When I was growing up, I would frequently use the words "ugly" and "stupid" to describe myself.
What prompted me to write this post is the incident that happened when I took my girls to LA over the weekend for a music festival. They have been looking forward to this for months. It included two of their friends and I had volunteered to drive them down. On the morning of the festival while everybody was getting ready, one of my daughter's friends, John (not a real name) had accidentally tightened the wrist band too tight before putting it on and wasn't able to wear it. Well, this was going to be a problem because this wrist band was a ticket and unless they had it on, they're not allowed to get in. Once John informed one of my girls about what he had done, my daughter burst out laughing and said, "You're not suppose to do that. You're so stupid!"
When I heard the word "stupid", I froze for a second. We always had a rule in our house about name-calling. My girls were not allowed to say words like "stupid" or "dumb" to each other or to anybody else so I was taken back by this and couldn't figure out a way to handle it at the time. What do I do or say? Is this something I should let go and not say anything? Would I be embarrassing my daughter in front of her friends if I say something? At the same time, I felt bad for John and for me because I knew exactly how he felt at that moment. All I could say at the time was, "it's okay, it happens to all of us". Eventually, we figured out a way to solve the wrist band problem but this continued to bother me.
As long as I could remember, I always felt inadequate, not good enough. I remember, as a child, frequently being told that I was weak and stupid especially when I cried. So, I tried not to cry and learned to hide my emotions because I didn't want to be perceived as weak and vulnerable. I started equating vulnerability to being weak and "stupid". I felt "stupid" when I didn't get good grades in school, didn't do well on SAT, changed my major 6 times in college, when I almost flunked out of school, couldn't pursue my parent's dream of me going to dental school like my siblings did, when I married a man that they didn't approve of, when I got divorced and when I became a struggling business owner.
Unfortunately, the words like "stupid" or "dumb" is thrown around a lot around family members or among friends. I hear this kind of name-calling frequently not just among children but also among adults. I frequently hear some parents calling their children stupid or dumb. When this happens, I can see the pain in the children's faces. It's the look of "Oh my god, I've done something terrible so I must be stupid and I'm a horrible person". We all, as parents, from time to time say things to our children without realizing the negative impact it might have on our children's self-worth. Any kind of name-calling is not only painful but leaves us with a negative image of who we are and destroys not only our self-esteem but our self-worth.
I know that when I got labeled as a child who wasn't smart, beautiful, or tough, I started to believe it and whether it was Intentional or not, it burned a negative image about myself into my memory. Just like when my daughter called her friend "stupid", I believe her intention was not to be mean or malicious but I don't think she was aware of the negative impact it will have on her friend's self-esteem. When I talked to my daughter about it later, she told me that it was innocent and that her friend didn't really care. I think this is what a lot of us think. There is no such things as harmless when it comes to name-calling. All of the negative labeling words like fat, ugly, stupid or dumb, whether intentional or not, can leave a long-lasting scar on a person's self-worth that can take a long time to heal.
The day after the name-calling incident, I talked to my daughters about it and reaffirmed the rule about not using the word "stupid" or any other name-calling. I talked to them about the negative feelings it can create and how hurtful it can be but most of all, I wanted to protect them. I wanted to make sure that they didn't feel bad about themselves or allow others to make them feel "stupid". I wanted to do everything I can so they don't have to go through what I went through growing up.