Live Through This

The Higher Ground

Learning to control your power over others.

Collage by Emma D.

Collage by Emma D.

“I hate you.”

I was 14 when I finally said it to my dad, the dark thing I had been harboring in my heart, the one thing I knew I could never, ever say to him.

My parents and I were on vacation for a week in Quebec City, and I said it in our hotel room. I was in tears, but I said it calmly and with conviction, looking right into my father’s eyes. He had been teasing me all day because that morning I had pronounced the word adolescent like “uh-DOLE-scent,” then at lunch I had referred to a street photographer as a “PHOTO-grapher” and later told my parents the dress code for the hotel restaurant was “CAH-zhul.” These were all words I couldn’t remember having heard out loud, only read in print, and so I was guessing at the pronunciations.

My parents had a field day. “Oh, cahh-zhul, is it, dahhhling?” my mother said in a fake British accent. She turned to my father. “Dahhling, dinner will be a cah-zhul affair.”

“As long as there aren’t any uh-dole-scents in the room,” my dad chortled. “We don’t want any photo-graphers taking pictures of us being so cah-zhul.”

When my mom went down the hall for ice, Dad kept it up, rubbing his hands together with glee. “I don’t know how you uh-dole-scents do it,” he said. “I know when I was an uh-dole-scent, I never wanted to hang out in cah-zhul settings with my parents.”

I felt incredibly stupid for not knowing how to pronounce those words, and I took my parents’ teasing to mean they didn’t disagree. My dad didn’t know that at that moment I was burning with resentment and that I was 14 and all my friends were at the lake that week and I was on a trip alone with my parents like a LOSER and I COULDN’T TAKE BEING TEASED ANYMORE.

I stood up, my hands in fists. “I hate you,” I said. I stalked out the hotel-room door and tried to slam it, but hotel doors have air cushions so they can’t be slammed.

I went to the hotel lobby with a book. When I felt calm again I went back upstairs. Dad was gone, and Mom was sitting on the bed. “Why did you say that to your dad?” she said, disappointment written on her face.

“He was teasing me! You both were! And I told him to stop! And he wouldn’t! And and—”

She held up her hand. “How could you tell your father you hated him? Do you know he was crying?”

My dad was crying? Crying? I had never seen my dad cry. That’s when the guilt hit me. How could I have told my dad—the man who snuck a puppy into his coat pocket for me at a family friend’s farm when my mom had already said no to a puppy, who took me to the store on weekends to buy me marshmallow peanuts before dinner, who told me it didn’t matter if I went to college because he was sure I had what it took to do whatever I wanted in life—that I hated him?

“I didn’t mean it,” I mumbled. “I don’t hate him. I take it back.”

My mom pressed her lips together into a line. “Well, you can apologize, but there are some things you can never take back. Once something like that leaves your mouth, it’s out there forever.”

That was the first time I really understood that words have power, and you can use them to really hurt someone. I mean, I understood that words can hurt just from going to school and getting teased and watching other kids get teased—I had been on both ends of that, lots of times. In middle school, a horrible girl named Jenny consistently told me my clothes were “dorky” and that a lot of people knew of me didn’t like me enough to make me popular. While I understood with my brain that Jenny sucked, she was able to hurt my feelings badly every time she talked to me. I had also stood by and watched as people more popular than me openly made fun of the “weird” people at my school, even though I was aware that that was wrong, and that I should speak up, and that the kind of teasing these people were going through was causing them pain. But the weapons-grade potency of words didn’t really hit home until I was crying in a hotel room in Quebec City, convinced that my dad would never forgive me. Right before I said it, I knew I shouldn’t, but I did it anyway. I just sensed it was the worst thing I could ever say to him, and I had been holding it quietly, my worst weapon against him, for a long time before I dropped it. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back. I couldn’t. He had already heard them.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had plenty of disagreements with people I’m close to —friends, girlfriends, my family. Sometimes it’s just an email spat, sometimes there’s real-life yelling, sometimes it becomes a nasty argument where both person involved believe they’re the victim and each one is trying to hurt the other with words. Usually, though, there’s an unspoken line you know you shouldn’t cross during a fight, even when things are getting ugly—something you sense would be incredibly satisfying to say in the moment , but that would also be a terrible thing, a near-unforgivable thing, to say.

