The power of words

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Last Updated on March 1, 2023 by the thought method co.

Fuck. Cunt. Bitch. Asshole. One of these words is a medical term describing part of the human body. One is a name for a female dog. Another has many positive connotations in Australia. And one is just plain fun to say sometimes. 

There are studies floating around the internet stating that intelligent people curse more. Is it that intelligent people are more likely to curse? Or is it that they don’t give words power, so curse words do not seem as offensive? 

Let’s break this down…

Words are how we communicate. And words can take on many meanings. What we need to keep in the forefront of our mind is that words only have the power we give them. Sounds simple, but it can be really tough to remember. 

We’ve been taught early on to give power to words. Remember H-E-double hockey sticks. Saying a word (hell) could get us in trouble—depending on your parents. Remember the cool kids whose parents would let you curse in the house? It just felt so freeing. 

While we were being taught to sensor ourselves, we were also being taught to give power to words. This lesson was hard learned, and it is hard to get rid of. But we need to remove this limiting thought from our core beliefs


Here’s why:

When we take power away from words, we free up energy and mental mind space. We take the words at face value and we put ourselves in the best position to be responsive, not reactive. To defend and not get defensive.

Giving power to other people’s words may make us upset. 

When we focus our energy towards understanding the intent of words instead of giving the words power, our reaction switches from feeling upset (or angry) if someone calls us something mean to wondering why a mean thing was said to begin with. Let’s go into an example:

Jack and Rose are having a disagreement. Jack calls Rose a vulgar name. Rose instantly gets upset because the vulgar name that Jack used was very hurtful to her. Rose is giving Jack’s words power and in return it upset her. If Rose is upset, she can lose track of why the disagreement began. 

Instead, if Rose didn’t give Jack’s words power, Rose will wonder why Jack resorted to calling her a vulgar name. She would also maintain focus on the origin of the disagreement. 

Rose’s energy has shifted from being upset to now wanting clarity and to understand her current relationship with Jack. She can then focus on her boundaries and how she wants to be treated. 

By not giving power to Jack’s words, Rose is focusing on the real matter here— does she want to have a relationship with someone who calls her vulgar words when they fight? Is it healthy to not be able to have a disagreement without being called a vulgar name? 

Not giving power to words will help us uncover the intentions behind them (an help us empower ourselves). 

When I said vulgar name in the scenario above, you most likely assumed Jack called Rose a bitch, or stupid, or something typically characterized as mean. However, for all we know, Jack could have called Rose a notebook. 

Seems weird, but for all we know Rose could give the word notebook a lot of power. Let’s say, in her hometown of St. Olaf being called a notebook was very vulgar.  Jack could know this, and he could have chosen this word in particular to hurt Rose as much as possible. Or poor Jack could not have known this and he could have never meant to hurt Rose or make her upset. 

When we do not give words power, we can focus on the intention behind the words. 

If, instead of getting upset by the “vulgar term”, Rose asked Jack why he called her something intending to hurt her, Jack will explain his thoughts. Maybe he did not mean to intentionally hurt Rose and agrees to not do it again—they just effectively communicated, and their relationship gets closer. 

Maybe Jack was upset because of something Rose did a couple of weeks ago and said it to intentionally upset her. Here, Jack needs to work on communication and emotional management—the relationship has room for improvement. 

Or Maybe Jack said it just to be mean because he is in a bad mood and wanted Rose to be in a bad mood too–relationship and Jack’s communication skills need work. Rose can respond accordingly.

In closing…

What were Jack and Rose even talking about when this happened? Maybe they were trying to resolve something, but then one word (the vulgar term) put all progress to a halt. If Rose did not allow Jack’s words to have power, this interaction could have gone differently. 

This isn’t to say we should ignore mean or hurtful words that people say. It is to say that, instead of internalizing or responding with emotions, we can clear our minds and focus on the intention behind the words. 

This is also true for positive words. Sometimes people are genuinely being nice. Other times they may have an ulterior motive. When we do not give power to words we can focus on the message behind the words and decide the best route for us. 

On the opposite end, we should also consider the power of our words. While we give power to the words of others, others are giving power to our words as well.

Sometimes we do not realize just how powerful our words are. While we cannot control how others perceive what we say, we can be diligent in what we choose to say.

Photo by Ravi Kant