“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” —Yehuda Berg
As the old saying goes: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will leave emotional scars that will never heal. Trapped in a world of language, humans have no choice but to use words, and it’s pretty hard not to fall into the truly harmful ones. Everyone has a story about the sayings that went too far. Accordingly, Reddit asked people to share the single most hurtful words that have left them haunted to this day. From the barely said break-ups to parents who just didn’t believe in us, here are 42 traumatic tales about the most hurtful words ever uttered to fellow humans.
It was when my grandmother called me at 11 at night and said that my mom was basically at a point where we could either pull the plug or try to give her a comfortable life as a vegetable, and that my dad had decided to pull the plug.
When I had been chatting to a very close internet friend. He mentioned he was going to have an operation, and that he'd be back in a week.
A month later, he finally came back. Except it wasn't him.
It was his sister, telling me that he'd passed away and wanted to tell me that I was "weird and fun and a person he could talk about anything to." I cried right there reading it, because we would've met in the summer. I still look at his profile sometimes and wish that his icon will turn green, and he'll come back.
"You're never going to be an engineer. Illinois or Purdue won't take you. You'll end up at a factory job like the rest of the idiots in your school" from my dad after I got a C on an AP physics test.
"Sometimes when we make out, I close my eyes and forget what you look like. Then I open them again and get sad."
I was the second-fastest girl on my track team in university. In front of the whole team, the coach said to me, "You'd run faster if you lost weight." I laughed it off. He followed it up with, "No seriously. Go on a diet."
The tram went dead quiet. I was living in Asia at the time and already felt like a fatso, but that definitely didn't help.
"You're not enough." Said to me when I was a child by my mother as I was trying to convince her not to commit suicide.
"Son, they say I might not make it to your graduation."
The conversation between me and my brother when he told me he had cancer...I asked him how his follow-up doctor's appointment was and he just goes, "Well that's why I came over...not good." He died last year.
“You're exactly the kind of person I hate the most."
Said by my father. I was fifteen.
For context and clarification, I'm lucky in that my father loves me—he's just a bit of a jerk sometimes.
We were sitting 'round a fire one night, he and I, and he'd just asked me why I wanted to go into scientific journalism. I was trying to explain that I—like a lot of people—enjoy reading articles in journals, that I enjoy having that, "Huh, who knew" moment when you learn something, that I love to write as well, those sorts of things.
He was wine drunk and more belligerent than usual—then he came out with that gem.
A roommate once told me, "You think you're funny, but you're just a freaking idiot" during an argument. While very harshly put, it really hit me in my insecurities, because I generally joke around a lot and make people laugh.
Before I was born, my mom had a miscarriage before she had me. So when I was I think 9 or 10, I did something wrong in school like got detention or something. I remember coming home and getting in an argument with my mom and she said to me, "I wish I had the other baby instead and that you were the miscarried one." I still am distant a bit to my own mom because of that and haven't forgiven her 14 years later.
"We tried everything, but she's lost so much blood we just can't save her."
As the monitor flatlined and my 11-year-old sister, who was laughing and playing with me 24 hours before, was pronounced dead.
"You ruin my happiness," said to me by my mom when she was pissed off. It was ages ago and we get along great now, but darn it still hurts.
"I think we should see other people, I’m not ready to settle down"—said by my former fiancé while I was about 6 months pregnant.
"Astrid, Dad is dead. He went in the bathroom and shot himself a few minutes ago." Said by my twin over the phone, three days after Christmas. I was on the other side of the country.
What the heck do you even do in that situation? How do you support the people you love when you're so far away? I flew out ASAP, but no phrase has ever hit harder in my life.
When I was living in Shanghai, I was having a decent day. The sky was as blue as it can be, what with the pollution, and I had just gotten a nice apartment downtown. It was the first good day I'd had in months actually. Things just seemed easy.
That said, during work I got one of the worst phone calls of my life.
"You'll have to move your things by the end of the day."
I came back and there were a bunch of police pushing people out of their apartments. I grabbed my things and made my jerk of a landlord refund my deposit.