Something like:

I hate you.
Go to hell.
I never want to see you again.
You’re a horrible person.
You’re ugly and no one will ever love you.
Everyone hates you.
I hope you die.

It’s a powerful position to be in, knowing you’re holding a lethal weapon that you can pull out at any moment. You can devastate an opponent in one second flat, if you feel like it. How you handle this power is up to you, and it affects not just your adversary but also your psyche and your soul.

Let’s say an acquaintance of yours has been quietly copying you for months—you like a certain band, now she does, you buy a T-shirt from a certain store, now she’s got a similar shirt and is telling everyone how much she looooooves that store. You suspect she has a hard time coming up with her own style and maybe looks up to you, so you don’t say anything, but soon it gets really annoying and obvious. Other people have noticed. Other people are talking about it behind her back. You’re annoyed, and you want everyone to understand that she’s copying you and not the other way around, so you’re not stopping them from talking.

Eventually, you can’t take it anymore and you confront the copycat. She denies copying you, and since she feels attacked and called out, she calls you something that maybe stings a little. Something like “vain” or “self-centered.” You know—just your average painful insult that makes you wonder for juuuust a second, Is that true? AM I VAIN?

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28 Comments

  • Lolly September 2nd, 2013 7:35 PM

    Sometimes a truth bomb needs to get through to someone. Your dad was teasing you. You told him to stop, and he didn’t. As a kid, you have very little power over that situation and it could go on and on. Saying to your dad that you hated him was hurtful, but also maybe made him think about how he treated you.

    • FlaG September 2nd, 2013 11:32 PM

      I agree with Lolly on this. It was harsh, perhaps, but his persistent teasing was quite cruel and it’s not your fault for having lashed out like that. It doesn’t take a genius to realise someone doesn’t enjoy being relentlessly teased.

      • soviet_kitsch September 3rd, 2013 12:20 PM

        yeah, i agree with this. if he kept teasing you even though he saw how obviously upset you were by it, then lashing out is an expected response. frankly, for him to feel upset after YOU got upset is pretty silly. it wasn’t the best response and i do 100% agree with the rest of the article but sometimes you just have to snap or else it’s never gonna stop, you know?

        • mack September 3rd, 2013 4:53 PM

          I agree. It’s your dad’s job to be the adult in this scenario. If his child is upset, he needs to deal with that situation. You were not at fault. If he was reduced to tears it says a lot about his own emotional insecurity which he may need to work on. It’s not a child’s job to take care of their parent’s emotional needs.

        • periwinkle_dreams September 8th, 2013 10:04 PM

          I understand where you’re all coming from, but I don’t think I agree that she handled it the best possible way. Her dad thought he was making harmless jokes. And maybe he was being VERY oblivious and unthinking to not notice that she was seriously upset by this, but she could’ve said something like, “Dad, please stop teasing me about my mistakes, it’s hurtful and it really upsets me.” I don’t think he was being truly mean-spirited, so once she seriously said this, that’s his cue to listen, stop teasing her, and apologize. She never wrote that she actually told him to stop, just that she became more and more agitated and upset before telling him she hated him. So, yeah, he should’ve been paying attention and seen how it affected her, but dads can be oblivious sometimes. I just don’t think lashing out in anger was the best possible way to respond.

          • Tavi September 8th, 2013 11:25 PM

            This is an article about how to AVOID lashing out, whether you think her 14 year-old reaction was justified or not.

    • Lolly September 10th, 2013 4:13 PM

      @periwinkle_dreams:

      “He was teasing me! You both were! And I told him to stop! And he wouldn’t! And and—”

      According to that, she did tell him to stop first. She didn’t handle it in the best possible way, but that doesn’t mean her reaction was the worst possible result. The worst thing would have been for her dad (the responsible adult, who can’t afford to be oblivious) to continue the teasing that was humiliating her.

