Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#103 Do No Harm

This time on The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz, the subject is the emotional harm we sometimes inflict in relationships: how to recognize it, and how to stop.

Should verbal and emotional violence be considered as harmful as physical violence? Why do we find it easier to accept certain types of harmful behavior over others?

Listen to find out! And don’t forget! I’d love your feedback on this episode and my future episodes. Be sure to leave a comment!

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #103

Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.

Hello everyone. The title for today’s discussion is simple, Do No Harm, a succinct abbreviated portion of the Hippocratic Oath. I’ve been thinking about do no harm in regard to relationships. The purpose of a relationship, certainly friendships and romantic relationships are of our choosing, whereas relatives of course aren’t of our selecting. But that said, all relationships should enhance our lives. They should not diminish our lives. That ought to be the purpose of a relationship, to learn, to feel challenged, to grow, to thrive, to benefit, to enhance us, but not to harm us.

But as you’ve heard me say before, I think we’re somewhat in the infancy, maybe adolescence of our consciousness and awareness and how we engage relationship. But recently I was listening to a podcast about Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and their principles and philosophies of nonviolent resistance. And I began to think about nonviolence.

In my reflecting on nonviolence, I thought nonviolence should go well beyond the physical. After all, verbal violence and emotional violence have a profound impact on us and they are altogether commonplace and prevalent in our relationships. Sadly, but they’re prevalent. You know, we speak of physical violence and physical abuse in a relationship that’s criminal. It’s black or white. We have theoretically no tolerance for it. It’s clear it’s not okay to be physically violent and physically abusive. It’s not okay.

And yet we accept verbal violence and emotional violence. And that is a slow death of dignity, of the ethic of a relationship, of the purpose of being in a relationship. And it does harm to both of us. Both people get harmed by verbal and emotional violence. And I’m calling it violence rather than abuse. Because the word violent is more evocative. It’s more stunning. Violent.

You know, abuse can have a gray tone to it. You know, you’re so abusive to me the way you speak to me. I’m not abusive. You’re this and you’re that. Violent is a declarative statement. So when we commit or receive verbal and emotional violence, both parties are harmed. There’s a humiliating of yourself and of the other. The person committing the verbal violence and whatever they’re saying, or the emotional violence, loses their own dignity. They’re acting in reactive anger. This self-destructive and this destructive to the other.

So verbal and emotional violence are prevalent and they are damaging. So I’m proposing that we include the idea of verbal and emotional violence right alongside physical violence. I’m sure we’re not going to be able to make it a crime, but it is an emotional crime. It looks like a spiritual crime. There are ways to have healthy expressions of hurt feelings, which we’ll go into in a moment.

But once again, let’s just contrast the physical versus the verbal and emotional. If a friend, a relative, your lover, your spouse, stepped on a nail or a piece of glass and they were in physical pain, you would probably care.
It would elicit compassion, if not empathy. You would tend to their being hurt physically. Yet we hurt each other emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically, and pay no regard to the hurt that we wreak, the hurt that we just cast on each other. That’s okay. It becomes less than the physical hurt. Makes no sense.

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So the goal is to learn a healthy expression of your feelings. So instead of lashing out at someone, and typically it would sound like you are, and you can fill in the blanks there, you are such an asshole. You’re such a jerk.
You don’t know this. You’ll never learn that. We tear each other down. Now that sentence can be constructive. It can sound like, you know, the way I feel with you is I feel that you’re insensitive to my feelings. I feel that your only focus is on yourself. We can speak subjectively, but first we have to become aware of what we are feeling so we don’t become reactive in anger.

If you can notice an angry or hurt feeling, pause, notice what you’re feeling, and then communicate your feeling. I’m feeling so angry. I am feeling so unloved. I am feeling so devalued. Let me tell you why. You’re not doing emotional violence. You’re not doing verbal violence to each other when you speak that way. This requires responding and not reacting.

That’s step number one. Now there’s another kind of violence, tone of voice. Your voice can be dripping with sarcasm and venom and anger. Remember when you do that to another person, you are harming yourself along with them because you’re both being overwhelmed with angry feelings. You know what that does to your cortisol levels, what it does to your heart rate, your anxiety, and your stress, and another method of doing harm or violence to the other is physical gestures. It’s not just what you say. It’s not just the tone of your voice. It’s the physicality. Pointing fingers at each other or making gestures in the air angrily, punishing, violent. Stop.

There’s a better way to express yourself. Maybe that’s what you experienced as a child from your parents or you experienced your parents doing it to one another or other people gesturing that way. It’s mindless. It is not healthy.

Set your intention. I don’t want to act angrily. I don’t want to demean or put other people down, but I do want to express my feelings the best of my ability.

Another form of violence, and it would appear altogether nonviolent ironically, is using silence as punishment. When you are upset or angry, and if you’re one of those people that default to silence to punish the other person, you’re doing gross harm to yourself and the other. The purpose of a relationship is to relate. It is to communicate. Silence is putting a stone wall around yourself so that you are impenetrable. That is the opposite of being in a relationship. So we need to pay as much attention to verbal and emotional violence as we do to physical violence.

Last concluding thought for today, and I know this is brief and to the point and I intended this, so how we treat another person is how we treat ourselves. There is no separation. This is an important insight of awareness.
If you are speaking angrily, acting angrily, feeling angrily, or demeaning or putting the other person down, if you’re cursing at someone else, you’re exposing yourself to that energy. In fact, the energy began with you. So when you have that energy, it is toxic to your wellbeing and it is toxic to the other. So the premise in all relationships should be do no harm. At the very least, it’s neutral. Do no harm is I may choose not to be in this relationship and separate myself from this relationship or divorce myself from this relationship, but I will do no harm to myself and I will do no harm to the other by belittling, by denigrating, by cursing through the expression of anger. Mindfulness and awareness requires that we be responsive and reflective and that we communicate to the best of our ability, not to default to emotional and verbal violence.

So the takeaway for today is do no harm to yourself and do no harm to others. That’s a spiritual message. It’s a mindfulness message and it’s a sensible human attitude for all relationships.

Well, until next time, wishing you well, wishing you mindfulness, and thanks for listening today. Bye for now.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show, and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again, and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.

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