This Story About Emotional Abuse and the Kindness of Strangers Is Resonating with Thousands

A Twitter thread started by writer and producer Ed Solomon earlier this week is going viral, thanks to the simple yet powerful message it’s spreading about how deep an impact words of kindness can have upon us — as well as words of anger.

The story Solomon shares is really one he heard secondhand, from a woman who suffered significant emotional abuse throughout her childhood. One day, he says, she found herself standing in an elevator with her mother, who was berating her in front of a group of strangers.

“When the door opened on their floor the mother bolted out,” Solomon relays, “but just as she started to go a stranger — a random person who happened to be there — whispered, ‘Hey.’ And the (then 11 yr old) girl turned back. The stranger said: ‘It’s not you. It’s her.'”

Those five little words were never forgotten by the little girl, who Solomon explains is now a 53-year-old woman. She carried them with her throughout her childhood and straight on through adulthood, so that whenever life gets hard or people test her, she calls upon them like a personal mantra to guide her through.

“When life gets really dark, when she hears her (inner) mother’s voice telling that she’s sh*t, she can’t do it, or to just plain give up,” Solomon writes, “she then sees that stranger’s face as the door closes in front of her.” In fact, sometimes, Solomon says, “it’s the only thing that keeps her going.”

I’ll be honest, I’ve read this Twitter thread through at least five times by now, and each time, it hits me right in the heart — for a few reasons.

According to studies, 1 in 8 American children suffer some form of emotional abuse, neglect, or physical abuse during their childhood. To put it in perspective, that’s about 5.7 million kids each year — and those are just the cases we know about. That abuse can often have lasting negative impacts, and, according to researchers, lead children to have “higher rates of mortality, obesity, and human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] infection” later in life. It can also lead to a shattered sense of self-esteem; something the woman in Solomon’s story no doubt faces on a daily basis.

The story is ultimately an inspiring one, reminding us that we are not forever defined by the things that happen to us, the people who hurt us, or the circumstances we’re born into. Sometimes, it’s them, not us.

But there’s another message that Solomon hopes we all take away from this story, and that’s this: “If you have a nice thing to say — a word of encouragement, a compliment — even if it’s to a passing stranger, don’t hold onto it. Cause you just never know where and when it will land.”

Oh, how true those words are.

The Twitter thread, which was originally posted on January 29, has racked up thousands of likes and retweets in the last few days, and has led to an outpouring of emotional stories in reply.

“Thanks for this,” one Twitter user wrote Solomon. “A couple of years ago I heard a mother berating a little girl. I’d have given anything to know what to say or do in that moment. I just felt so sick and helpless.”

“I was beaten and abused as a kid,” wrote another, “and my teacher told me at age 9 (she whispered), ‘One day you’ll write all your wonderful stories down and people will listen to the girl that you hide just now … it will come out and you’ll be proud of yourself’ … I never forgot Miss Miller.”

“It’s the replies to this that’ve blown me away,” Solomon later wrote in a follow-up tweet. “We THINK power only comes from being in a lofty ‘position.’ And that’s a KIND of power, for sure. But the REAL power is in our every day, moment-to-moment interactions with people. We ALL have incredible power. It’s kind of amazing.”

It certainly is.

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