Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Power of Language: Part 1 Rigid Words.

By Sheana Tobey, MA, LPC

Language plays a powerful role in our lives. It allows us to communicate with others and with our Selves. The language we use can either open us up to considering multiple options and outcomes, or it can close us off from them. In the next three posts, I will pose three basic categories of words and phrases that tend to keep us from being open and accepting: rigid words, pressure words, and negating words.
          Today, I will talk about rigid words, including always, never, exactly, only, every, and none. These words tend to close us off from other possibilities or outcomes. For example, last week I was changing my sheets, and, as usual, I struggled with the fitted sheet. I often have a tough time knowing which is the long side and which is the short side. I took my best guess and got angry with myself when I got it wrong, thinking “Uggghhhh… I never do this right.” I ripped the sheet off, turned it around, and put it on the bed; I was in a bad mood for about 10 minutes before I realized what happened. I had insulted myself, and a part of me felt insecure and belittled.
          A mental fight ensued, leaving me in a bad mood. Can you imagine how much more peaceful that 10 minutes would have been had I said to myself “I often have difficulties putting a fitted sheet on the bed”? Go back and read that last sentence in an angry tone. It doesn’t have the same effect, does it? By nature of the word choice, it is a more accepting statement.
           Now, let’s double back to the time I was in a bad mood. Imagine that my partner was in the room with me, asking for my help with the laundry. Perhaps my patience was limited because I was preoccupied with the mental battle within. I may have snapped at him and told him to figure it out himself. This is one of the ways the language we use with ourselves can seep out and affect our relationships with others. 
            You can change the quality of these rigid statements by following these steps. 
  1. Recognize that you’ve used one of the rigid words with yourself or someone else.
  2. Take a step back from it--perhaps with a deep breath--and consider with curiosity the validity of it. Is it true that “I NEVER put a fitted sheet on correctly?” Of course not! I’ve gotten it right at least one time in my life.
  3. Change the phrase into a more accurate statement: “I often have difficulties putting a fitted sheet on the bed.”

         A key to doing this work is to leave judgement out of it. This week, I encourage all of you to try Step 1. Take time to notice when you use a rigid word. Notice what it does to your mood and how it effects your day, without judgement.  When you feel ready, continue on with steps 2 and 3.  It is easiest to begin stepping back from and changing words and phrases in less emotionally charged statements or subject matter. So begin there and work your way up. Remember that eliminating these words from your vocabulary takes time, so go easy on yourself as you begin the process.       
            Over the next two posts, we will look at the other two categories, pressure words and negating words, to create more space for peace and acceptance within.

Sheana is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Awakening Center working with individuals and groups. She creates an empathic, accepting environment in which she walks with her clients on a path toward peace and happiness. For inquiries or to set up an appointment, please contact her at (773)929-6262 Ext. 16 or


  1. I so so so appreciate a post like this, where we are encouraged to become aware of the language we use to shape our reality of our world. It reminds me a lot of the framework of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, where you begin to realize that the subconscious fully accepts what we present to it, such as a scenario above, where, when we use absolute terms like always, never, only, exactly, etc, the subconscious accepts that as "truth" and starts looking for ways to validate that, which sometimes manifests itself as anger, frustration and the like.

    I commend you, Sheana, for sharing this concept here, The Awakening Center for having a forum like this and I very much look forward to parts 2 & 3.

    My best,