I’m a sufferer of words. When James calls the tongue a fire, I know what in the hell — phrasing intentional — he’s talking about. I think many, many of us do. The fire may go out, but it smolders, sometimes for years and years, the smoke of its torment promising “forever.”
When I was in high school, already well neurotic from my own pronounced innate insecurities and already well battered by careless words from childhood onward, I remember being informed about a survey held by girls in the youth group at a sleepover. Apparently they were assembling in their imaginations “the perfect boy” using the composite parts of the boys in the youth group. I don’t remember whose parts were all highlighted but this adolescent Frankenhottie supposedly had my friend Kyle’s chest and my friend Nicky’s legs. (Who knew girls cared about legs?) It had other boys’ eyes and arms and lips and hair — I recall hair being important — and who knows what else. The person telling me about this exercise then informed me that this imaginary object of desire had my personality.
I know this was meant to be seen as a compliment. But honestly. You know what “he/she has a good personality” is code for. What this news said to this skinny, insecure, pimply-faced kid was this: “There is not a single physical part of you that is attractive. You are entirely ugly.”
Words sting. And bruise. I have trouble to this day remembering encouragement given to me, even though I know I receive it regularly. I even started an email folder called Pick-Me-Ups that I can store kind words in, a place to revisit when I’m being stupid and forgetful to show myself, “See? People say nice things too.” It’s not them; it’s me.
But I don’t think this problem is all that rare. You likely suffer from it too.