The Power of Language

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Our words create our reality.” In fact, language ( a system of written words and symbols that we use to communicate) can be an incredibly powerful framework for determining the reality in which we live. While it is a remarkable tool that we use to seed new beliefs in our subconscious, unfortunately, many of us are mostly unaware of how we are using language—and how it may be contributing to our suffering.

The words we use, both in our internal and external dialogue, are supremely important. When it comes to the relationship between thought, language, perception, and behavior, thinking occurs first. Feelings come soon after, and this then influences our behavior. Language is the bridge between what we think and what we do. It’s also a tool we can use to change our thoughts, perception, and behavior.

In other words, “saying is believing,” whether we are saying it to ourselves or out loud to someone else. Scientists who have worked with the physiology of perception have noted that self-talk is a huge determining factor in what we think and how we feel. More than just boosting one’s confidence, it is capable of remodeling our internal belief systems.

This is great news for all of us. If we can change how we feel by the words we use, our awareness can have ripple effects. This is especially crucial in the process of forgiveness, in part, because self-love is one of the most important components of the process. When we engage in self-talk that is violent or unkind, we simply reinforce our belief that something is wrong with us. When we are cruel or aggressive in our language toward others, we might judge ourselves as having failed—or we might simply allow ourselves to be seduced by our skewed perceptions of others. (“It was their fault.” “Why should I be sorry? They were in the wrong!”) This is a choice to suffer no matter the facts of the situation. 

We truly do act out of the words that we say. In fact, our words are not simply a form of communication with other people; they are a kind of internal communication that enables us to define what we feel about ourselves and the world.

When we thoughtfully consider the language we use, we have an opportunity to see what is happening in our internal landscape. What many will find is a virtual battlefield of internal conflict grounded in more fear than we were consciously aware of; this can also open our eyes to the judgments and assumptions we make about ourselves, others, and the nature of reality. It is a chance to see how we really feel.

Here are some examples of language that can be counterproductive and often harmful:

  • Words that use violent or gruesome imagery. This might include sayings like “the end of the world,” or “cut off.” How about “battlefield?” In a workshop, I heard a woman who said that she felt “cut off from the herd,” in relationship to an unresolved conflict with her family. When we use violent language to describe our reality, we are subtly perpetuating fear and traumatizing ourselves. Although we may believe that we are describing something that exists in reality, we are not. How can a person be “cut off from a herd?” Can your internal dialogue really be a “battlefield”?
  • Generalizations. Words such as “always” and “never” leave little room for nuance and questioning; not to mention the truth. When we say things like “You never do what you say you’re going to do,” or “I always make the wrong choices,” we are telling ourselves that the thing that we judge is and will always be a problem. This negatively impacts our fear response, because we are saying we are powerless and stuck.
  • Value judgments. These include “good,” “bad, “right,” and “wrong.” If we say something like “What that person did is wrong,” what we are reinforcing is our judgment—and we are making it harder to consider an alternate possibility. The thing is, we don’t have to accept that the other person was right. But there is simply no power in repeating and solidifying our judgment, particularly if it only serves to cause us to feel further suffering.

It is possible to raise your awareness of the language you use to relate to yourself and others. An exercise in consciously using language is a powerful way to increase awareness and presence; after all, you can’t be aware of what you are saying without being present in the moment. Exercising the ability to observe our language trains us to become more present more often, which increases our ability to heal in general. One way to do this is to listen to yourself as if hearing an echo. Hear what you are saying (in your head or out loud) after you speak it. This switches us from the observed to the observer—where awareness resides.

Awareness is not merely an exercise in knowledge; more than being a discursive process, it brings us more deeply into our bodies and the full living reality of our feelings and inner experiences. We are learning to use our heads and our hearts.

In offering ourselves affirmations of self-compassion and wholeness—such as “My words are kind and powerful,” “My words heal myself and others,” “My language reflects truth, beauty, and mutual goodwill”—we can shift from a thinking capacity to a feeling capacity that puts us in touch with the experience of love.

Love is at the center of presence. When we attune ourselves to the ultimate reality of the universe, we discover that the judgments we harbor and the words that construct our sense of reality are false. The only plain truth that remains is that of our interconnectedness. When we surrender to this truth, it can change our systems of communication from the inside out. Can you imagine a world in which a language of love, acceptance, awareness, and thoughtfulness prevails? It may seem difficult to envision in our current global climate, but make no mistake: The key to healing and to building these new realities rests within us, the choices we make, and our willingness to be open to the truth that persists beyond judgment.