Words are very important when it comes to proper communication and coexistence among people. However, great attention must be given as to how we use words, which ones we choose in order to give the precise meaning when we are communicating, and also it is important to think about when we choose to use them. Not all moments are appropriate for proper communication. This is important because words can cause certain brain waves to occur through the way one listens to them, which happen inside the brain and which in turn might cause uncomfortable behaviors and might trigger emotions, fears, memories, hopes etc.
Words have such power, that one in fact can compare them to the significance of the scalpel during a surgical procedure. They are cognitive events and their job is to deliver a meaning through consciousness. Furthermore, they resemble human thinking. Perception is not the same in everyone. Not everybody perceives things in the same way. It is not uncommon for people to say one thing and actually mean another or believe certain things and do otherwise. This is where selfishness and vanity are imprinted.
The improper use of words can make us sick.
First of all, it is important to pay attention to ourselves and understand how we communicate with other people. Inside every one of us exist two selves. The first one has the tendency to repeat words which have been heard repeatedly and which expresses ideas, predispositions and what is usually said and heard. The second self reflects the true nature of who we are inside, our unique character and the choices we make authentically. This is where we need to be cautious because if our first self is in charge, we easily slip into emotional imbalance which is very dangerous for our overall happiness and health.
We are used to believing that others are responsible for the misfortunes and difficulties we experience from the external environment throughout our life. This way we end up believing that other people are making us miserable and sick. However, this is not the case. It might be true that what we perceive from our environment may be hurtful and might even frighten us, but the disappointments we encounter can change as time goes by and furthermore the wounds we have, heal. The problem is that when we are experiencing negative emotions due to our misfortunes for a long time, or even depression, all of this is based on wrong cognitive schemas and on unresolved internal battles which make it difficult for our genuine energy and creativity to be expressed.
At this point I would like to mention the stoic philosopher Epictetus (50-138 A.D) who thought that education was what established his freedom. He used to say that “it’s not the events themselves that scare people, it’s the idea people have about the events”.
Words always have an emotional investment.
Oftentimes, words we hear from other people can charge us emotionally so much that we end up loosing our logical way of thinking and we feel emotionally paralyzed. Unfortunately, this way it’s easy to act counteroffensive and end up losing a possible chance to build a good and stable relationship with a person.
When we feel paralyzed it’s because we look at things from our own perspective only, but we must keep in mind that this way of thinking and feeling is derived from our own negative experiences. Events though have another side too, one that we are not aware of. Our dysfunctional cognitive schemas are responsible for not letting us discover other more functional ways of living. We all have another side of looking at things within us that is opposite to the one that made us feel paralyzed. That’s where we can find the best solutions to our problems. That side of us can only act when we decide to lower our selfishness and get in a state of mind which is a long way off of dysfunctional thinking, false beliefs and role models, in order to give our mind the chance to activate positive functions that it already has. Phrases such as “what will others think of me” or “what will others say about me”, often get us in a position of feeling accused and therefore we feel that we have to apologize or feel bad about ourselves. However, the real judge is within us and this has to do with the values and beliefs each of us have and follow in our lives. It is our conscience. Our self esteem cannot improve if we constantly compare ourselves to others. In fact, it can only improve when we quiet down and listen to our real self without any criticism.
Socrates who was a Greek philosopher (469-399 B.C) and the teacher of the dialectic method, used to tell his students to filter what they say to someone. He claimed that before speaking one must think of three things: How true is what I am about to say? How kind is what I am about to say? How useful is what I am about to say? Otherwise, there is no reason to speak at all.
Words can be a very powerful tool that we can use in many circumstances such as at the work place, how we talk to our spouse, and so on. Due to personal conveniences though, or selfish goals, false beliefs etc., we might often use words that will belittle the other person. When this happens, the Rosenthal effect or the so called effetto Pigmalione takes place in which the person who is being criticized acts in the same way as the one who is criticizing him/her in an attempt to feel better when in reality he/she exonerates and justifies the blamer. This is how a false cycle establishes within a relationship in which one person becomes a stooge for the other one.
Culture impacts words directly.
It is well known that in different cultures and societies, the use of the same words can cause different reactions. The way a person perceives and understands the meaning of the words has to do with his/her beliefs, knowledge status, and the general attitude towards life at that given time. In other words, perception and cognition of a person has a lot to do with the culture in which he/she lives. In the western cultures, we usually focus on what the other person is saying, ignoring where he/she is really coming from and whether he/she is being influenced positively or negatively, and this way we tend to classify people in a way that suits us.
In societies where collectiveness is in charge, the person tends to blend in with the others in order to not stand out in contrast to western industrial societies where individualism is being encouraged.
Therefore, the way a person expresses him/her self and the words he/she uses differs a lot among societies.
After all that I have stated about the power of words, I hope that all of us better understand how to use words in such a way that will make our coexistence easier and more harmonic.
Spyros Metaxas Psychiatrist-Psychotherapist