The next day the building was bulldozed.
It was the timing of it that made those words so devastating. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship, my mom had been paralyzed, and my grandmother died all within the span of a month. Then I get a phone call telling me that some jerk decided that I no longer have a home.
Defeated was the word I would use to describe how I felt.
My mom was actively going to commit suicide and said, "If I go, I can't leave you three behind," to me and my two siblings. We were all under 10 years old. I was four. Luckily, my brother called the police and told them she was planning a murder/suicide.
After my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only about 3-4 months to live, he stopped taking my calls completely. I was confused, so I flew out to see him.
He sat me down in the living room and said he never wanted to see me again. He was choosing to surround himself with positive people—his new wife—and to stay away from him.
Daddy's girl. Devastated.
"I want to love someone like you love me" –my ex of 7 years.
My mom told me once, when I was 11, that when I smile I look constipated. Now I can't smile without feeling stupid, and so I try not to smile at all.
Even though it was just a small comment and barely even a sentence, it was probably the most devastating thing anyone's ever said to me because I took it to heart as a self-conscious preteen.
When asked during a fight with my college boyfriend if he even saw a future with me (we had been together a year and a half and had spoken of marriage at this point): "No, because I don't think you would make a good mother because you aren't affectionate enough... my mother agrees." Been years, and it still gives me doubts if I would make a good mom.
My ex-wife, when leaving me (for a married man, who was in the country on a marriage visa), agreed to one session with a therapist/counselor. There, she said she's not sorry for doing what she's doing, and that she's happy with her actions.
Oof. What a gut punch!
Now, I don't believe in aliens, per se, but if I was half a hair crazier, I would have sworn up and down this was some kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario going on. Something inside her switched. We were together for 12 years, and for the first 11.5, she was amazing and then something just...changed.
When I was a child, I was hit by a car, leaving me with quite bad scarring on my face and shoulder. My parents, and especially my mom, always encouraged my self esteem and they always brought me up when I was sad about it.
However, when we were children, my mom was quite physically and verbally abusive toward me and my sisters. She's always categorically denied anything of the sort took place.
Once, I built up the courage to talk to her about it. To try to understand what was going on. She was gaslighting me, so I brought up the fact that the proof was on my skin, from the time she scarred me by throwing a brush and dustpan at me in a rage. Her response?
"Well, considering the amount of other scars you have all over you, I don't think a small one on your knee should be the one you're worrying about."
I mean, yeah. It's small compared to the rest. But it was done on purpose, out of malice. What really hurt me was after a lifetime of her telling me not to worry about the scars, they're not noticeable, you're beautiful anyway...she was willing to throw my deepest insecurity back in my face rather than own up to something she's ashamed of. It hurt and it feels good to have written it out.
"You kids are going to the orphanage!"—Screaming drunk mother at 2am after getting home from the bar. I was 5.
When my best friend of 7 years and girlfriend of a year told me that she slept with her ex (who I've had problems with constantly). I was young and had no idea how to process it. It was also the day I moved into my dorm in college and had to try to stay friendly while meeting new people.
Ended up leaving her at my house while I left. Didn't see her again for 3 months.
Over it now but, my god, that was the worst day of my life.
"He's dead, get over it."
I was about 10 or 11 when my only friend told me to get over the death of my father. He killed himself when I was 6.
Dated someone when I was 24. Really into them. Basically, they didn't want to commit to me because I didn't have a car or my own apartment. And they only dated people with a nice car and a nice apartment.
Which at the time I thought was fair. So I tried my best to move out and get some wheels. Mind you, I live in NYC so it's not as easy as it would be in other states. So I graduated and all while going to school I was still with this girl, because I thought she was motivating me. We would meet each other's family, friends, go to dinner, and weddings etc...
Long story short, one day I finally asked why we aren't together. Basically, she tells me that her ex was this big-time entrepreneur who introduced her to a certain lifestyle. And while she "thought" I was cool, it would never work out because I never gave her what he could.
