The words we choose matter. Although relationships with others can be complicated and confusing, words give us the ability to express ourselves and connect with others. Words are among the most powerful tools we have available to us.
People often struggle to find the right words when a loved one experiences a challenging time. Unfortunately, sometimes we avoid this person out of fear that we will say the “wrong” thing. It is natural to feel badly when someone we care about is in pain. However, these uncomfortable feelings do not have to drive us apart; rather, we can remember that it is perfectly normal and in fact, exceedingly honest, to simply admit we do not know the “right” words to say. In reality, the perfect words do not exist. People need to know that we are here for them, we are sorry they are facing problems, and we hope things get better. The words do not have to be magic; the true magic is found in the love and support we offer.
We serve as a role model for others, including our children and the young people around us, through the words we choose. I try very hard to remember this when emotions run high in our household, which might happen when it seems there is so much more time for electronics than chores. It is up to me to take ownership of my feelings and express in direct terms what change I am seeking. For instance, I might choose to say “I feel irritated when I come home and the dishwasher is still not unloaded. I am asking you again to please unload it.” These words do not transform a moody, sullen teenager into an instant ray of sunshine. They do, however, help me avoid a blame attack that escalates into an emotionally exhausting war of words. Hopefully, I am teaching those younger than I am that words allow us to ask for what we need and can open the door to productive conversation. I know I feel significantly less regret this way and as a bonus, there is a strong likelihood the dishwasher will get unloaded faster.
Many cases have been made in our larger society about the right to say whatever we want without worrying that it will offend someone else. I encourage us, though, to be aware that this trend can lead to dismissing others’ feelings in the name of uncensored expression and can be used to justify using words that unnecessarily harm others. When we continually dismiss other peoples’ feelings in favor of our own ability to express ourselves without limits, we fail to show the same respect and consideration that we would like shown to ourselves or our loved ones.
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life that we neglect to think about what we’re saying. It can be argued though, that nothing is more important than the relationships we are cultivating in the day-to-day, and communicating intentionally is one of the simplest and surest ways we can do so. Small, thoughtful sentences can have a strong impact: “I was wrong,” “I am sorry,” or “I care about you.” When we express ourselves in an honest and intentional way, we extend true connections to other people. These times are among the most meaningful in life, made possible in part through the amazing power of words.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.