The Power of Words: Recognizing and Reclaiming the Power that Words Have Over Us, By Cassandra Michel

The Power of Words: Recognizing and Reclaiming the Power that Words Have Over Us

By Cassandra Michel

You’ve probably read somewhere or heard someone say that words are powerful, but have you ever taken a moment to reflect on that idea? We use words every day to interact with others and convey ideas, thoughts, and feelings, yet we seldom think about the magnitude of the words we use daily. As a spoken word poet, I constantly think about how powerful words are because I enjoy the beauty of putting words together to convey ideas that I have. Words— are free tools that we have, so it’s important that we take some time to reflect on the power of words, especially their impact on our mental health.

Words influence our lived experience
Research has found that the brain responds to words such that it affects the way in which we experience the world (Lovering, 2022). Indeed, the choice of language that one uses can change the way a person feels and perceives the events around them. In fact, words can affect us all on an emotional level whereby someone expressing kindness towards us can make us feel good while expressions of negativity might bring us down (Lovering, 2022)

Words can cause pain
According to a neuroscience experiment examining how words cause pain, Richter et al., determined that negative words release both stress and anxiety-inducing hormones. These negative words are often related to negative self-talk. Negative self-talk is the act of using negative words towards our selves. This negative self-talk can be dangerous and contribute to long-term anxiety (Kruse, 2022). Negative self-talk can become so normal to us that sometimes we don’t even recognize that we are engaging in it. For example, if you’re stressed about an exam or a job interview, you might say “I am not smart enough” or “I’ll never be successful” as a way of coping with your feelings. Talking to yourself in that manner can make you feel worse and increase your stress levels.

As an undergraduate student, there were so many times where I had to catch myself when I engaged in negative self–talk. When I noticed that I was talking to myself negatively, I would ask myself where those thoughts were coming from and if they were true. For instance, if I said, “I won’t do well on this test,” I would ask myself why I felt that way. I would also ask myself what I can do to make sure when the test date came around, I felt prepared to take the exam. I learned to switch my negative self-talk to positive self-talk.

Positive Self-Talk & Affirmations
Contrary to negative self-talk, positive self-talk helps reduce stress, depression, and increases self-esteem, happiness, and one’s overall life satisfaction (BetterSleep, 2022). Instead of being your own worst critic, you can practice positive self-talk through using positive affirmations. Affirmations can best be understood as statements that you repeat to yourself (BetterSleep, 2022). To be effective, affirmations should be short, simple, specific, and easy to remember. If done correctly, positive verbal affirmations can lift you up (Lovering, 2022). Positive affirmations are a great tool to help turn negative self-talk into positive self-love.

Here are some examples of positive affirmations you can start using to brighten up your day:

“I am getting better and better every day”
“I am strong”
“I am driven by my future, not defined by my past”
“Today will be a productive day”

Protecting yourself from hurtful words
Exercising consistent positive thoughts and speech can truly change self-perception (Kruse, 2022). In fact, our words become our thoughts and our thoughts become our actions. More positive thoughts have the potential to increase more positive actions towards ourselves and others. The following are some ways in which we can protect ourselves from hurtful words

Be mindful of criticism
Criticism can be constructive. If you’re going to critique yourself, make sure it’s constructive and not out of self-deprecation.

Go on a negativity diet
We are exposed to so much negativity that we become numb to it. I am not saying engage in toxic positivity and not recognize the bad in the world (we don’t want to create a dystopian future). However, when you find yourself wanting to complain about the trivial things in life, try to reframe the negative thought into a positive thought.

Surround yourself with positive and uplifting words
I love quotes! My college dorm was filled with positive and uplifting quotes that often inspired me when I needed some encouragement. Find positive and uplifting words and find unique ways to surround yourself with them.

Cassandra Michel recently graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Science. She studied Psychology and Community and Applied Psychological Studies with minors in English and Biology. At the University of Miami, she served as the co-chair of Counseling and Outreach and Peer Education (COPE) where she led a diverse group of peer educators who are passionate about de-stigmatizing mental health across the UM campus community. She is passionate about integrating her interests in research, service, and minority communities to understand structural factors that drive health disparities related to criminal justice and mental health. As a spoken word-poet, Cassandra is also passionate about using poetry as a medium to empower others, increase suicide awareness, and spread a message of hope.

BetterSleep. (2022, September 8). I Am Affirmations: The Power of Positive Self-Talk. Better Sleep.
Kruse, T. (2022, March 31). The Neuroscience Behind Our Words – BRM Institute. BRM Institute.

Lovering, C. (2022, October 10). Do Words Have the Power to Change Your Brain? Psych Central.
Richter, M., Eck, J., Straube, T., Miltner, W. H. R., & Weiss, T. G. (2010). Do words hurt? Brain activation during the processing of pain-related words. Pain, 148(2), 198–205.
The Scary Power of Negative Words. (2022, July 26). Goop.