Names Will Never Hurt Me? Not So!

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Remember that saying from long ago? Many children were taught this reminder by their parents, who wished to offer a protective mechanism to deal with any slurs or verbal bullying that might come their way. Also, this phrase promoted the development of tenacity in those of us, growing up in the sixties and seventies.

My Minor Experiences

As a little girl, I was just that literally and figuratively. At the time, I did not know how petite I was. I did not feel small and did not cower during those latency-age years. I remember, however, walking home from school with a patrol group. One of the leaders who was a neighbor would say “Hey Shrimp” or “Hey Midget.” Quite frankly, I was not familiar with shrimp. At the time, this delicious shellfish was not a part of the family staple. Regarding the word midget, I did not experience it as derogatory. When my mother learned about the midget label, she did not view it so benignly.

Although these minor insults did not affect me, I certainly remember them. As time went on, this name-calling went by the wayside. I learned over the coming years that many people endured far more abrasive comments that did not fall in the realm of “names will never hurt me.”

The Impact On My Mother

My beautiful mother, who was of middle eastern descent, had gorgeous dark pigmented skin. Insults were hurled at her about her skin color while growing up in the nineteen-thirties and forties. She prayed her children would be born with a fairer complexion to shield them from the humiliation she endured. Her wish came through, and I used to say to her, “Why?” I reminded her that she was beautiful and that her darker complexion provided her with a youthful appearance throughout her life. A few years before my mother’s passing, a cousin in Las Vegas said to her, “Don’t you ever age?” She did not. Because of the verbal assaults from her childhood, however, my mother’s scars about her appearance remained deeply embedded in her psyche. Sadly, she could never embrace what became an asset as she aged.

Name-Calling On Steroids

Verbal bullying, name-calling, put-downs, or how you wish to identify these insults have been around since the dawn of time. What seems to be different in the 21st century is the escalation of this extreme taunting because of the internet and social media. Like many, I have witnessed the rush of judgment and vitriolic statements due to differences, especially those of a political nature. People who proclaim they are so tolerant are often the first to denigrate those they deem ignorant or beneath them. These feigned, open-minded souls often proscribe their opposition with dangerous and fallacious labels.

Because the internet does not forget, thus does not forgive, a slur can remain imprinted forever. The same goes for texting and snap chatting. The wonders of the screenshot can preserve it as long as someone desires. Consequently, sharing to expose and embarrass another can take place. A scorned lover can now go as far as blogging about their ex or, worse, sending compromising pictures or videos. Yes, a picture can speak a thousand words, but the kind of words can be irrevocably harmful.

The Power of Words

The most important thing to remember is that insults can be detrimental. Yes, physical altercations can be dire and should not be minimized, especially around safety. Words, however, in varying degrees of severity, can cause unrelenting damage. I have written about the following several times, but it bears repeating: A supervisor from years gone by once said to me, “Words are like fine surgery,” searing this phrase in my mind to this day. Frequently, I share it with my clients, reminding them of the delicacy in the communication process.

As I now reflect on this, botched surgery can cause irreversible consequences forever. Although invisible, the agony from name-calling may not break bones, but the sparkling spirit is another thing. I think about my mother and wonder what may have been her path without the belittling she encountered. Like many from that generation, she never dwelled on the unfairness of life. She went on to marry, raise her children, and take delights in her social engagements and work achievements. Her resilience found a way of prevailing, and for that, I am most grateful.

What Are Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts about verbal insults? Do you believe as I do that the Internet and Virtual Communication have exacerbated this? Do you know people who have managed to rise above the insults? I invite you to share.


Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett
Darlene Corbett views herself as a life-long learner, a pursuer of excellence, a work-in-progress, and a seeker-of-the-truth. She is also referred to as the "Unstuck Expert" in her many roles. Why? Because for over thirty years, she has been assisting people to get unstuck. Darlene's primary roles are now Therapist, Hypnotherapist, and Author/Writer. Although she loves speaking, it is now secondary and done mainly through her podcast, "Get Unstuck Now. Because of her wealth of experience, Darlene began putting her thoughts on paper.  Many of her blogs can also be found on Medium, Sixty and Me, and Penning these articles set the stage for her first book, "Stop Depriving The World of You," traditionally published by Sound Wisdom. Being a believer in pushing oneself as long as one has life, Darlene has tried her hand at fiction, hoping to have something completed in the no-so-distant future. Over the years, Darlene has been described as animated or effervescent which contradicts the perception of a psychotherapist. She firmly believes in the importance of being authentic and discusses platinum-style authenticity in her book.

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  1. Language is powerful and even though we mean to feel better when we hurl insults, in the end, we hurt others and ourselves. And with in a world with immediate communication, so much is lost in texts, email and other online communication which can sometimes be reduced to chatter and when we are not intentional in speaking kindly, even the slightest slip of the tongue, can be painful.

    • Thank you again dear Mohamed! I responded to you on LinkedIn, and I appreciate you posting again here. You are so right. Much is misconstrued without the human connection of body language, facial expressions, and tone. This is the reason that I prefer Teletherapy and not Telephone Therapy. Also, thank you again for giving me the opportunity to converse with you on your podcast. I enjoyed it immensely!💖

  2. Hi Darlene, and oh yes!, absolutely have I experience verbal insults, and I do agree that the internet contributes along with so many other medias. My faith keeps me grounded in moments when words said pierce my heart, or chip off a piece of my heart. I think of Jesus immediately and ask, What Would Jesus say, how would He respond. It works most of the time, and then other time, the humanistic mind God gave me, is too quick to respond, and then I am guilty of the same. Hurtful words. So I really try to be aware. Thanks for sharing and have a blessed day!

    • Thank you dear Lynn for your thoughtful response! As a woman of faith also, I share your ideas to seek wisdom from our creator. Yes, as the world speeds up and chaos ensues, this behavior will not abate. I will keep asking for wisdom. I always appreciate yours!💖

  3. I like this, Darlene. Not only do I agree with you but I have similar surgical scars (Elsie the Cow – the fat one) to remember myself and my family. We have allowed name-calling to proliferate, and I mean every one of us has. I’m starting to call it out when I see it, but I do like having at least a few friends and family left. Maybe we could take that on as a mission – ask people to reword their statements so that it doesn’t demean….

    • Thank you again Carol for your reading and offering your courageous and poignant comment. I know many people who suffered from insults about their weight, from childhood throughout the lifecycle. Good for you for calling it out. I think there are ways to do it to get people to think rather than be defensive. For example, I had a friend long ago who was overweight. When she was on the dating route, she referred to herself as “rubenesque.” I thought that was brilliant.