I mentioned this to both women, and we talked about the cultural standards in which each of us were raised. Despite being of different ethnic backgrounds, and having differing social conventions, we found a lot of not so happy similarities. All of us had experiences which suggested that as women, we were raised to be subservient to others, and often to act meeker and less knowledgeable than our male counterparts. We shared stories about how, if we asked for something, our needs came last. Or if we took charge of a situation, we were told to let the men handle it instead. Speaking up led to us being put down.
Now you’re probably thinking this post is going to be about the double standards in language for men and women, a treatise on social issues between two of the sexes in our society. And I could write about this - perhaps shall at another time. But as I reflected on this conversation later in the day, I thought to myself:
“At one point in all of our lives, words have been used to hurt, bully, or make us feel less than worthy. But if they have so much power over our way of being, can’t they also be used to heal, encourage, and inspire?”
You see, that innocent moment from the beginning of this piece, in which I asked about a necklace, but felt the need to apologize for essentially paying a compliment, is really about language. This lovely human’s response opened a line of thinking I felt the need to explore further.
Yes, words can disempower someone, but they can also uplift. And in case you need the proof, read on…
Imagine to yourself that the day sucks. Your vibes are low, everything seems to go wrong. You just want it to end. And then …something magical happens:
A coworker pays you a genuine compliment. Perhaps it is on how well you did on the last project. Or maybe they mention that you bring a wonderful energy to the workspace. But suddenly you feel better, and miraculously the day flows a bit smoother.
Why did this two second exchange, have such a profound effect on the trajectory of your day?
Scientists have been studying the effects of reinforcement on performance for quite some time. Apparently, being given verbal encouragement or admiration, increases positive outputs. (*1) Some studies link this result to the idea that a verbal pat on the back activates the area of the brain called the striatum. This is the same part of the brain triggered by rewards. (*2) Therefore accolades - in the form of a sincere and specific expression of praise - can actually boost someone’s work product, in the same manner as being given a bonus. Genuine encouragement creates an atmosphere in which someone is noticeably recognized and perceived as valued.
There’s a lot of science out there talking about the power of words to heal. Frequently though, they are referring to the various therapies involved in mental health, or the cathartic nature of writing, or speaking, to help resolve or find peace with traumatic events.
However if words can heal emotional issues, can they also help with physical ailments?
Religious factions often cite the power of prayer, propounding that petitions to a higher power can cure physical diseases. And anecdotal evidence suggests that whether by the words themselves, or the placebo effect, there may be some truth in these stories. Go anywhere in the world, and accounts abound by people asserting to have been healed, or personally know of someone who was healed, by spoken prayers.
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) has been investigating these claims for some time. In a 2009 article, scientists explained that the results of the studies were inconclusive. The issue was simple - it is really difficult to control this type of investigation. Too many variables existed, and not all of them quantifiably measurable. Yet according to the same analysis, the people who knew they were being prayed for generally had improved statistics for recovery or overall health, as compared to those who did not get prayed for. (*3)
The NLM also noted that meditation - in its various forms - has “been shown to result in psychological and biological changes that are actually or potentially associated with improved health”. And while I could not find science supported facts saying one type of meditation was more effective than the other, I will suggest that guided meditations, mantra meditations, and other word associated meditations, would most likely promote overall wellness as much as any of the other forms of meditation. A 2022 Mayo Clinic article, even suggested that meditation may at the very least, help manage physical symptoms of a disease, and thus be a valuable part of a treatment plan. (*4)
We’ve all seen the polarizing effect of words in politics, religion, ideologies, philosophy, etc. And nearly everyday one can find an instance online in which words are used to separate people into “us” vs “them”. But if language can tear us apart, can it not ALSO be used to cement the bonds that unite us?