That stuff really hurt. But it made me a better person to man up and realize how toxic that relationship was.
When I was about 10 and my grandfather looked me in the eye and said, "Jason, you can do anything you set your mind to, but you won't."
I come from a long line of alcoholics, drug addicts, and all-around screw-ups who also happen to be incredibly smart. It became this ever-present message in the back of my head.
When my first son was born, I got a series of absolutely crushing things said to me.
"Umm...it's a boy."
"He lost a lot of blood, he was resuscitated, but if you wish to see him alive, you may not have much time."
"When you touch him, and he moves, he's not reacting to your touch, he's actually having a seizure."
"Spend time with him, he may not last the night."
"He's fighting, but we don't know if his kidneys will work, if he can breathe on his own, and if he survives we suspect he will likely be severely mentally disabled."
There were plenty of others, but you get the gist. He's a tough little dude, and while he does have his issues, most people can't tell his history from knowing him. He'll turn 7 in August.
In the midst of a break up with my ex who, after nearly a year together, suddenly decided he didn't want a serious relationship, I asked what exactly he thought we were doing, and he responded by asking, "What, did you think we were going to get married?" That one hurt.
“Well, that might not be a bad lesson for you to learn.”
I was working as a general manager for one of my father’s many businesses. Occasionally I would skip taking a paycheck in order to keep more cash flow in the business. I basically only took a paycheck when I needed the cash and kept track of the balance owed to me. I knew that at some point in the future I would receive all of the cash I had deferred.
One day my fiancée became ill. A couple months later, she died of cancer. She left behind four children (two young adults, two minors). I promised her that I would care for and look after them. I stayed true to my promise at great cost and expense. After a year of taking over her house payments and doing all I could to provide a normal life for her devastated children, I was having a difficult time keeping my head above water financially.
I knew that I had around $45,000 in deferred funds from my job, so I decided to approach my father about getting a portion ($20,000) of what was owed to me. I sat down with him and explained the situation. After finishing, he looked at me and said, “Why are you taking care of her kids? You don’t owe them anything.” I said, “I agree…I don’t owe them anything. But I owe an awful lot to their mother…my sweetheart.”
He then said, “What would happen if I don’t give you your money?” I told him that we would most likely lose the house and be forced out onto the street. He sat back in his chair and responded with, “Well, that might not be a bad lesson for you to learn.”
I sat there in shock. When I came to my senses, I was forced to beg, cry, plead, threaten, etc. in order to get MY money. Finally, after he had dragged me over the coals long enough, he relented and cut me a check.
As I drove home afterward, I tried to put myself in his shoes. All I could think about was how proud I would be to have a son who would do something as HONORABLE as caring for the well-being of the children of his deceased sweetheart. It was at that point I decided to limit my contact with my father. I vowed to have no contact with him ever, if possible. Life is too short to be around people who manipulate and drag you down.
From then on, I only spoke to him a couple of times and it was strictly business related…nothing personal ever again. Six months later, the business was sold. I got the balance of the money owed to me at that time. Three years later, he passed away. I didn’t attend his funeral. In fact, that night I was with him asking for money owed to me was the last time I ever saw him. No regrets.
When I turned my 2 weeks notice in at my current job (I got a job in welding, which I went to school for), my female coworkers all told me I would never make it in a male-dominated industry and I would be begging for my job back. Thanks for the vote of confidence!
I had the normal issues adolescent daughters have with their moms, but mine was always a bit cold and distant. One day, with tears in her eyes, she verbally acknowledged that she didn't quite do her best as a mother and apologized. I realized I had been selfish and unfair, and that my mom is a human like me.
I always had a lot of pent up resentment toward my mom for a lot of reasons—some petty, some not so petty. Recently, I graduated from college and turned 25 and kind of realized my mom is just a person, like me, who tried and messed up sometimes. Luckily, I'm the wallflower, suffer-in-silence type, so I never reeeeeally brought those resentments to my mom's attention, but once in a while I'd say something I thought was no big deal and she'd get very defensive and angry.
