The power of words and judgments on our health

May 8, 2020

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.

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Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone suffering with any life challenge. 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 NetworkThe MightyPatient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his book (also on Amazon), or schedule a free coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram

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12 responses to “The power of words and judgments on our health”

  1. David Woolford says:

    Hi Tom

    How do I access your podcasts ?

    I have bought your book which I have read and refer to frequently

    Regards

    David Woolford

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Hi David – I don’t have my own podcast, but I have been a guest on a few. They are on the home page of this website. Thanks very much for what you said about my book! That really means a lot to me!

  2. Katie says:

    I totally agree. For me I will not use the word suffering, warrior, fighting. They just leave a bad vibe for me. I use journey, living with, managing, dealing with….

    • Tom Seaman says:

      I love your attitude! Thank you! I use many of the same phrases. I also try to not use the phrase “worryabout.”

  3. Teresa Catlin says:

    This was a great reminder to me to be careful of how I use my words to empower my thinking, especially on those difficult days.
    I am so happy that you have included the audio version with your blog posts, it is so helpful for me and I’m betting for many other people.
    Thank you also Tom that you have such a passion to help the rest of us that are dealing with the issues that dystonia and chronic illnesses. Your podcasts and blogs are most helpful. Keep up the good work and I will too!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Thank you Teresa. I also have to be careful and I like it when I catch myself. It helps me re-frame things so I see them from a better perspective. Thanks also about the audio portion. I enjoy doing that so I am happy to hear it helps!

  4. Linda Keesee says:

    Tom – 𝐓hank you so much for this article. It’s amazing how much the mind can control all aspects of the body. I do have a question. I have days when I feel well enough to push through even the smallest of physical goals and accomplish them. However, the following days are unbearably painful because of the exercise. Back to square one. How do you overcome this?

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Hi Linda. I agree! The mind is so powerful. More than I think we can ever realize. That is a good question about how to overcome the impact of pushing through activities. I think I would have to answer that with a question… what do you mean by “pushing through?” If the activity requires pushing through, it might be one to avoid or minimize and do the ones that come with more ease.

  5. Annette Catalano says:

    This article is so true and and totally describes what I’ve been doing to myself for years. I am going to try to follow your advice to turn my life around. My thoughts have been all negative for so long That I came to accept that this is my new normal and since I can’t change the past I can’t change the results. Thanks Tom!!!

    • Tom Seaman says:

      Thanks very much Annette. I think this is a habit most of us get into and when I have been able to notice and then change my words I feel so much better. Wishing you well!

  6. Janet Devos says:

    I will use this lesson in my daily talk and actions. Thank you

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