Mom was wrong: name calling isn't always bad. Sometimes, it's exactly what you need.
Do you remember the first time you called someone "stupid?" I remember the first time I did. I also remember the conversation mom had with me for doing so. She explained that it wasn't nice to call someone names because it makes them feel bad. Part of me felt ashamed for having done something to make someone else (in this case, it was my younger brother) feel bad. And then there was another part of me that filed the information away to be used in future battles.
Yes, I did use name calling in arguments I had with other kids too — kids at school and kids in the neighborhood. I even resorted to name calling when I got angry at my parents. I'd call them "meanies!"
Then puberty hit and I got a lot more creative in my name calling. The extra creativity resulted from hanging around other kids, my voracious appetite for reading and all the "bad names" I made up from my French class lessons.
I have to admit that I didn't limit my name calling to arguments I had with other people. I also developed a habit of calling myself names when I didn't do something as well as I expected myself to do it. Sometimes I'd say it out loud, but mostly I called myself names internally; you know, that conversation in your head. I justified this by saying that I was just motivating myself to do better. Granted, I was also putting myself down and chipping away at my self-esteem, but I just ignored that part.
The habit of calling myself names on purpose continued through high school and college. I'd regularly call myself, "fat, ugly and stupid."
Then I got married and after a few years the number of names I called myself had increased to include, "lonely, scared, not good enough, different," as well as many others.
When I got divorced, the number of names increased again to include the likes of, "depressed, stressed, terrified and unlovable."
It was during the time I was recovering from my divorce that I started to pay real attention to the names I was calling myself. When I did, I was horrified that I was right! I was all those things and more. I was miserable.
And it was my misery that started to provide a path out of the hell I had created for myself in my own mind. I was determined to not be miserable anymore. I tried everything I could think of, everything my therapist could think of, everything my trainer could think of and everything my friends and family could think of to feel better about myself. Slowly, and with lots of effort, I found my way out of the hell I had created. I started to counter-balance the names I was calling myself. I allowed myself to like me — even just a little bit. And that little bit of liking grew over time. I stopped looking for as much external validation of myself and started realizing that I was great just because I was me.
The funny thing is that as I started to like myself more and more, I was still calling myself names. Only now there were nicer names thrown in the mix: "beautiful, smart, fun, capable."
Today, more than 10 years after my divorce was final, I still call myself names, only now they're powerful, energizing names that motivate and inspire me. What I've come to realize is that my mom was both absolutely right and absolutely wrong when she told me that calling people names made them feel bad. She was absolutely right that when I call someone (including myself) a bad name that can make them feel bad. And she was absolutely wrong because she didn't mention that when I call someone (including myself) a good name, that can make them feel wonderful.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
1. What names do you regularly call yourself? We all have so much chatter going on in our heads that it can be difficult to pick out the names we call ourselves at first. If it's hard for you to answer this question, just be patient and pay attention to your internal conversation. Sooner or later, you'll start picking up on the names you're calling yourself.
2. What names did you call yourself when you were "happily" married? This is an especially interesting question because it can give you insight into how you might like to see yourself again or it might even give you insight into how some of your name calling intensified—like it did for me.
3. What positive, inspiring, wonderful names would you like to call yourself? Once you have these names identified, start using them! After all, we all call ourselves names and if you're going to call yourself names, you might as well make sure they're good ones.
4. Having trouble coming up with some good names to call yourself? Don't worry, I was there too. There are times during divorce when it's just really hard to recognize anything good about yourself. It's time for you to get some outside input to come up with the good names. You might want to ask your close friends, family, clergy, therapist, or even a divorce coach to help you out.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.