Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Four Steps to Eliminate Hurtful Speech

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Thus reads the Ninth Commandment.  An expanded interpretation of this commandment can help us to reduce gossip and hurtful talk in our lives, as the author and psychotherapist Leonard Felder teaches in his book, The Ten Challenges; practically and diligently applied, it will bring us loving restraint and mindfulness in all of our communication. 

Just this week, I commenced a 40 day Sadhana based on self-control and restraint in my communication.  In combination with my focused meditation practice each day, I am giving up Facebook, incessant e-mail checking and all frivolous communication, whether written or verbal.  It is only day 3 of my Sadhana, so I am still very gung-ho and am feeling quite inspired.  However, I realize that a dedicated and mindful application of the Ninth Commandment in my life is a commitment that (hopefully) lasts longer than 40 days; it is a life-long undertaking and I wish for my present incarnation to last a bit longer than 37 more days!  
We have all been hurt by “gossip and hurtful talk,” coming not only from others against us, but also from ourselves against ourselves.  I believe very firmly that the seed of our hurtful talk lies in that place in our minds that churns out negative thoughts about our own self.  

It goes like this: one day I wake up hearing a little voice in my head that says, “You are not good enough.  You need to stop eating sugar today.  You are lazy.  You overslept.  You aren’t going to have time to look your best today.  Think about your friend Jennifer.  She always looks perfect.  You don’t look perfect,” and that voice gets covered up and pushed into the background by daily activities, but if I stop and listen to it, it just keeps talking, on and on.  And no one else hears it.  So no one else can tell it to shut up.  I have to do it.  And when I don’t shut that voice up, it starts to spill out of my mouth, in the form of hurtful words about: you got it! Other people!  

I may see someone else that day looking at me askance, and I may look back at that person and start criticizing him in my mind, harmonizing with that voice that has been criticizing me.  I may say to my husband seated next to me, “Would you look at that guy?  My God, does he ever smile? What a gloomy asshole!”  And I might be talking to someone else I know in common with that man, and I might say, “Have you ever had a truly pleasant conversation with that man?”  And in that moment, I might get some kind of momentary satisfaction from venting about that man to someone else who knows him.  But everyone in that exchange loses: I lose, because I am just amplifying the critical, hurtful voices in my mind rather than quieting them.  The listener loses because their perception of the man I spoke about becomes colored by my negative words, and also because they absorb the negative energy of what I said.  And certainly, the man I spoke negatively about loses, because we have just added to the negative thought energy surrounding him, which is probably making it even more difficult for him to respond cheerfully to other people.  And it is in this way that our negativity about ourselves just snowballs, creating a big negative energy field in our homes and in our communities.  We have the power to stop this from happening! We really can nip hurtful talk in the bud!
                                                                                                                                                                               Here is a time-tested prescription for putting a lid on gossip and hurtful talk.  I have personally tested it.  It works.  I don't do this all of the time, but I am doing it more and more.  These are habits that can become second nature:  
1. Be very aware of your thoughts;    
2. When you pick up on negative inner chatter about yourself, just listen to it for a bit, accept it, then step back and let it go.  Don’t freeze and panic and try to clamp down on it.  Just listen intently for a little bit… and sit up in your objective seat in your mind…and then watch that chatter just peter out and walk right out the door of your mind, just like it walked in.  In other words, don’t identify with that negative chatter, and it will lose its power over you; 
3. When you feel tempted to say anything at all about another person, stop yourself before you open your mouth.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  In order to practice doing this, it’s a good idea to stop yourself before you say anything at all, just to get in the habit of stopping.  So when you stop, you will have grabbed ahold of a single thought.  Once you have caught it in your thought net, look at it and see if it looks like any other thoughts you have been noticing lately.  If it looks anything like any of the negative thoughts you were listening to earlier, when you were sitting up in your objective seat, then it’s another thought that you can let go.  Let it walk out, and you will have stopped yourself from uttering hurtful talk.  Finally, here is a way to start repairing all of that negative karma you have thrown out into your family and community through past hurtful talk:  
4. Get quiet and still, during prayer and/or meditation, and then apologize; first, apologize to yourself for your negative attitude towards you, then envision the people, one by one, that you have gossiped or talked negatively about in the past; as an image of each of these people comes into your mind, focus your concentration on that image and when you are ready, tell that person how sorry you are about what you said; once you sense that the person has received your apology (you may not sense this, and indeed, that person may not receive the apology yet), then send that person love and support, visualizing brilliant, glowing light surrounding him or her. 
If you follow the four steps above, not only will you greatly curb your instinct to gossip or engage in hurtful talk, you will also begin to repair the negative impact of your hurtful words from the past.  The final step, of energetically repairing harm that has been done, can take a while, so do not force it.  If you still feel aversion for a person you have hurt with your negative words, you will have to work with letting that aversion go before anything can be repaired.  Meditation and prayer will get you there more quickly than just letting time take its course.  You will know when you are ready to go back and heal the hurt, within yourself and surrounding that other individual.  And when you send him or her love and light, you will both feel it.  The feeling may not be conscious, but you will notice the next time you see or hear from that person that something has shifted.  If not; go back and do the final step over again. 

I do not believe that negative words are like "feathers in the wind.”  To some extent, the ripple effect of the words will continue indefinitely and run its course, but if we use our power to energetically heal the hurt that was caused, we can make a huge impact.  As Leonard Felder points out in the ninth chapter of The Ten Challenges, our “inner intention” matters exponentially more than the external result of our speech.  The energy at the heart of any action is what we need to work with.  Developing awareness of how our words are either meant for “harm or good” is key to the elimination of gossip and hurtful talk. 


  1. As usual, both insightful and thought-provoking...and as usual, I will share with others!

  2. You can't take back what you have said, the recipient will forever
    have in in heart and mind; sometimes a heartfelt apology will help
    heal the one you have hurt, but don't wait too long, we never
    know when that opportunity may not be possible.

  3. I agree with you, Mommy Dearest. :) But in the end, the recipient has the responsibility for what they feel about what was said, and the speaker has the responsibility for learning the lesson and moving on.