By Teresia Smith
They say that wisdom comes with age, and passed down wisdom sayings are supposed to give you better judgment. We could all use a little more wisdom to help us make it through life, but are they all really wise? I think most parents or grandparents are remembered for saying something frequently enough that it is remembered by their children. What are some old sayings you have heard over the years that are meant to impart wisdom but when truly examined, you find they are not always true? Examples are such as “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or “kids will be kids”. There are many more to choose from like “the grass is always greener on the other side”, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. Though meant to impart some wisdom lesson, some of these sayings are just not helpful. Let’s look at a few.
Try this one. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Wow. Never have there been more untrue words. When we work with a survivor who has gotten out of a violent relationship, part of what they have to overcome is the mental anguish left behind as a result of the verbal abuse they suffered. If a person is consistently told they are worthless, ugly, unlovable, experienced name-calling, constantly criticized, blamed for everything …. All of these things take a tremendous toll on one’s mental health. When someone repeatedly uses words to demean, frighten, or control someone, it’s considered verbal abuse. Often, the wounds left from physical abuse heal much faster than the wounds left from verbal abuse, so that old saying is just not true. Words do hurt.
What about “you can’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, in some ways it might be true that you must look deeper than the superficial things to know what’s really inside. However, it other ways, the cover of some people will tell you all you need to know and if you are observant, you can avoid a lot of heartbreak. For example, as you begin spending time with someone and you notice some behaviors that are concerning, such as dishonesty, rudeness, aggressiveness, controlling attitude, or dismissiveness, those are red flags that maybe this is a book you don’t want to read.
Here’s another one: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Again, sounds good but nope, it is not true! According to PsychCentral, “past stressful experiences do not create resilience to future trauma. In fact, the research suggests the opposite is true: Past stressors sensitize people to future traumas, increasing their chances of developing a mental health disorder.” We can see the results of this when we study Adverse Childhood Experiences. As the children studied age, studies show increased risks of cancer, heart disease, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, among other conditions and all are linked to the experienced trauma. So while you may feel stronger after overcoming a difficulty, you are still at risk when facing future trauma.
And, of course, we’ve all heard “time heals all wounds”? This one is a bit more complicated. In some ways, time does assist the healing process. Times gives opportunity to calm emotions, examine circumstances and allows someone to seek to understand what happened to them. Heather Z. Lyons, PhD shares, “… that people can use time to gain insight, seek healthier relationships, and an orientation toward growth. People can connect with friends, develop new relationships, or engage in activities they find rewarding to aid in the healing process.” Time also allows for thinking through the difficult experience in a way that provides a new perspective so that we are able to move on. So while time doesn’t actually heal your wounds, it does help you to be able to live more successfully with them.
Lastly, let’s look at “winners never quit”. Again, so not true! Steven Bartlett summed it up, “Contrary to popular opinion, quitting is for winners. Knowing when to quit, change direction, leave a toxic situation, demand more from life, give up on something that wasn’t working and move on, is a very important skill that people who win at life all seem to have.” Originally, I think this old saying was meant to encourage us to keep our determination and focus, and never stop trying when things get hard. Which is good in some situations, but there must be discernment because at times you are just beating a dead horse and it’s time to leave it behind and move forward. There have been many people who have stayed in abusive relationships because they had been taught you never quit. Some domestic abuse victims have been expected to ‘make it work’ because if they don’t, it would bring shame to the family. Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” There are times when we have to be strong enough to know it’s time to quit. When a situation causes risk to safety, health, and wellbeing, and harm outweighs the potential benefits, it is time to reevaluate what you are doing. Sometimes being a winner means you know when to quit.
We need to make sure to examine the advice we are given, even advice that’s been around for years and years. Just because something has been repeated and passed down through generations doesn’t meant it’s is sage advice. Think through advice you are given and always allow yourself to seek counseling as needed.
Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to victims of intimate partner violence or sexual violence. You may reach our Jackson County Office at 256.574.5826 or you may speak with a trained crisis counselor at HELPline 24/7 at 256.716.1000. Reach out. You are not alone.