Beware the Power of Words

The power of words may seem obvious but the fact is that most of us, most of the time, are not mindful of the effect of our words. We often choose our clothes more carefully then we choose our words. What we say—both to ourselves and to others—is critically related to the reduction of stress.

Here is an exercise to help you determine how much control you have over the language you use. For the next 24 hours, resist saying any unkind words about or to anybody—including yourself.

If you believe that you can do this, then a wonderful opportunity awaits you for improving relationships and for reducing future stress. However, if you believe the exercise is too difficult, think of this activity with the following examples in mind.

  • If I ask you to go for 24 hours without drinking any alcohol of any kind, and you retort that you could not, I would classify you as an alcoholic.
  • Suppose you are a heavy coffee drinker, and I ask you to go for 24 hours without drinking any coffee. If you respond that it is impossible, I would assume that your are addicted to caffeine and have lost control of your body.
  • If you cannot go for 24 hours without speaking unkind words about others or yourself, then you have lost control of your tongue.

Use the Power of Words for Your Benefit

Your words have the power to make a situation positive or negative. For example, if you start a phrase with the word “unfortunately,” you immediately create a negative mindset in the person receiving the message. The word conjures up that something bad or unpleasant is about to follow. Whatever you say after “unfortunately” will be viewed negatively.

The same holds true with the word “but” because it has a tendency to negate whatever came before it. For example, a parent says to the teenager, “Yes, you can go with your friends but you need to be back by nine o’clock.” Substituting the word “and” for “but” eliminates the negative connotation. “Sure you can go with your friends and be back by nine o’clock.” Notice that this one word creates an entirely different feeling. Your language helps mold your thoughts, so be aware of any words that have a negating effect. Examples are: although, however, still, yet, and nevertheless.

When you truly come to understand the power of words, you will handle them carefully—as carefully as you would a loaded gun.

The purpose of the childhood expression, “Sticks and stones can break our bones but words will never hurt us,” was to make us feel better, but down deep we knew that words could hurt. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow stated the situation with penetrating insight: A torn jacket is soon mended, but hard words bruise the heart of a child.


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