In this week’s spotlight I wish to discuss the power of words on our brains. We all remember the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well the fact is, this old stale saying is not only false on its face, but research has shown that words can indeed physically alter your brain.
Words that Change
Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman have observed changes in the brain due to the words we use, including those that arise in our thoughts. Think of that for a minute. Words like peace and love can strengthen areas in the frontal lobe, giving rise to increased cognitive function and even arguably influencing the expression of our genes.
Conversely, negative hostile words like hate can influence the production of neurochemicals, increasing the production of stress producing hormones. Additionally, angry words have been shown to interrupt the optimal operation of our logic-reason centers in the frontal lobe.
In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Newberg and Waldman report their findings this way:
“By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action. And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with. A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will tend you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.”
In a paper published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Martin Teicher and colleagues at Harvard Medical School share the results of a new study that revealed:
“. . . those individuals who reported experiencing verbal abuse from their peers during middle school years had underdeveloped connections between the left and right sides of their brain through the massive bundle of connecting fibers called the corpus callosum. Psychological tests given to all subjects in the study showed that this same group of individuals had higher levels of anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, dissociation, and drug abuse than others in the study.” 1
Bottom line, what you think, how you talk to yourself, the way you verbalize your feelings—all of this has a very real influence on your brain and therefore your body/mind being. Not only that, but the way you express yourself to others may have a lasting effect on both of you!
Mind as Healer or Mind as Slayer
For years I have taught the importance of the thoughts we hold, our self-talk, that inner dialogue that goes on almost incessantly, because these thoughts can and often do become things. Our thoughts, our mind, can be seen as our best friend or our worst enemy, and we have the ability to develop it either way. Mind as healer or mind as slayer—it’s really up to you.
My advice, tend to the thoughts you have. Cancel those you do not wish to claim. Replace them with a positive set of self-affirming, life-affirming words. Look for beauty, awe, love, and joy in everything and when you catch a glimpse of it, hold it in your thoughts, dwell on it, enjoy it, and accept the miracle that life is.
Now one more thing, remember that the research clearly shows that it is our subconscious that makes our decisions, so remember to work on actively changing the self-destructive programming that may exist there.
As always, thanks for the read and I appreciate your feedback.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions
1. Fields, R. D. 2010. “Sticks and Stones–Hurtful Words Damage the Brain.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-brain/201010/sticks-and-stones-hurtful-words-damage-the-brain