Why What We Say Matters
What we say to others, and to ourselves, can affect us in more ways than you might expect.
Every day we communicate with the world around us through language. We throw out “thank yous” to the helpful grocery store clerks or “I love yous” to the ones we cherish most. Even babies understand the importance of communication and usually begin forming words before the age of 2.
According to studies, the average human speaks around 7,000 words every day. And the average American consumes as many as 100,000 words a day through all forms of media. Some words are said in kindness, some are well-thought-out and others are simply blurted with a slew of emotions. Sometimes words can even be the deciding factor between success and failure.
Language enables us to express ourselves, our ideas, and tell stories. But do we know how much our words truly matter? Do we ponder their meaning and the impact they can have on ourselves and those around us?
Here are a few ways words affect us more than we might know:
1. Words affect our thoughts and feelings
More and more, studies are showing how the language we use can affect our minds and our bodies in both positive and negative ways. A 2020 study discovered that words of encouragement helped recipients overcome fears and improve performance at a task or during a game. Talk about powerful!
Unfortunately this means that negative words, especially verbal abuse, can be detrimental to mental health and even cause traumatic effects. However, though words can hurt, you can always heal from them. If you yourself or someone you suspect is not in immediate danger, but may be suffering from verbal or emotional abuse, consider the National Domestic Violence hotline (texting START to 88788) for resources and help.
With that being said, being mindful and pondering our words before they are said can help us use their matchless power in positive ways.
2. Words affect our relationships
According to a study done by The Gottman Institute, an institute that is committed to researching relationships, three of the notorious “Four Horsemen” that debilitate the relationship between married partners have to do with words. These horsemen include, criticism, defensiveness, and contempt.
Criticism is different than being honest about one’s feelings. Instead, criticism involves attacking one’s character, which often leaves another feeling hurt and rejected. Contempt involves sarcasm, ridicule, name calling, or any kind of behavior that mocks another. And defensiveness is usually a victim-mindset response to any sort of criticism, even constructive criticism. These “horsemen” ways of communicating are notorious for their slow, but steady harmful effects on relationships over time.
Studies continue to show that communication habits and the words we use seem to be the common denominator between a successful relationship and a failed one (regardless of what kind of relationship it is).
However, when we are mindful about our words to our loved ones, we can establish a sense of emotional intimacy, which is crucial to healthy relationships. You can do this by expressing words of appreciation often, being a good listener, giving positive feedback and constructive criticism when needed, offering genuine compliments toward one’s character, and other positive words. Words of affirmation can do wonders for all your connections with others.
3. Words affect the way we feel about ourselves
Unfortunately, sometimes we give the harshest criticism and speak negatively most often about one person: ourselves. And the way we speak to ourselves can affect our lives in lives in numerous ways. For example, if your inner voice is constantly whispering pessimistic thoughts like, “you aren’t good enough,” or “I’m never going to be able to learn this,” then it’s likely you struggle with self-compassion. Constant self-criticism can affect your body image, your confidence, and your relationships with others. Studies also show that it can even make chronic pain more difficult to deal with. (Again, words are powerful).
However, positive self-talk, like practicing affirmations like, “I am good enough” or “I am strong” might seem silly, but studies show that talking positively to yourself (and making it a regular practice) can buffer your stress levels, increase confidence, and activate the brain’s reward system.
The way you speak to yourself makes a world of difference in your overall quality of life. And the best way to start speaking kindly to yourself is to be aware of your inner voice and how you speak to yourself most of the time. If your inner critic runs rampant, try practicing positive affirmations and self-compassion instead. These self-compassion exercises can help you get started.
If you take one thing away from this piece, it should be to think before you speak. Consider how your words or the words of those around you may be affecting relationships. Look within and identify if your inner critic is a little too harsh. Build awareness of the words around you, make positive changes, and of course, be patient with yourself as you practice positive communication. You will see a world of difference in your life, your confidence, and your relationships. Never underestimate the power of words.