What a Curious Power Words Have*

hope sign

I’m a quote collector.
And I make no apologies for it. There are just sometimes when a word fitly spoken (or read) changes the mood, the whole trajectory of my thoughts and opens up avenues of possibilities that I would never have considered if I hadn’t heard a string of words put together in just that perfect way.


Those are the quotes that go into my collection.


Then there are the quotes that I don’t get right off the bat. I study them, take them apart and try to look at them in different ways. I look forward to an ah-ha! moment when I see what the author of the quote meant, and I’m thrilled when I get it, like being in a secret club. It looks like what he’s saying is…but he really means this…and I think I’m pretty smart for figuring all that out by myself.


Those quotes also go into my collection.


But sometimes a quote just doesn’t sit right with me. No matter how I look at them, they rub me the wrong way. The thought behind them might be good, but the practical application is not helpful or functional, and can even be harmful.


Take for example the popular quote, “People only treat you one way…the way you allow them.”  I see this thought put out there in many forms and all of them bug me. You know a lot of people, but I think you’d agree that not all the people you know treat you the same way. Well, you may be thinking, that’s because I allow some people to treat me a certain way, but I don’t allow all people to treat me that way. You may allow a favorite uncle to pinch your cheek, because he’s such a sweet old man, but you don’t want your 12-year-old cousin to pinch your cheek because that would just hurt.


But imagine how a domestic violence victim feels when they read that quote, “People only treat you one way…the way you allow them.” My abuser is treating me this way because I’m allowing it???? Really? No, it doesn’t work that way. There are times in an abusive relationship when the last thing you are “allowing” is your abuser to drag you around the house by your hair, or verbally berating you for the floor not being clean enough. Yet, it’s happening. And if you tell him you won’t “allow” it, he’ll either laugh and make fun of you, or get angrier, making your situation even worse.


The way people treat you is a statement about who they are as a human being. It is not a statement about who you are. You are not responsible for any one’s actions but your own, period.
And the other one, “Stop asking why they keep doing it and start asking why you keep allowing it.” Again, I’m sure every domestic abuse victim that reads those words cringes. There are times when you don’t have a choice. You may be stepping in to protect your children. You may be trying to keep peace. Or you may be “allowing” him to treat you badly because if you try to stop him, he will kill you.


“Don’t be afraid to walk away from toxic people.” That’s a good one. Do you know that an abuse victim is at 75% greater risk of being killed AFTER she leaves her abuser or gets a Protection From Abuse order against him? And what happens if you walk away, with your children, and he pays some high-powered lawyers to get the children back, and you are left with visitation rights?


So, what’s my point here? Should we stop reading quotes? Should we stop getting that momentary lift when we read something that goes straight to our hearts like Cupid’s arrow? Should we get discouraged that words of hope and encouragement for others only impress upon us how desperate our situation is?


No. We simply look at this banquet of quotes like we would a smorgasbord. There are some foods that we love; some that don’t taste great, but are good for us; some, we don’t really have an opinion about, and others that totally turn our stomachs. We realize that everyone is at a different place in their life and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to wisdom, encouragement and uplifting sayings.


But the thought I want to leave you with is…there is always hope that the person who is disrespecting and treating you badly will one day see how bad his behavior is and change, or the way will open for you to leave that abusive relationship and live a life free from abuse. Until then, hold on to anything that gets you through the day and disregard the quotes (and comments from well-meaning people) that make you feel inadequate, sad or hopeless. Pick and choose the quotes, thoughts, comments and beliefs that give you strength for each day and disregard those that make you feel worse about yourself and your situation. Feed your soul with words of strength, there are plenty out there. Let words of hope be your road signs to direct you to a new, abuse free life.


*Title quote by Tadeusz Borowski

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