      There’s a big middle ground between that example and going around slinging hate bombs. Like I said, saying you hate someone is indeed hurtful, but in this case it was the last resort.

      • Lolly September 10th, 2013 4:58 PM

        (Excuse the double post; forgot something).

        @Tavi — could be both! There’s no point learning how to control your words if you don’t know why you should be controlling them. The article argues that lashing out is (almost always) not justified because it causes bigger problems than it solves. That’s interesting stuff.

  • Sophie ❤ September 2nd, 2013 8:12 PM

    I love this.

    http://theneonpapaya.com

  • lydiamerida September 2nd, 2013 9:23 PM

    Ugh this is such a big problem for me. It sucks. Don’t get in the habit of being mean guys cause then you’ll end up like me with therapy and a family that sees you as a ticking bomb

  • dreamygirl September 2nd, 2013 9:29 PM

    This month is going to be SO good.

    IT’S LIKE MORIARTY AND SHERLOCK TOO JUST CUZ I THINK ROOKIE WOULD LOVE SHERLOCK IF THEY WATCHED

    • TessaTheTeenageWitch September 2nd, 2013 10:29 PM

      HELL YES!!!

  • jaded September 2nd, 2013 11:03 PM

    i’ve said the entire list of unforgivable things……..

  • Rue September 2nd, 2013 11:11 PM

    I love this article! I can really relate to this and take advice from it, although I do think that, if you really dislike someone, saying something hurtful will give you satisfaction for a longer period of time before you start to feel like crap. But I’m not much of a fighter, and I can’t remember the last time I said something hurtful to somebody besides my sister, although I do admit to talking about people behind their backs.
    Overall, a very promising start to the month!

  • secondtolastunicorn September 3rd, 2013 12:06 AM

    at first i was laughing because my parents are the EXACT same way with teasing my pronunciations of things… then i started to notice how relevant the rest of the article is to some conflicts going on in my life right now! i’m really going to take all of it to heart. thank you so much krista!!!

  • pendulous-threads September 3rd, 2013 12:50 AM

    Thank you for this. My parents have been getting upset with one another very frequently, and it even rubs off on me to the point where everyone’s being very, very hurtful. This gives me great perspective, and next time my mom or dad picks a fight, I’m going to shed some of your profound wisdom.

  • Aithy Palfreyman September 3rd, 2013 2:19 AM

    I’m so glad I’ve never said “I hate you” to either of my parents (though I’ve wanted to, oh so many times, just knowing how much it would hurt them makes me realise I can’t hate people who love me that much). I have had the hideously awful experience of seeing my dad cry though, and it was actually because I said an unforgivable thing – not to him, to his wife – and while I didn’t regret hurting her, mostly because she used it as an excuse to physically attack me, I still count seeing my poor dear father trying to keep in his tears as one of the very worst experiences of my life.

  • Isobelley September 3rd, 2013 3:28 AM

    I rarely say hurtful things like that, but my mother does it so often. She said that she doesn’t care about me or my sisters last night, but the worst things is that when everyone had calmed down and we could talk about it calmly she kept denying it and blamed me for misinterpretting her, and provoking her. Sometimes I feel like I’m the parent and she’s the child.

  • elliecp September 3rd, 2013 3:52 AM

    this is so powerful. I personally have never told my parents I hated them but I’ve definitely said or done things that I’ve later regretted…as children we don’t realise how much our parents have done for us and how much we can upset them even without thinking. My mum, for example, always used to be really overprotective and we would have screaming rows about it…but looking back I see that of course, letting a child you’ve never had out of your sight go to a movie on the other side of town at night with strangers WOULD be scary for her. It’s a typical case of you have to look at things from the other person’s perspective before you can really argue with or judge them.
    Thankyou for this piece…really made me think about what I say <3

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • still_dreaming September 3rd, 2013 6:15 AM

    I was looking through the list of unforgivable things and trying to remember whether I had ever said any of them to someone and the only thing that came in mind was saying “go to hell” to my father.We were fighting over something as usual and things were starting to heat up dangerously and that’s when it came out…he didn’t cry or anything, though I could see it got to him.He went silent for a moment and then he said something that really hurt me: “you have a friend who’s an orphan!go ask her how she likes it not having a father and then tell me to go to hell again!” that same night we talked about it and now we are back to normal but I don’t think I’ll be saying anything like that ever again..

