Death by a thousand papercuts. You know…those little, needling comments that when combined with enough frequency and time, can create a gaping wound in our confidence and self-worth. It happens in conversations daily – even ones made in a setting where you’d expect the topics to be professional, or worse yet, loving.
Growing up female, and being on the receiving end of hurtful words has been a recurring theme for as long as I can remember. Such comments have been fueled by everything you might imagine, and may also know first-hand. Judgment, jealousy, fear, insecurity, boredom, intimidation, a desire to impress or “fit in” with others, and more. From the backhanded “compliments” of elementary school girls (and even their mothers!) to the intentionally judgemental and cruel words of high school and college peers. These little comments chipped away at my self-confidence, placed seeds of doubt in my self-worth, and handed over the power to everyone and anyone who had an opinion to bestow upon me. This is how these formative years, well, formed me.
I allowed myself to believe there were bits of truth in others’ judgment of me – my appearance, actions, personality, dreams, and desires. Thank you for shining a spotlight on surely what is “broken” about me! Now I can get right to work on “fixing” that – fixing me. If it couldn’t be corrected, I would choose to hide it, downplay it, suppress it. All the little “its” that were essentially what made me, me, were closed off, put out of sight, or hidden entirely. I didn’t know the real me – the one God designed – any more than the person passing superficial judgment. And so I lived the better part of my life like this – some blurry reflection of all the opinions of the world circling around me. Only now do I see clearly that it left a really dull, uninteresting shell of a person.
I wish I could tell you that the professional world is better for women. It’s not. The judgment and insults just come under more clever excuses and disguises – ones where you’re expected to take everyone’s onslaught of opinions about your appearance, skills, work ethic, and worth as “constructive feedback.” And it’s a losing game. You will always be too much and never enough equally and at the same time. Even adult female friendships are wrought with judgment. And just wait until you attempt to navigate marriage and parenthood with everyone seeing merely glimpses of your life and casting broad judgment of your competency based on one snapshot in time! Social media has created an impossible world to be fully known and fully loved – the two basic needs of every human. That alone could be the sole focus of this blog, fortunately, a respected peer already tackled this hard topic which I highly suggest reading next.
But what’s been weighing on me as of late, and the point I want to emphasize right now can be summarized as, “Would you say that to a man?”
Every judgment cast my way – about my appearance, personality, professional ambitions, even what I eat, how I parent, and what I do in my free time has been subject to judgment. And in my experience, this judgment often comes from those I respect, even love. In reflecting on all those words that still cut very fresh wounds, even years later, I realized the answer to the question I posed above is NO. These comments would not have been made to my husband, or any man I know. These same comments, if made to a man, would be intrusive, inappropriate, unwarranted, and surely refuted. The person passing the judgment would be called out by anyone within earshot as bitter, hostile, and desperate.
So why then are such comments not only accepted but even expected towards women? It’s time we flip the script and gain perspective on why both personal and professional positivity and encouragement – especially of women – need to be UNIVERSAL. Here’s how we can all work to do better…
What’s your intention for that comment?
This is an area where I need to take a hard self-reflection, just like everyone else. As the saying goes, “Intent is 9/10 of the law.” Apply this to judgment and hurtful comments and you’ll see the relevance. The hurtfulness often comes from the perceived intent. I’ve had many less-than-helpful remarks come my way, but by far the ones that hit the hardest and carry the longest sting are the ones where I have felt like the other person is intentionally trying to hurt me. Now, many people, once caught in their inappropriate behavior will cry, “I didn’t mean it like that; don’t take offense.” Allow me to remind you that you always have the right to take offense. You should do so carefully, as this has implications all its own, but no one may deny you the ability to find something offensive…especially if it is. (Here is another excellent book recommendation on the topic of being “unoffendable” as it relates to securing yourself in God’s worth.)
To those dishing out the comments that could be considered offensive, get honest about your intent. Even if it’s because you’ve been hurt previously, are carrying around the weight of a past wrong thrown in your direction, or are simply having a bad day – never, ever is a hurtful comment acceptable. It won’t make you feel better. It won’t alleviate you of your own hurting. It won’t make you look better. And it certainly won’t magically change the person you’re targeting. It simply complicates…cracks…and corrodes every relationship touched by that comment.
Are you projecting insecurities?
So maybe you’ve examined your intent of the comment and you decide, no I don’t want to hurt the person – I want to help them. Now, this is a very slippery slope. Help how? In offering your help, you’re making several major assumptions. First, you’re assuming that their perceived quality or behavior is incorrect and in need of fixing. Next, you’re assuming they agree with you and are actively soliciting advice and expertise to “fix” this. And finally, you’re assuming you’re the best person to offer such advice on the matter. I hope you hear how wildly ridiculous each of these assumptions are on their own, let alone when stacked together and brought to fruition through a judgmental comment.
