Creating Healthy Environments: Why Words Matter
Remember the nursery rhyme that we used to fend off cutting remarks: “stick and stones will break my bones yet words will never hurt me” Yet words can and do hurt. Words have a great potency to wound but also to heal.
We can use language to heal and energises ourselves and heal and energise people around us. We create the environment within ourselves and we contribute to the emotional and psychological environment around us.
We can also use language to create systematic doubt in ourselves and in others. We can use language to attack, defile, ridicule and in doing so, destroy our own self-value and that of others. Our inner voice is as important as what we say out loud. Often we allow this to run on automatic pilot, and not consider its impact. Think about that. One of the most insidious impacts of negative self- talk and negative talk AKA gossip: is that it undermines your own self value and someone else’s reputation.
We learnt all about the power of words when we were growing up and our self-value is influenced mostly by authority figures and the people who are responsible for our safety, education and well-being, such as our parents and teachers. Careless and callous comments such as “you are not trying hard enough”, “you are not as clever as your brother” can seed in a young mind and configure the default programing. This remains dormant and maybe triggered by situations, comments and comparisons which take the person back to the emotions of the original event even though the current circumstances may be very different to the original event.
So, what happens when this is triggered? The part of the brain responsible for protection, the amygdala, is stimulated and our energy is diverted into survival mode. We baton down the hatches to get out of the perceived danger or we fight our way out or remain completely inert. This is known as the Flight, Fight and Freeze reaction. Fear, anxiety and rage release adrenaline and cortisol and these stress hormones can limit our ability to respond appropriately. The Fight-Flight-Freeze mode creates the language of internal civil war.
The second thing that needs our prominent attention is our self-talk. How we talk to ourselves makes an enormous difference. Consciously switching the narrative from defeating words such as “You idiot!” and “You are useless” to “You can find a way forward” and “You can do this.” The first style self-talk reinforces negative conditioning and creates further stress. It does not comfort or create a better outcome, it scuppers our chances of succeeding. If we do succeed by overcoming enormous challenges, we put it down to being a fluke. not our own agency
This again takes us out of our authentic power to create change. This is also different from positive thinking that discards important pieces of information that need attention. The second style of self- talk builds inner trust and confidence that is rooted in optimism and perseverance. Strong characters building requires optimistically assertive self-talk which Is very different from Pollyanna style denial or internal character attacking.
Under pressure, let’s speak to ourselves with encouragement and determination. Focus on the process not the outcome. In the moment, these are the things that count.
Talk with Others
When we talk to others, let’s not regurgitate bad things about another person because we have heard it from another source. Let’s check our sources and check our intentions. Gossiping about another person will not make us more virtuous, stronger or braver. It does the opposite. Just cut it out or decide to limit it.
I know that I am far from impeccable with my word, still fall into the habit of gossiping and putting myself down. Yet I am becoming more aware of the damage this creates for myself and others and wanted to share my thoughts. Let’s never underestimate the power of our words whether spoken or unspoken. Noticing is the beginning of a positive shift and I have always found the passage below a poignant reminder of where all this leads:
Be careful of your thoughts, your thought become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become habits. Be careful of your habits, for you habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
Chinese proverb. Author unknown