Anyway, I was visiting from college at one point, and I guess I said one of those things (probably referring to how I used to do poorly in school as a kid due to undiagnosed ADHD and lack of structure) and she didn't get mad this time. Her eyes filled with tears, but she kept them there, and said "I could have been a better mother. I was good, but I didn't try hard enough, and I know I could have done better, and I'm sorry."
That just killed me for a couple reasons, but the main one was that's how I felt in school growing up—that I could try harder and I was letting people down. It was the first time I realized she and I struggled with the same things, and she felt she had failed me just like I used to feel I had failed her. There were many hugs after that conversation.
I have an absent father. When I was 20, my friends and I went to a tarot card reader just for fun. She read mine and said, "You do not have a father." Just the finality of her statement and that it was coming from a stranger really shattered me. I couldn't stop crying.
This is when I was younger and more affected by it. I'm nearly 30 now and feel very indifferent about him. But boy, I wasn't ready for her to say that.
Pregnant at my 32-week checkup: "He [the baby] hasn't moved in 30 minutes and there is very little fluid. You need to be admitted now." Followed by, "It's too dangerous for you to travel the 30 minutes to the tier 3 NICU hospital, you need to deliver here, and the baby will be transported after" (but I had to stay at the first hospital).
Son was born weighing 2lbs and spent 35 days in the NICU.
He's two now and very happy (though still small).
Not me, but my dad received a phone call from the doctor when my grandfather died, and she said this:
Doctor: "Hello sir, your father has entered cardiac arrest. We are performing CPR as we speak, however, your father is a very old man. He is very frail. He has not been responsive to our compressions. It is my professional opinion that your father is dying, in fact, there is a high chance that he is already dead. If we were able to bring him back, it is my professional opinion that he would never be a fully functioning person again. To be quite frank sir, the only thing I think CPR is doing right now is cracking his ribs. Would you like us to continue?"
Dad: "Just stop."
Doctor: "Time of death is 3:53PM. Thank you sir" Click.
My dad was flying home from a job interview.
I was very chatty as a young child. Aged six or seven, our class was getting onto a bus to leave a school trip. As the bus was filling up, I had a free space next to me. Our teacher saw the space and said, "You're too noisy, I'm not sitting next to you," and found another seat.
Sitting on my own, I cried my eyes out for most of the journey home. From memory, she was a lovely person the rest of the time, so I'm not sure if it was meant to be a joke, but I didn't see it that way at the time. Still find it a bit awkward starting a conversation with people.
"Your sister died this morning, I'm so sorry."
Got a frantic call from my mom who was so hysterical she couldn't form proper sentences, so they put me on with her boyfriend and that's what he told me. Turns out he was "so sorry" because he was passed out drunk one room away and could have saved her if he'd woken up.
Since then, we helped him get into rehab twice and helped him get sober, saving his life (he was in early stages of liver failure). To which he promptly showed his appreciation by emptying out their bank account and running off with another alcoholic he met in AA. Oh, and all this while my mom was out of work because she was so sick and distraught (turns out she got Hepatitis from a patient stabbing her with a dirty needle). Had to leave my job and move her a few states away to be around more family.
Screw you, Matt, you piece of garbage. If I ever see you again, it would take every ounce of restraint I have not to break every bone in your face.
My (ex)-wife in response to me saying I think we should separate during a fight. I don't know why I said it. I think I had just burnt out in that moment. But the calm in her voice when she said it made me realize instantly that she had already thought it through way more than I did.
"Oh, I don't care about you. You're good to study with but make no mistake, I don't give a darn about you as a person."
Someone who (until then) I'd considered my best friend at law school. I'd confided in him about the domestic abuse I was experiencing in first year, we'd talked about our similar mental health issues, and had spent countless hours pulling all-nighters and studying.
He said this in our second year.
"I don't think I ever loved you," she told me on my birthday after admitting she'd been cheating on me with some guy from one of her classes.
That was a bit of a rough semester.
"I can feel my heart slowly withering away"—was what my mother said minutes before she passed away.
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