I’d like to offer this more likely reality instead. Your comment stems from your own insecurity you’re currently carrying around. Play this out in a recent scenario where you felt the need to pass judgment on someone else, especially a female. Is there something about your own identity, physical appearance, self-worth, or relationships that feel “broken?” Then it’s likely you’re walking through life a bit bristled already. We’ve all been guilty of this, myself included. All it takes is someone, often innocent and unsuspecting, to set off these insecurities, and “Pow!” you clobber them over the head with the judgment and hurt you’ve been holding onto from another place.
People who feel judged, even by themselves, are quick to judge others. If you feel the need to constantly assess someone else’s appearance, actions, personality, and behaviors, consider if this could be coming from your own feeling of being judged by the world around you. We’re all tired of judgment! Yet it’s amazing how we’re quick to throw at someone else the very thing we wish to be rid of in our own lives. I immediately picture the “pink ink” stain from the book The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. It was never really gone, the stain only found a new location, often making a bigger mess in the transition. That’s judgment. And that’s what it does to relationships in our lives.
Would you say that to someone on the opposite side of the spectrum?
Let’s return to that important question I posed above. Would you say that same comment to a man? More than actually saying it, would you even think to pass judgment in the same way? If my theory holds, the answer is almost always NO. Now let’s think beyond gender roles. I do commend society for making major strides toward calling out unfair judgment toward marginalized groups. But there is so much work to be done. And like the pink ink stain in the Cat in the Hat, we’ll recognize that criticizing a certain group of people is not okay, but that criticism seems to only fall on the next group – or worse yet – the one on the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s rude to comment on a larger person’s body, lifestyle choices, and eating habits. It’s simply never your place, my place, anyone’s place to judge that person based on the very, very little we know about their life. So then why is it fair game to say things like “You don’t eat enough.” “You exercise too much.” “Do you ever allow yourself to just indulge?” when speaking to a person who society deems as thin?
Flip the script to career and ambition. It’s ugly and hurtful to point out to someone struggling to find employment or their life purpose that you don’t feel that they “have one.” But when talking to someone who is hustling hard at their job, society will throw around comments like “workaholic”….”Who raises your kids?”…”Do you even have any hobbies?”…”It’s all about the money for you.” as okay, even funny things to say. None of these are badges of honor – they’re all labels that no one willingly would take on if we felt we had a choice! We do have a choice…and a major choice is who we choose to be to others. This brings me to…
What type of person do YOU want to be?
We would all do well to reflect on this question daily. Do you want to be the person who casts judgment, hurts others, finds creative ways to sneak insults into conversations to make yourself look bigger, better, less vulnerable? I truly don’t believe that of anyone! Instead, I believe the vast majority of us, especially those who share a foundation in Christ, all want to be reasonable, loving, grace-filled individuals who care more about a person’s heart than their appearance, material possessions, and life choices. Differences are not flaws and do not need our “fixing.” Differences don’t even deserve our attention to call them out to one another – unless it’s in a positive and uplifting way. Compliments are welcome everywhere and at any time! Unlike judgment, compliments (given they are genuine and well-intended) are always a good idea. Choose the person you want to be, today and every day. Every decision before you, to judge and demean, or compliment and uplift, is a new opportunity to choose the person you want to be. If you take nothing else away from this post, simply remember that judgment doesn’t look good on anyone and positivity is always beautiful.
So, to end with positivity and words of encouragement, especially for any young (or any age!) females reading this who feel as though they are in the eye of the judgment storm, it’s never too late to wake up, stand up, and refuse to tolerate comments that deem to destroy, harm, or hinder you from shining as God intended. It took me into my 30s to find my voice and to reach deep within to find the vibrant beauty still flickering inside and bring it brilliantly to the surface. In doing so, guess what, I received more judgment…
“You’ve changed.” (I have. I’m learning to know and love myself which is a really, really good thing.)
“Why can’t you take a joke anymore.” (My feelings aren’t a joke and I’m finally speaking up about it.)
“Oh come on, you know I always say stuff like that.” (Right, which is why I’m now telling you it hurts me and it’s not OK.)
These types of comments may come your way too in some shape or form. Stay strong, stay rooted, and never, ever be afraid to “prune” certain things in your life that no longer serve you well. You are so loved! If you don’t feel that way today, watch this.
This is too important of a topic to stay silent or scroll by passively. Our world needs to hear YOUR perspective and experience on this, truly. Let’s spark a conversation below. It could be exactly what someone needs to hear to get through today.