Here are some examples of powerful words: “You’re Fired”, “I love you”, “you’re stupid”, and “we’re having a baby!”. And here’s the amazing POWER of words – these same words may not mean the same thing to each one of us! “You’re fired” may invoke fear for some or relief for others. “We’re having a baby” may feed joy & excitement or it may feed anger & mistrust.
This leads us to two critical points about the POWER of words:
1) Don’t assume to know what someone is feeling; and 2) be careful with the words you choose to use.
One of the most important questions I ask when I am talking to someone about a problem or situation is: “help me understand what the means for you.” This isn’t just a therapy question – it’s one I believe everyone should ask in everyday situations. As I was writing this I realized I did this even before I became a therapist, probably thanks to my father…more on him later! Not only does asking these words show you are a caring and empathetic person, it can prevent great miscommunications. Have you ever heard this saying: “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me!” (Sorry, hope I didn’t offend anyone!) Thanks to my high school English teacher for that saying!
The second critical point is be careful with the words you choose to use. Words can heal or hurt, encourage or discourage, lift a person up or tear them down. To me, there is no such things as “ I didn’t mean it”. I teach people in my workshops that when they themselves are filled with emotion, that is not the time to speak! Take action to get the level lower and then speak. We must choose our words wisely – once you speak it, it can never be taken back.
This brings me to a story I once heard. I don’t know who is responsible for it so I can’t give proper credit (If you know, please tell me!). Here goes:
There were two rabbits that fell in to an empty well. They both tried hopping as hard as they could to get out. Hearing the yelling of those above who’d gathered around to see what had happened, one rabbit gave up and died. The second rabbit kept on hopping as hard as he could. The crowd kept on yelling: “it’s no use”, “you can’t do it”, “you might as well give up”. With one more try, the rabbit hopped with all his might and was able to jump out! Someone in the crowd said “didn’t you hear us yelling it was no use, that you were stuck?” The rabbit replied: “Oh, I am deaf. I didn’t hear a thing. I thought you were all cheering me on!”
The point of this story is that words can be POWERFUL – they can mean life or death.