Words that Hurt – an important article

A recent email containing the Arise E-Newsletter from Christians for Biblical Equality contained an article titled “Words That Hurt” by Vaun Swanson. I wanted to highlight it so that if you are in a space of conversation and reconciliation, it might help you. It sure did help me.

Swanson highlighted six primary themes identified by Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship: (you can read the whole article here if you’d like)…

Inequality vs. Equality: The verbal abuser must have power over their partner;
Competition vs. Partnership: The abuser perceives anything achieved by the partner as a threat; they must maintain one-upmanship in the relationship;
Manipulation vs. Mutuality: The abuser, feeling powerless within, attempts to get what they want through indirect and devious means;
Hostility vs. Goodwill: All verbal abuse is hostile whether it is expressed overtly or covertly and may include name-calling, poorly disguised jokes, blaming, or remaining aloof;
Control vs. Intimacy: The abuser may refuse to discuss a problem, preventing all possibility of resolution. The partner is left with a sick, hurt feeling;
Negation vs. Validation: Because of their need for dominance, the abuser is compelled to negate their partner’s experiences, values, and accomplishments.

Verbal abuse is all about power over another person. Mutuality cannot exist because one partner does not want it. This is not the type of relationship that God desires for his sons and daughters.

If we are honest, all of us have engaged in this kind of conversation at one time or another. We have used our words to hurt, not heal. We have sought ways to show we are “right,” not seek forgiveness.

It happens in our homes.
It happens in the political arena.
It happens at our jobs.
It happens in our churches and nonprofits.

Quite honestly, it is the ways this shows itself in churches and parachurch organizations that distresses me the most.

I am oh so imperfect at this work of reconciliation. But at the same time, I dare not continue to build brushfires instead of bridges. In the pulpit, in chaplaincy, in counseling, in friendships — it is more important to hear than to be heard. Unfortunately, as long as the human race exists, it seems that we will find ways to use our words to wound one another. Or we will think that because what we said was “right” it was OK to punish someone we felt “had it coming”.

And God must weep in frustration at our meanness to one another.

Dr. David Augsberger in Caring Enough to Confront said:

A relationship is only as strong as the communication is clear. Good relationship is two-way communication. When one side of the relationship is deeply troubled, the relationship is stressed; when one side is lost, the relationship is dying. To love another is to invite, respect and support that person’s equal right to hear and be heard. To love is to listen; to be loved is to be fully heard. Love is the first action of the eyes attending, the ears attuning, and then the soul connecting

Let me be clear: Everyone has a right to emotional and psychological (as well as physical) safety. And the strength and growth of the Church, today and in the future, depends on our willingness to seek peace and pursue it, (Psalm 34) even as we try to conform to the image of Christ and allow Love to always make us tell the truth (Eph. 4).

There cannot be one without the other. Like it or not.

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