Thinking Yourself Happy: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus


Susan was extremely sensitive. A real or imagined slight, a harsh glance, an overlooked letter, a minor criticism would send her into the depths of gloom and anguish. Her sister remarked: “Susan gets hit by emotional Mack trucks ten times a day! “


We’d like to reemphasize a theme that runs through many of the strategies in this book because it is so fundamental. In fact, we all learned to say it as children “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me!”

Unfortunately, although most of us uttered these words when other kids were taunting us, we did not really believe them. The saying was merely a convenient way of appearing to be indifferent. Inside, the hurt and anger remained. It’s probably impossible for a child to realize the basic truth ~~ that words cannot hurt us but that we hurt ourselves over those words.

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Try to convince a seven-, eight-, nine- or ten-year-old child that he does not have to get upset over the fact that some kids were teasing him about his orthodontic braces by calling him “buck teeth” or “metal mouth!” Try to persuade a twelve-year-old girl that she does not need to upset herself when her underdeveloped peers taunt her about wearing a bra.

Children ~~ or adults ~~ may say “words can never hurt me,” but they do allow themselves to be hurt by name-calling, ridicule, teasing, and insults.

Bright, ten-year-old Andrew was upset because two boys had called him a “nerd.” We had no success convincing him that they were probably just jealous of his high intelligence and the fact that he always got good grades.

Most people seem to have a desperate need to be liked, to be popular, and to be seen as “cool.” They carry these desires with them throughout life ~~ they earnestly seek approval, want to be liked (sometimes at all costs), and are often devastated by criticism and rejection.

What are the chances of enabling adults to fully realize that they don’t have to upset themselves over other people’s words?

• If someone is putting you down, it is the speaker, the critic, who probably has emotional problems. Well-balanced individuals do not put others down.

Any person who fully grasps this essential piece of wisdom will have the power to ignore negative criticism and emerge unscathed.

Look at it this way: If you visited a psychiatric hospital, and one of the severely disturbed patients in the locked unit criticized you viciously, you wouldn’t take it to heart. You would consider the source of the put-down and ignore it. Just because another person who hurls insults at you is not a psychiatric patient, there’s still no reason to take this person’s criticisms to heart.

• Other people, and the words they utter, have only as much power as you give them.


Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.

Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar.  Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America”  Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D.  For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute.  Or visit his page here on

Books available at Amazon by Arnold and Clifford Lazarus

Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus & Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus:

The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World 

Don’t Believe It for a Minute!: Forty Toxic Ideas That Are Driving You Crazy

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