Words carry power. Therefore, language is our superpower.
As an undergraduate, my major was a hybrid study between Linguistics and Psychology. Though the curriculum was heavily focused on the cognitive mechanisms and components behind language, it was visibly evident that language is anything but mediocre. Just the basics can tell us this: we’re the only animals that can produce speech.
Our linguistical rules utilize meaningful symbols, have a grammatical system, and even ties in paralinguistics to infer thought, emotion, and intention. Fascinating enough, we even have generalizability; the ability to produce an infinite amount of unique phrases that no one has ever said before and may not ever say again.
According to Lieberman (2014), the structures behind our vocalization are so exquisitely designed that we can produce clear utterances without needing perfect precision in the movement of our lips and tongue. Lieberman theorizes that it is specifically this which arguably allowed modern humans to survive and outbreed our former evolutionary cousins, such as the Neantherdals (2014). Our complex but great ability to communicate and cooperate was and is our greatest advantage. But despite how amazing language and our linguistic abilities are, words can also be our ultimate weakness.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), there’s a strong focus on thoughts and ways of thinking. Essentially, the focus lays on the words we use to interpret the world external and internal to us. The process starts with breaking down the thinking patterns that lead to an anxious or depressed state (for example); bringing into awareness the words being used and the meaning being conveyed. Once these notions have been identified, the rest of the work is focused on changing these thinking patterns to produce “healthier ways of thinking” that are “more positive.” The emphasis in CBT is primarily on thought itself and the words being used.
Another example is our insecurities. Sure, we may feel insecure, but what does this really mean? In close sight, insecurities are the words we tell ourselves. The stories we construct that we’re not good enough. Again, we use our own linguistic abilities against ourselves, using it to construct this discomfort about the vary basis of who we are. And when we begin to work on our insecurities and reverse their effects, often at times it starts with words. Using positive affirmation. Talking about the root cause. Weaving in the beliefs we would like to hold instead.
Dianetics is something I’ve learned about recently. In its essence, it theorizes that aberration, an abnormal alteration from one’s mental state, is caused by engrams. Engrams are emotional stores filed in what they call the “engram bank” within the “reactive mind.” When these engrams are contacted, it causes negative emotional reactions, impulsive behaviors, or disordered thinking. What these engrams contain are painful words and phrases that are the source of mental health disorders or conditions (aberration). How these engrams are received, recorded, and later stored is beyond my point. But the essence is that even in this theory, words are the root cause of aberration.
Bullying and abuse can take many forms. But a common but yet painful form is verbal. Very early on, many of us learn that words hurt. They leave internal scars and leave us ruminating about our worth for weeks, months, or even years thereafter. In essence, words misused can be a weapon of their own. Therefore, even though it may have been our greatest advantage of surviving, it can even become its own form of battle.
It’s clear that words can be our weakness. They may break down our self-esteem, tear away our self-worth, compose our internal narratives. But because words and language are our evolutionary advantage, they carry a lot of power and integrity as well.
Prayer comes in many forms. Even though it’s often thought of within a religious lens, prayer can be a hymn. A conversation. A ritual of sorts. It can be done as a community, with a partner, or alone. Interestingly enough, research has shown that prayer, directed to someone or something, or even to oneself, can be very powerful. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, in his blog post Prayer Changes Everything, he explains how prayer allows us to imagine a better future for ourselves or others, setting an intention for what could be, and allowing us to feel the positive emotions that streamline in accordance to this anticipative future. Allowing us to already live in the future that we’re thinking of in the very moment. Our words, therefore, can lead us away from the fears from of the past and be the source of a better tomorrow.
Many of us even rely on music as a form of expression or coping. Although there’s plenty of beautiful instrumental music out there, what tends to resonate with us the most are the lyrics of a heart-touching, spirit-enhancing, soul-awakening song. The lyrics, the words, touch a part of ourselves that we may be scared to explore on our own. They let us know that we’re not alone. The meaning of the words seemingly opens up all the dark, enclosed corners of our hearts because language with rhythm speaks to the soul.
A growing movement in the spaces of mental health and wellness is the practice of gratitude and the use of affirmations. Counting our blessings and relaying positive beliefs allow us to go into a state of abundance, wholeness, and prosperity. It states to our mind that we have all that we need, that we are complete, and that we are blessed. And even though this can be difficult for those experiencing harsh times, gratitude and affirmations allow us to see that despite the struggles, we still have so much at hand. And these words of gratitude and affirmation hold power. They signal to our bodies to let go of the feelings of scarcity, fear, and rigidness and instead convince us to be open-minded, receptive, and expansive.
At this point, it’s become evident that the words we tell ourselves are perhaps the most important. Self-talk and positive thinking are not solutions to our problems. But they allow us to be in a mental and psychological state where we may have the confidence to face adversity. Even if we fail, we know how to talk ourselves to getting back up. Even if everything seems to be falling apart, we know how to think of a better future. We know how to feed our mind and body the words, the affirmations, the prayers, the lyrics, the thoughts, to build a stronger foundation of ourselves. Words can be dangerous, but they are also our secret weapon to being braver than ever before.
Words can make us or break us. Language creates the foundation of who we are; composed of fears, insecurities, and resentments, or of gratitude, hopefulness, and integrity. The majority of our thoughts, most of our memories, parts of our intuition, all revolve around language. Our communication with others, our forms of expression, our way of perceiving the world, all revolve around language to some degree. We’re linguistical creatures. Our words carry our past, present, and future. If we want to change our lives, if we want to make a difference, if we want to become the best version of ourselves, we must watch our words. The words we say, the words we think, the words we sing, the words we pray. In addition to the words, thoughts, and intentions we hear and receive from others.
Words carry power. Therefore, language is our superpower.
Lieberman, D. (2014). The Gift of Gab. The story of the human body: Evolution, health, and disease ( pp.141–149). New York: Vintage Books.Hubbard, L. R.
(2007). Dianetics: The modern science of mental health: A handbook of Dianetics procedure. Los Angeles, CA: Bridge Publications.