The power of words and judgments on our health
I have lived with a neurological movement disorder called dystonia for 20 years. For the first 5 or so years, I looked at it as an evil intruder that ruined everything in my life. I had never been so chronically sick or angry before, which led to isolation, depression, and anxiety that I have spent years working through, on top of the physical symptoms of dystonia and unbearable pain.
Part of me at that time felt like my life was completely over so I gave up, isolated myself, and fell into depression. The other part of me was filled with rage over what dystonia and pain had taken from me. Looking back, I feel I had to go through all of it to learn more about myself, but it was a miserable existence that I probably didn’t need to emotionally endure for as long as I did. The physical symptoms were a different story, but my emotions fueled them to be worse, which is the focus of this article.
Much of the reason for my initial emotional challenges was my ego thinking I was better than this health condition and how dare it happen to me. After this initial emotional shock, an identity crisis set in and I struggled greatly with the emotional side of this disorder and how I characterized it. In other words, the words I used to describe my lot in life. My internal and external dialogue fed an angry beast inside me as my health continued to decline.
I had a revelation one day, after some other health scares, where I felt it was necessary to change my outlook if I wanted to get greater peace of mind to really understand what was going on with me and what options were available to try and get better the best I could. As silly as it might sound to some, I began by changing my words and how I was describing my life and my health challenges. I did A LOT of physical treatments as well, but I had to change my mindset to motivate me to pursue them. You can read more about this in my book, along with more details about all the various approaches to treating the physical and emotional symptoms of all health conditions.
Regarding my language, I first began by replacing the words “should” with “could” and “need” with “want.” As trite as it may sound, there are powerful distinctions. Should is nothing more than self-shaming and self-judging. Think of how it feels when someone else says, “you should do this or that.” It’s very minimizing, and we must understand that it is also minimizing when we say it to ourselves. The word “could” is open-ended and proactive, and creates options.
Replacing the word “need” with “want” created a lightness in me rather than some daunting task. For example, “I need to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to lose 20 pounds” (In my case, I had gained 150 pounds, so I had a lot more than 20 pounds I wanted to lose – see the photos below). The second sentence, the one that begins with, “I want to,” is far more motivating and fun sounding to me. “I need to” is punitive and “I want to” is energy producing because it promotes initiative.
Before continuing, the reason this is so important is because when we label something with negative words it creates a negative feeling and stores a negative emotion and memory in the body, which creates stressful biochemistry that prevents peace and healing. So, this is not just silly semantics. It’s biochemical and we need to acknowledge this fact.Every word we use sends a message to our brain that can impact our emotional and physical health Click To Tweet
I also stopped using the word “suffering.” Even though I was legitimately suffering with something very intense and still do at times with relatively persistent pain, this word made me feel like I was suffering more than I wanted. To this day, I rarely if ever use the word “suffering.” I use the words, “living with” or “dealing with” whatever challenge it is. When I use the word “suffering,” I feel like a suffering person, above and beyond what I might be at the moment, and I don’t want to be in this mindset. I don’t deny suffering. I just characterize it differently so it doesn’t depress me. We must remember that every word we use sends a message to our brain that can impact our emotional and physical health, so we must choose our words carefully.
Other words that I changed were those that brought up feelings of anger, guilt, resentment, and loss. It was a matter of changing the adjectives. For example, I used to say things like, “this stupid dystonia,” “my useless life,” or “my horrible pain ruined everything.” I said those things all the time, among others, and it made me feel even more miserable.
When we label something with an adjective, we give it life. If we label it with negative adjectives, it creates a negative feeling and stores a negative emotion in the body, which creates biochemistry that prevents healing. When we give loving adjectives to events and experiences, we create biochemistry that promotes healing. As I said above, this is not just semantics. Our words create habits of thinking that create our emotions. We can use words that create a low energy, painful sensation in the body, or words that create a high-energy, joyous feeling in the body, or one that is neutral; the second two being the goal.
Please choose your words carefully because they do have a powerful impact. I am not at all saying, “just be positive” and everything will be fine (please click here to read my article on this topic called, If you’re in pain, don’t “be positive.” Be honest). What I am saying is the words we use to describe anything in life create emotions that negatively or positively impact our relationship to our experiences, which in turn, impacts our health.
There are not a lot of things we can control in this world. What we can control are emotions, judgments, attitudes, and perspectives. If we exert control in these areas, we can make any life experience a positive or neutral one, which will reduce the stress impact on our mind and body.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and the author of 2 books: Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey (2015) and Beyond Pain and Suffering: Adapting to Adversity and Life Challenges (2021). He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his books (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.