“Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest of happiness or deepest despair, they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.” Sigmund Freud.
Our Austrian friend certainly knew a thing or two about the human mind. The use of language and how it affects our daily emotional life is a fascinating subject that has undergone much research.
All over the world people are chewing breakfast over their morning papers and harrumphing over the latest governmental shenanigans. In billions of houses people are logging into various social networks and on-line forums, and venting spleen and vitriol about every subject under the sun. In fact it seems that the less a subject affects one personally, the more vitriol is generated – the upset caused by cyber-bullying and tweeting trolls (as demonstrated in the case of diver Tom daley) certainly seems to illustrate this.
Yet it is interesting that I have started this article focusing on the negative reaction to provocatively negative language. Language, and how we use it, has a huge impact on our daily emotions. Albert Bandura, who wrote a paper entitled Self Efficacy Conception of Anxiety (1988) commented: “People frighten themselves with scary thoughts, they work themselves up into anger by ruminating about social slights and mistreatments, they become sexually aroused by conjuring up erotic fantasies, and they become depressed by dwelling on gloomy scenarios.”
For the purpose of research for this article I re-opened up one well known ex-pats forum recently that I had actually abandoned a year ago because much of the language was negatively inclined, aggressive, slightly hysterical and unbalanced, and at times downright rude and unpleasant. For someone who hates any form of conflict I used to find my stress levels rising because of it, even though none of it had anything to do with me. Whereas I absolutely applaud people’s right to free speech, I do not always like to listen, particularly if it has a negative impact on my emotions. So I made the decision not to look again. Now, over a year later, I found those same negative emotions rising to the surface as I hovered over the address on internet explorer. I lasted about two minutes before I clicked off and removed it completely from my browser.
I sometimes categorise people in two ways – radiators and drains. A ‘radiator’ is someone who fills your life with positive energy. A ‘drain’ is someone who makes you want to lock yourself away in a dark room. We all like a good moan at times, but it is important to watch your regular use of language if you want your life to take a positive turn.
Rob Kelly wrote in his Thrive manual: “Just in the same way that our body reacts upon our mind and our min reacts on our body, our thoughts and beliefs affect our language, and our language affects our thoughts and beliefs. If you speak and think negative words, you will lower your mood, anticipate negative outcomes, make yourself stressed, feel powerless and contribute to an external locus of control. If you use positive words, you will feel positive, feel powerful, anticipate positive outcomes, create less stress and contribute to an internal locus of control.”
If you find yourself feeling low, take a look at the tone of language that surrounds you. Do you dwell on the negative, bad news type stories in your choice of reading matter? Do you revel in the bad luck and misfortunes of others, and subconsciously use their experiences to reinforce your own bad experiences? Do you flick from news channel to news channel, fixated by the various crises all over the world?
Changing your language is not about changing your reality, but it will do a lot to strengthen your ability to cope with your reality. If you have a debilitating illness, using positive language will not cure you indefinitely, but it can go a long way towards helping you to be able to deal with it and aim for a better outcome.
If you are prone to depression, gloomy thoughts, an Eeyore mentality, be aware that mass media is designed to generate and sensationalise stories and reactions, but understand that you should no longer allow their words to have an effect on your everyday reality. And if you struggle with separating the two (your reality and gloomy journalism), then stop reading that newspaper, stop watching ceaseless news bulletins.
“Fear is presented in the mass media, especially the news media, as a feature of entertainment,” wrote David L.Altheide in Notes Towards a Politics of Fear. He goes on to say, “The constant use of fear pervades crises and normal times: it becomes part of the taken-for-granted word of ‘how things are’, and one consequence is that it begins to influence how we perceive and talk about everyday life, including mundane as well as significant events. This produces a discourse of fear, the pervasive communication, symbolic awareness, and expectation that danger and risk are a central feature of everyday life.”
Be aware of the tone of language used by yourself, and those around you. Give yourself a challenge – spend a couple of hours today being consciously aware of all your negative thoughts and sayings, and changing them into positive ones. Even if you are feeling negative, try and change it into a positive. As Rob Kelly put it so succinctly, “Even if you’re feeling like shit, never say it!”
Thrive Consultant and blogger