When Words Hurt—How to not let others affect your mental health.

We all have had people say things to us at one time or another that really “sting”.  Sometimes they can stick with us, or end up with us carrying around the feelings we are left with.  Words can hurt.  They can add to anxiety or depression if you are already prone to it, and can leave you feeling frustrated, rejected, embarrassed, discouraged, or just plain miserable.  Holding onto anger, resentment or hurt can affect your mental health.

We are, after all, human.  We can feel unloved, unwanted, or like we don’t belong when others aren’t able to connect with us, and communicate in a healthy way.  It can be hard to not internalize that lack of connection as a reflection of your own worth.  How can you not take in what others say—unless it’s something nice?  

QTIP it.  Quit Taking It Personally.  Many times, it is not really about what someone says to you, but about them.  They may not be happy or comfortable with themselves, and lash out at others to make themselves feel good.  They may be having a bad day. The other person may also need the benefit of the doubt from you. Whatever the reasoning behind someone saying something that could negatively affect you, you do not have to take it personally.  My ex clinical supervisor brought this concept up so many times in a counseling group we co-facilitated that one client said to me that when they were done with the group, they were going to make a huge Q-tip to put on group room wall.  Another client in the group visualized throwing Q-tips at their partner whenever they said something they didn’t like, and would end up laughing at the situation.  Visualizing in whatever way works for you can help you not be affected, with practice.  In the book, The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz states:

“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Accept or reject it.   Another visualization technique that can help you choose whether or not to take in what someone says to you is:  Picture someone saying something hurtful to you.  You have a feeling you most usually have when someone says something that really hurts you.  Now, visualize yourself putting your arm out straight in front of you with your palm of your hand turned up, fingers pointed towards the ceiling, and visualize yourself saying, “NO.  I do not accept that.”  If someone says something nice to you, or gives you a compliment, you would then visualize lowering your hand down, palm facing the floor, and then flipping your palm up, facing the ceiling, and saying, “YES.  I accept this.”  It’s a good visualization to practice in the moment.  It can mean the difference of carrying a feeling of sadness or happiness with you.

Use “I” statements.  Think of an argument you may have had that left you feeling bad.  Much of the time, the word, “you” is in there--with both parties pointing the finger at what the other one did.  This is one of the first things I learned about communication during my graduate studies regarding couples and communication.  It can be applied to any relationship.  When you feel like someone is pointing the finger at you, it can be a natural reaction to want to point the finger back. “I” statements can stop this. Instead of saying, “It pisses me off when you don’t listen to me!”  An “I” statement looks like, “When it seems like you’re not listening to me, I feel hurt, and like my opinion doesn’t matter.”  You’re instead communicating how you feel.  Learning how to be open and vulnerable in order to communicate how you feel can result in not having to live with feeling upset. 

Look for the lessons.  Finding out how to take comments or criticisms in a constructive way, instead of a hurtful way, also is a practice.  We are always, “becoming”.  It is okay if you do not perfectly respond to every comment, or do everything with perfection—even if you wish you could.  It is something to always strive towards.  If there is some truth to a comment or criticism made towards you, maybe take some time to digest it.  Even if it was not said in the nicest of ways, see if there is something that you can improve on for yourself, so you can work towards leading a happier life.  A line from, “The Sunscreen Song” by Baz Luhrmann states: “Remember the compliments you receive.  Forget the Insults.  If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.  Lessons are usually not easy.

Is it too much?  If someone is consistently criticizing you, it may be more than learning how to not take things personally, and a time to let them go.  Here is a quote that I often give to my clients.  “You don’t ever have to feel guilty about removing toxic people from your life.  It doesn’t matter whether someone is a relative, romantic interest, employer, childhood friend, or a new acquaintance--you don’t have to make room for people who cause you pain, or make you feel small.  It’s one thing if a person owns up to their behavior, and makes an effort to change.  But, if a person disregards your feelings, ignores your boundaries, and “continues” to treat you in a harmful way, they need to go. –Daniell Koepke

When you practice new ways, you will start to see things through a different lens.  This will then help you have better relationships with others, especially the one with yourself.  It takes time, and a consistent awareness and effort to not let what others say affect you.  Your goal is to find hopefulness, happiness and peace for the benefit of your mental health.

Always feel free to reach out if you feel more help is needed than what’s typed here in black and white.  If this article does not apply to you, please click on the title in bold above to go to its separate page where you can share it with someone who you think might benefit from it.  Thank you.


1. QTIP it.

2.  Accept or reject it.

3.  Use "I" statements.

4.  Look for the lessons.

5.  Is it too much?