Using Words: To Help Or To Harm

Using Words: To Help Or To Harm

Rachel Anderson photo 2017.jpeg

by Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
The power of the mind is in the words it kindles. Words Make Worlds is a statement attributed to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and has been the catalyst for many thinkers and researchers to consider the depth and breath of the concept and measure the impact words and thoughts have on the human psyche and behavior.
Psychologist call thinking self-talk while speaking is the words we choose to share with others. Every word you choose to think and speak impacts your present and future because it sets an important footprint in your brain, for picking up signals in the environment that will confirm your beliefs, view of reality, and ways you perceive what is and how to behave. That simply means that thinking and saying words can transform the structure of your brain and the nature of your reality, thereby moving you to act in certain ways.
In the book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, found Positive words, like “peace” and “love” can alter the expression of genes, strengthen areas in our frontal lobes and promote the cognitive functioning which lead to positive action and build resiliency.
Conversely, according to the authors, “Hostile language can disrupt the production of neurochemicals that protect us from stress.” Humans are hardwired to worry, go negative and imagine the worse. Our primal brains were designed that way to alert us to threats to our survival when the world was a very dangerous place. However, a single negative word can increase the fear center of the brain and interrupt the part of our brain that’s responsible for logic, reason, and language. For example, “Angry words send alarm messages through the brain, and partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes,” write Newberg and Waldman.
Over time the structure of the thalamus (our movement message center)changes in response to our conscious words, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. “A single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.” Using positive words rather than negative ones can activate the motivational centers of the brain, propelling them into positive action.
According to Newberg and Waldman, “The longer you concentrate on positive things, the better you feel and behave whereas a negative thought moves you toward suspicion and doubt.” SO, here is what we know for sure. Every word you choose to think and speak impacts your present and future because it sets an important footprint in your brain. A positive view of yourself helps toward seeing the good in others. The words we choose to think, the words we choose to speak are the most basic blueprint for being in the world.
We can choose to use our words to compel our best thoughts, greatest creativity, noblest ideals or to take us down a path of stress, frustration and negativity.
Words make worlds. The words we use do not merely describe our stories they create our lives. We are our thoughts, thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Too often these days, language has become double-talk, reduced to labels, fake news, name calling and lack of charity towards others. We have the ability and the responsibility to make that different. We must choose to use words to compel our best thoughts, greatest creativity, noblest ideals and remember that we are part of a mighty, ongoing story toward making this world a better place.
What’s A Person To Do?
1. Start today. Chose the words on which to focus your energy. If you notice your life isn’t exactly as you like, try changing several key words you use to in describe your life and your hopes for the future.
2. We each have a unique purpose that drives our best thoughts and produce our best behaviors. Every person is important to our individual and collective connection, success and productivity. What’s your contribution?
3. Make the critical shift forward by embracing your ability to use words, think thoughts that bring about positive change in your life and the lives of those you touch.
4. Choose words, thoughts and take actions that open the hearts and minds of yourself and others.
5. Like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, know that being human means doing good in the world.
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives in Tunica and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at for more articles and books she has written.


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