Sticks and Stones

This year I celebrated International Women’s Day with several friends by attending “Women and the World,” a performance art event, that benefited the Center for Domestic Peace, of Marin Abused Women’s Services. The benefit was sponsored in collaboration with the United Nations Association’s San Francisco, Marin, and Sonoma chapters.

The evening included a performance of Playback Theater by the Social Therapy Production Company, formerly known as Black Rose Film and Theatre Arts. Directed by Deborah French Frisher, MPA, RDT.

This improvisational theatre is a spontaneous enactment of personal experience that builds connection by honoring drama and the universality of our stories  (www.globalchill.org). During the enactment, the actors and musician spontaneously improvise a re-enactment of the story volunteered from someone in the audience. Its aim is to present and capture the essence and heart of the story. At the end of the enactment, the actors look to the Teller to see if this essence was captured.  (for more information about the playback theatre concept go to www.playbacknet.org.

During the evening Frisher asks for a volunteer to be willing to come up on the stage and tell a story from their life.  Several brave women shared poignant stories of joy and sadness. Many of them included some sort of domestic violence.

Domestic violence is often thought of as physical abuse. But there is another kind of abuse. It is hidden, and, to my mind, equally, if not more, devastating. It is the verbal abuse which runs rampant in our society.

During the evening one woman spoke almost apologetically about the verbal abuse she suffered as a child. She was embarrassed to talk about such a mild form of abuse. She said she was only emotionally abused, but not physically.

As she spoke I could feel myself wanting to rise up and comfort her and tell her that this kind of abuse is just as damaging to the soul as cuts and bruises are to the body. Therapist, Robert Burney author of Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, points out, “Emotional abuse is underneath all other types of abuse – the most damaging aspect of physical, sexual, mental, etc. abuse is the trauma to our hearts and souls from being betrayed by the people that we love and trust.”

So many of us have grown up with the saying: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I believe we’ve internalized this saying and tend to dismiss the power words have in our lives, especially when we are young and forming opinions of ourselves, looking to others to help us see who we are, truly. Words have the power to wound, shame, humiliate, mortify, and much more. Words can also raise us up as in praise. They can inspire.  This is why, I believe, Don Miguel Ruiz’s first agreement is so important in these times. It is: “Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

Justine Willis Toms
April 2011