic taught me to dismiss my pain. It taught me that words shouldn’t move me. It taught me not to embrace what I now view as one of my best qualities—my sensitivity.
This flawed logic taught me to dismiss my pain. It taught me that words shouldn’t move me.
Now, I—a sensitive woman who often lets her emotions dictate her actions, cries every time she hears the end of “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and values carefully constructed words over materialistic gifts—can unapologetically say that words can and do, in fact, hurt.
Words have power. That’s why the opinions of others (whether you agree with them or not or whether they’re directed toward you or not) can sometimes trigger unsolicited reactions. This is OK.
I can’t give you the blueprint for how to not be moved by the opinions of others. I can share with you reminders and the lessons I’ve learned while navigating the path between opinions and emotions.
Validate your feelings.
Choosing to not be moved by the opinions of others doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel. For a long time, I held onto this idea that feeling was bad. Society told me that being too emotional was a bad thing thanks to the “angry Black woman” narrative or the “passionate versus difficult” comparisons played out in many industries.
Choosing to not be moved by the opinions of others doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel.
Feeling is beautiful, truly. In a world that has the ability to harden souls and highlight the superficial, it’s refreshing to know vulnerability and people who share their sensitive hearts. There’s power in being aware of your feelings and understanding how to process them. There’s even more power in acknowledging them and choosing when and how to utilize them to speak and act.
You can disagree with someone’s opinions without hurling venomous words at them. You can acknowledge that someone’s opinions of you hurt without allowing that hurt to influence your subsequent actions. For me, choosing to not to be moved by the opinions of others means choosing to not allow someone else’s words to determine how I react. Only I have that power. Instead, I choose my response.
It’s not for you.
Opinions are universal. Everyone has an assortment, and we live in a society where there are countless ways to share them. I think that it is important to remember that just because an opinion is shared with you doesn’t mean you have to hold on to it, especially if you don’t agree with it.
I had a terrible habit of allowing my emotions to latch on to opinions that I didn’t agree with—analyzing why I disagreed, questioning how someone could see anything other than what I saw and even wondering what the opinion meant about me.
Perspective creates opinions, and perception is reality. I realized that opinions are a reflection of the person speaking, not a reflection of me. Why do I have to hold on to it? Why should I be moved by it? I can acknowledge it, maybe even engage in discussion and share my opinions in response, but ultimately, their opinions are not for me to carry.
Opinions are a reflection of the person speaking, not a reflection of me.
Write it down.
I no longer fiercely scribble the “sticks and stones” mantra in my diary. I’ve graduated to writing down affirmations in my journal. Unfortunately, there are times when opinions are meant to break you down. A man once told me, for example, that I asked for too much and no one would ever put up with me. I held on to those words far longer than I should have.
First, I had to remind myself that this was his opinion, not a fact. This was not the absolute truth. Then, I grabbed my journal and wrote down his words, followed by a counter: I know my worth, and I’m deserving of it. I am not a terrible person for choosing not to settle for less. I am enough.
I’m still learning how to not be moved by the opinions of others. To be honest, I’m still moved, more often than not, because I’m a feeler. Words hurt. I don’t believe there’s a right path. Acknowledge and engage with the opinions of others, but remember to hold on to what’s yours—your identity and your ability to choose your response.
That’s just my opinion, though.