Updated: Mar 24, 2022
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
And so it begins. This is but one example of the way that we are programmed by seemingly well-intentioned humans to armor up and get ready for what the world is going to throw at us. We believe these words, at least we try to until we have the experience of words that inflict deeper wounds than the sharpest of sticks and the heaviest of stones. Consider the last time someone uttered something truly hateful in your presence; do you remember how that felt? Those words set in motion a ripple effect that went out into the world, far beyond the clinginess of a single conversation.
A few words have the ability to shatter a human being’s spirit and to live in their body for a lifetime. This is how we begin to accumulate wounds that we sometimes never heal.
Words have power. We choose them, either intentionally or unintentionally, to convey a message that often has a different impact than what we intended. A single word may hold little power over one person but may project a great deal of pain and suffering onto another. The words we use carry more meaning than many of us are aware of; consequently, they can do more damage than we ever thought possible.
Some people have an overtly reactive response when they are called out for using terms that others deem offensive, derogatory, racist, sexist, or homophobic. It is uncomfortable for some people to be called out on their mistakes or told that they have done something hurtful or wrong. When we are confronted with our wrongdoing we can become defensive, it’s a natural human response. If you are called out on your words or actions you can learn something powerful if you can pause, breathe, and examine what is truly happening. The key to unraveling this twisted mess is uncovering the reason behind your defensive reaction. Finding the true cause of the defensive reactivity can unlock a much deeper inquiry into who you are and how you are showing up in the world. Ask yourself:
Are you feeling defensive because you believe being wrong makes you a bad person?
Are you defensive because you believe being vulnerable is a sign of weakness?
Are you afraid of looking like a failure?
Are you upset that someone is trying to control you?
What is at the root of the reaction?
Exploring your dominant Enneagram Point is one of the most enlightening methods for addressing your reactions and behaviors. If you do not know the Enneagram I will recommend that you take some time to discover what answers it may hold for you as an individual—“find where you stand on the Enneagram map.” If you have some knowledge of the Enneagram or have been a practitioner for a while take the time to go deeper into the inquiry of how your basic fear, desire, and core motivation are connected to your negative reactions during conflicts. Many of us are aware that our Enneagram energy can manifest in many different ways depending on the situation, but when we become aware of how it affects our reactions across differences we can begin to see how we have become trapped in a cycle of toxic behaviors.
In my book Know Justice Know Peace, I explore this concept in depth across all 9 Points of the Enneagram. Each energy has a unique way of navigating challenges across differences and the dominant energy can affect the subsequent reaction to conflict. For instance, when an Enneagram One is called out for using a derogatory term or behaving offensively, they can use reactive formation as a defense mechanism. This process creates a disconnect in that it forces the One to react and behave in a manner that directly opposes their true feelings. As a One, being wrong, causing harm, or making a mistake are the basic fears that cause the person to conceal their true emotions and redirect their fears onto others. The offending words and the words that follow as a reaction can have a powerful impact when formed within an unhealthy Enneagram energy.
Know Justice Know Peace unravels the complexities behind how each energy can either adapt to challenges or drop even lower in the levels of development when responding to challenges across differences. I hope you will use this book as a guide to begin your journey into healing yourself and ultimately healing humanity.