when i was growing up, way back in the '90s, it was a big thing to talk to kids about being careful around strangers. stranger danger was super important, so i was careful to avoid shady older men at the mall who might have been following me (they never were), and random ice cream trucks that would show up in my neighborhood at 9pm (never happened either), and people at school who looked like they didn't belong (you had to drive to my school, so it was obvious if somebody didn't belong).
as i grew a bit older, around high school time, there were after school specials about the dangers of abusive relationships. i was told again and again how no one, no matter what, had the right to hit you or touch you in any way you didn't want to be touched. because physical abuse and sexual abuse is super bad and super serious.
one thing no one ever talked about when i was growing up was emotional abuse. seriously, i didn't even know that was a thing until after i was married. growing up i was so desperate for attention i surrounded myself with some really horrible people. no one ever laid a hand on me, but the things they said were awful.
it's not like i didn't say anything, in the beginning. but i don't think the grown ups around me really understood that it was abuse either, because all i used to hear was that it was just words and not a big deal. the mantra "sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," was something i was told more than once.
and i tried to find better people to hang around with. but when you're told constantly that you are worthless and useless and good for nothing, it's hard not to believe it. and when the people that tell you those things also tell you that you should be lucky and thankful that they actually want to be your friend because you're too pathetic to find anybody else, you kind of believe them too. and it just created a circle of abuse and horrible words.
now, there is a huge campaign against bullying in schools. there has been some light shead on the problem. about how dangerous words can be. about how constant taunting in schools is can be just as violent as being beat up. and how lasting the effect of hearing those hateful words can be. because seriously, some of those words stick with you forever.
even now, when things get dark, i hear those words from long ago circle around through my head. those dark whispers about how stupid and pathetic i am. how worthless i am, a waste of space. how i am nothing now and will never amount to anything in this life. how i drag down everyone around me, and i should thank my lucky stars people even want to associate with me. how it's a miracle i haven't ended it sooner, and really i should just grow up and get it all over with because what is the point of living if you're as lame as i am?
but they're just words, said by those that used to be closest to me, though they still sometimes get stuck on repeat in my head some days. and even growing up, part of me knew it wasn't right to stay with people who said such things to me, but there were times i was so lonely that i thought it was worth it to stay with them. because even though their speech was filled with hate, at least they never beat me, right?