I recently was feeling truly disconnected - like I was vanishing, similar to the time of quarantine. The only social interactions I had in person were at work, or running errands. My friends lived far away. And despite my best efforts, I hadn’t made headway into getting to know anyone locally. When I did meet people, it felt like all they wanted to do was emphasize how “different” I was for the way I live my life. For the first time, I sensed that not only did I not fit in, but that I was not welcomed in this area. This was an odd experience for a person who has felt at home in cities all around the globe - even when I didn’t speak the language.
In a voice message to my bestie, I communicated all of this, saying I realized I was spiraling into depression. And that while I was doing my best to uplift, stay focused, keep my mindset and perspective positive, parts of me were not getting seen or heard. Without authentic, healthy, social interactions, it struck me that I was virtually “disappearing” from society.
Now pop culture, would have taken my DM to my friend and responded with a “snap out of it”, take “pride in being a lone wolf” and focus on goals, or “stop wallowing and concentrate on things you have to be grateful for” approach. Yet taking that avenue of thinking would be gaslighting my own emotions, and potentially damage my mental health further by implying that how I felt was inconsequential.
Moreover, I start each day by writing out things I am thankful for - a practice I began long before it became fashionable on social media. And I continually and regularly examine my core values, and goals, to make sure that I am in alignment with my beliefs and priorities. In addition, a person can be grateful AND be struggling emotionally or mentally. One doesn’t preclude the other from occurring. It took a lot of courage for me to speak up to my closest friend about what I was experiencing. The question remained whether my words would be heard, or disregarded as inconsequential.
Fortunately my bestie, one of the most incredible women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, didn’t respond with pop psychology. She first let me know that my feelings were valid - especially given how isolated I am geographically from people within my inner tribe. She then assured me that I was missed, valued, and loved. And she reminded me that I would soon be in a more community friendly area once I moved - a plan that I was actively working on, and for which she was proud of me. In short, she took my words to heart, she listened, and she responded in a way that impressed upon me that I was seen and heard. She expressed empathy and treated me with consideration. After listening to her messages, I felt uplifted, appreciated, and cared for - even though she was a whole continent away from me.
Think about how many times, a text from a friend, a card in the mail, or a simple call, has touched you and strengthened a bond with someone you love. And conversely think about how many times, you wished you heard a loving message from someone. Or perhaps you meant to send one, but got busy with the minutiae of life and thought “it doesn’t matter” because they “must know” how much you care. Although we don’t want our internal state to be completely reliant on whether we receive conscious and consistent communication from others, we cannot deny that words have an intimate effect on our inner peace. And science backs this idea up.
In the 1990s, Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto, conducted several studies on the power of words using water. In those experiments, positive and negative messages were found to beneficially or adversely affect the water depending on what was written AND spoken to it. (*5) For example, in some scenarios, pure water was poured into vials, that were then subsequently labeled with words. Twenty four hours later the vials of water were frozen and their crystals analyzed under microscopes. The water which had been labeled with unkind words like “I hate you” produced damaged misshapen crystals. Conversely, he poured polluted water into vials, and labeled them with phrases like “I love you” and “peace”. After subjecting them to the same freezing process, the polluted samples somehow had “healed” and now were producing perfect crystals. His experiments with water, and later rice, in which spoken words were added to the process, demonstrated that there was a definite connection between the words, and the inanimate subjects tested. So is it any wonder that both speech and writing can enhance a bond between friends?
According to Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, “The Four Agreements”, the first rule to follow is to “be impeccable with your word”. He goes on to explain that what we say can create a beautiful version of “heaven” on earth, or our own personal idea of hell. He argues that words have such power, that those spoken to harm another, actually ALSO harm ourselves. And those used to spread truth and love, will allow you to manifest your own happiness. (*6)
So it is entirely reasonable to suggest, therefore, that your own words, can not only empower others, but just as importantly, yourself. And thus if you speak kindly, lovingly, and encouragingly with your internal voice, you give yourself the optimum conditions to create, achieve, and feel your best. And isn’t that quite magical?
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Tink, world traveler, positivity muse, and adult entertainer, has also freelance written for a number of companies as their ghostwriter. Now talking directly to YOU on this platform, she is also writing two books at her community's request.