  • lauraviitanen September 3rd, 2013 6:22 AM

    This was very, very good

  • JadeTayla September 3rd, 2013 8:06 AM

    This is a really moving article Krista. “Hate” is such a strong and hurtful word and I often catch myself saying it, whether it’s something small like “I hate this song!”, or telling someone I hate them after they have done something hurtful to me.

    Although in the moment it feels good to release all the anger and frustration, I almost always regret it. We need to remember how important loved ones are! My family and friends mean everything to me and it’s just plain silly to ruin relationships with hurtful words!

    http://daftpunkisplayingatmahouse.tumblr.com

  • Saana V September 3rd, 2013 8:15 AM

    But, you know, i think that everything depends on how you say it.
    I’ve said “I hate you.” Thousands of times but i remember only two times when i’ve actually hurt someone with it. And when it has hurt i’ve said it with a straight face. It doesn’t feel that bad when you are in a middle of a row and scream “i hate you” while slamming the door shut, because your parent’s wouldn’t let you go to that one super cool party. It stings, of course, but it doesn’t hurt them deeply.

    But i’m not actually a big believer in words anyway.
    i know that people lie and twitch their words and words mean different things to others. Like, i never say “i love you” i’ve said it, like 3 times in last 2 years. To me, it’s such a big thing to say, but i know people who tell they love them on the firs time they’ve ever met.

  • Fee September 3rd, 2013 9:12 AM

    Thank you for this. It resonates a lot with me because I used to get teased a lot, and still do by certain people, and it gets to the stage sometimes where I know that there are things I could say that would be true and cutting and awful, but I don’t want to be that person who validates the shitty feelings they probably have about themselves. I think this article really gets at the importance of not retaliating in the harshest way possible just because you can.

    http://contraluna.blogspot.com/

  • rahima September 3rd, 2013 11:12 AM

    one time my dad saw me crying and when he asked why i was, i told him it was because he was always taking care of me not my other siblings and i told him to just leave me alone. i was going through some stuff at the moment and idk why i blamed it on him. i felt so terrrible i immediately said sorry and thanked him through text bc it felt awkward to say it to him in person. i don’t say bad things to my parents anymore and i hope in the future i don’t bc i feel stupid every time. thanks for this article. rock on \m/ ♥

  • Erin. September 3rd, 2013 11:45 AM

    Funny, just the other day my sister told me to kill myself because I was getting itchy because everyone was making fun of what I was wearing. It’s always like this at my house. We always say we are gonna kill each other. It’s much much easier for us to insult one another than anything else. It’s a habit as much as a personalty fault. Most of those “unforgivable phrases” get said on a weekly basis at my house. But’s it’s as funny as it is sad. It’s not, like, an abusive atmosphere. Just a stupid one.

  • cryingflowers September 4th, 2013 4:45 PM

    This is so true. I’ve had recent fights with my best friend (because she was annoyed at me that I didn’t log on to facebook that day- I know. Petty right?) And so I told her why I hadnt gone on (homework, my panic attacks, needed a break) and she simply said “Bullshit lets all feel sorry for you.” This comment hurt like hell, but I replied with “That was low.” and she said sorry. Just like that. She (I hope lol) felt remorseful about her horrible comment and I didnt need to say anything back. This is where I totally agree with you Krista, as I found that I had the power by not stooping to her level. This was exremely awesome.

  • Lauren September 9th, 2013 1:31 PM

    That list was full of things I wanted to say to my ex. I think I did the most hurtful thing though when I publicly announced a secret he was really ashamed about(he seriously cried whenever it was brought up) and now the whole school knows and laughs at him.
    I did some damage.
    I’m only starting to regret it, especially after reading this article and realizing how hurtful it must be and he’s just a kid.
    Being dumped for sex definitely hurt me and further destroyed the trust it had taken me months to build up, but I should have been the adult and burned him in a LESS damaging way.