MAUREEN BURNS: Growing old or growing up?

By Maureen Burns • Last Updated 10:02 am on Monday, March 12, 2012

Maureen Burns

Stanley Ross had a great quote about communication. “Open your mouth only to change feet.”

Have you ever said something and wished you hadn’t said it that way? Has anything you ever said come across differently than you meant it? Has anyone ever said anything to you that hurt or upset you? I am guessing these are pretty universal human experiences. Do you agree?

When babies are born, they have a soft spot on the top of their head. People have to be careful until it firms up. It is delicate, fragile. I think we all have soft spots, emotional ones, and they remain sensitive into adulthood. We get hurt when someone says something that hits our soft spot or spots. Other things can be said to us that don’t bother us, but things that hit our soft spot, well, they hurt. They can really make us angry.

My daughter and I realized this concept once and, since then, I have used it in many talks. It is appropriate in all communication, whether in the workplace or with friends and family.

Today I was discussing it with a good friend. I had said something a while ago that hit his soft spot. Of course, I hadn’t meant it and would never have said it that way had I realized his sensitivity. I do have to say, this is not the first time this has happened to me. I have been on both ends of this ordeal.

My friend told me how he felt as a child when other kids said mean things to him. Those certain words really developed his soft spot. Of course, this tenderness does not harden as we grow up. We remain sensitive in these areas.

My soft spot was also developed when I was a child and was caused by repeated negative things that were said to me. To this day, if anyone says anything to me in that realm, oops, off I go into my tender area.

I remember a few years ago, someone said something to me that upset me for days. I discussed it with my friend several times. After a bit, she calmly said to me, “Maureen, I think you have overreacted and I think you did so because of how you were treated as a child. It brought all that up again.” I immediately knew she was right. Putting it in that framework allowed me to understand and let it go.

Why do I bring this up? I bring it up because I think it happens often as we all communicate with each other. When we take the time to think about our personal soft spots, it can help us to handle our reactions better.

Everyone has different soft spots. What are yours? When I ask people, it is amazing that after a couple minutes, they can come up with what really bugs them, their main sensitivities.

For some, it is feeling dumb. They don’t want anyone to make them feel dumb. For others, it is being told what to do. They don’t want anyone to tell them what to do. For some, it is being made to feel lesser than. There are many, many soft spots. I believe they come from early life experiences that seemed negative to us. It is like we got bruised in our egos and those bruises did not heal. The skin on them can be rubbed off easily with words that reactivate our old wounds.

I can take a lot of things that are said to me. But when something really upsets me, and I continue to be upset for awhile, I have to stop and think. Did this affect me like this because it hit my old soft spot? For me, it is almost always what has happened.

The next time you get angry over something someone said to you, ask yourself. “What does this trigger inside? Why does this make me feel so upset? What really makes me mad here?“ The answers will likely bare your soft spot to you. Usually these kinds of incidents point to the same inner feelings over and over . . . and that is what we call our soft spots.

Communication is not easy, but understanding things like this about ourselves and others, can make it easier. Life is a journey. We grow old. We don’t necessarily grow up. But if we keep learning, we can become better at this thing called living — both to ourselves and to others.

Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is

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