This is not a new topic for me to write about. I have talked about the cruel words that I have received in my life…lots of them…sometimes it seems more than the average person for some reason. And I have talked about how deeply they have wounded me, changed me even.
For a while – and it depends on who was doing the talking – I let the harsh words that have been spoken to me define me; I let them seap into my soul. I feel like I was carrying around this file in my head of all the harsh words said to me – in my marriage, afterwards when I wrote about my marriage, from disapproving people who judged where I ended up in life – and I would pull out that file and look through it more often than I want to admit and I’d rehearse those words, and take them on as capital-t Truth, and I would feel sorry for myself and start to believe those horrible things about myself.
I started to believe deep down that I was an idiot. That I was weak. That I was incompetent. That I was incapable of making a good decision. That my faith was on shaky ground. That I was unable to relate to men. That I was worthy of much, much disapproval.
When someone says something kind or gentle to me, I picture those words in my head as coming to me in the form of a whisper, tender and encouraging:
i am so proud of you
But when someone says something cruel, I picture those words in caps, bolded, large font, with a bunch of exclamation points:
YOU ARE A LYING MORON!!!!!
And so when you’re struggling for words to help define yourself or the situation you find yourself in, and you reach for that file, which words do you think are going to be more easily accessed by your memory? Yep, the harsh ones.
But then somewhere along the way, I sort of had it up to here with what other people were saying to me and about me — the one that put me over the edge was when someone looked at me while I was crying and said callously, “Why do you care if I disapprove of you?”. And I spent about a month replaying that horrible conversation, trying to figure out what I had done so wrong, trying to figure out why I deserved those cruel words, and then I had a decision to make. I had to answer that question of why do I care if that person disapproves of me for myself and I came to this conclusion: I don’t. I need to not care anymore.
And instead I decided to let all of those caustic words fire me up. And I have. It’s occurred to me that it was the cruel words in my primary relationship that have led me to want to advocate for women in abusive marriages; it was a few of my readers’ cruel words that have led me to want to advocate for women being harshly judged through their divorces; and it was a former acquaintance’s cruel words that have led me to want to advocate for better understanding and more grace for these hurting women from the Church.
Something kind of beautiful has happened…I went from being the girl who cared desperately about what other people thought of her to the girl who pretty much couldn’t care less, and I’d actually go to the extent of saying, I hope I tick some people off, because some people are just plain wrong and need to be ticked off. And now I consider myself the poster girl for soldiering through a difficult marriage and for Christian divorce and I’m super okay with that. I want to fight for the beauty of marriage by fighting against abuse in marriage; I want to fight for the power of grace by fighting against the stigma of being divorced; and I want to fight for more grace-filled, non-condemning, non-blaming, abuser-accountability-holding, full-on truly helpful help and support for women who are really hurting. And one way I can do that is to choose my words carefully with those who are hurting, but almost even more so, to know what words to allow into my heart and what words to just let fall to the ground. Because those words just won’t do me any good anymore.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here, or “Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage”, found here or “Living through Divorce as a Christian Woman”, found here.
Right on! This was for me today. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Laurie!
Thank you! I needed this today. I’m in the middle of a divorce that has dragged on for nearly three years, in the midst of a separation of almost four years. Today would have been (is?) my 15-year wedding anniversary. My husband lashed back against accusations of abuse by contesting every possible aspect of the divorce, including custody of our three kids. The things that have been said to me by everyone from my now-former pastor, to our friends, to his attorney had left me more broken than I could have ever imagined. But what you just wrote echoes the realization that I’ve very slowly come to over these last few years. Thank you for having the courage to write and speak publicly about what happens too often in our churches to women who have made the decision to divorce.
Karyn, I am so sorry for the additional pain that has been heaped on you. That breaks my heart for you. Hey, if you’re on Facebook, I moderate a private group for women going through divorce. Just send me a friend request to Elisabeth Klein Corcoran (under people not pages) and I can add you.
So well written. I am fifty years old. I came to this realization yesterday!!!! I let people define me!!!! I give them the power to hurt my feelings and keep me from achieving self confidence.. After being called a Kook yesterday I feel apart cried a lot etc. Of course my mind thought of every negative thing that ever had been said to me. About failed relationships both personal and with friends. Well enough is enough!!!. Some of these people are just down right mean!!! I have decided to define myself. Not by others! see me!! .I am somewhat uncertain how to achieve this? I am hoping my rationalizing more with my headt and not heart that I can raise my self esteem and lesson the hurt people feel free to place on me. . I am not a mean, hurtful or negative person. Any tips to the road of self recovery are welcome.
Laura, start here: http://www.elisabethcorcoran.com/know-thyself/.
A book I read truly helped me to see myself through God’s eyes and no one else’s. It also sent me on the road of confidence in myself. I pray it will help you, as well. It is called A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. Hope this helps!
Thanks for this post, Elisabeth. Looking back I realize I too have…HAD…let other’s opinions and harsh words define me. No more. God bless you, rock on!!! 🙂
I have learned to take other’s opinions of my situation with a nod and ‘I will consider what you have to say’. My husband has finally recognized that is relationship with another woman on an emotional level is considered adultry. He is working his way to repentance and reconcilliation with myself and his sons. His actions show he truly wants another chance. How can I call myself a Christian if I don’t forgive him? He is the one who filed for divorce not me.
Good for you. Someone needs to not care and fight against the abuse that is hurled at women from the abuser, church, “friends”, etc,etc.
If women leave the marriage they are going to be judged. If they leave the marriage they are going to be judged. If the abuser leaves the marriage they are going to be judged. People throw rocks, that’s what they do. Am I afraid of what people think of me or what God thinks of me?
Love the work you are doing.
Well said and well done Elisabeth. It dawned on me today that almost every man in my life has let me down or put me down somewhere along the relationship and that included with nasty words. You are so right that those words haunt you if you allow them. Throughout this separation I feel more free, more alive and more like the woman I am supposed to be (or become) ! its so weird!?? And frankly I don’t care what others think and sometimes I flat out say it.-not out of nastiness but a new boldness and freedom!
thanks for being you Elisabeth!!