Why Our Words Matter

“Be careful of words

Even the miraculous ones…..

Words and eggs must be handled with care

Once broken they are impossible

Things to repair.”

from Words by Anne Sexton

Words matter.  They have the capacity to motivate, inspire and heal.  They can also create staggering pain and damage relationships beyond repair.  They can entice those we love to draw closer, and they can put up walls that are impossible to climb over.  If we wish to nurture our relationships it behooves us to take exquisite care with our words.

All too often we blurt out the first thought that enters our heads, or driven by hurt and anger we lash out, not realizing the damage we do.  Perhaps the most famous and tragic example of this took place almost a thousand years ago.  Henry II of England, drunk, and reeling from what felt like the betrayal of his once close friend Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, cried out “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”  Three of his knights took him at his word and rode to Canterbury and murdered the Archbishop.  When Henry heard what had happened he was devastated and almost lost his throne over the popular outcry.

While our thoughtless words might not bring down thrones, they can do irreparable damage to our relationships.  We often don’t realize just how much impact our choice of words has.  A fun experiment (well, at least an interesting one) is to see the impact of our words in real space.  Stand facing each other.about a foot apart, and take turns talking about something that is an area of mild disagreement.  If something your partner says makes you feel closer to them, move one step forward.  If what they say makes you feel distant, take a step backwards.  You will soon see how powerful your choice of words can be.

While each of us is different here are some hints of words that hurt and words that help.

WORDS THAT HURT:

Cursing, threats, accusations, broad character put downs, being dismissive, sarcasm and criticism

WORDS THAT HELP

Expressing love and appreciation, curiosity, compassion, support, reassurance, humor.

Of course there are many more in both categories.  One way to explore this further is a simple dialogue starting with the questions:  What are the words you most long to hear from me?  And what are the words that I sometimes use that may push you away?

Here is the rest of Anne Sexton’s poem:

“Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.”

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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