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Words Change Your Brain for Better or Worse

 “Words are a reflection of our thoughts. Positive words come from positive thoughts, negative words from negative thoughts. It is really that simple.”

Regulating Physical and Emotional Stress

In the book, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” by Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, explain how a single word can influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.


Definite of genes: a specific sequence of nucleotides in DNA or RNA that is located usually on a chromosome and that is the functional unit of inheritance controlling the transmission and expression of one or more traits by specifying the structure of a particular polypeptide and especially a protein or controlling the function of other genetic material. – Merriam and Webster Dictionary

A more simplified definition states that a gene is made up of DNA and is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. It controls the transmission and expression of one or more traits. Newberg and Waldman are telling us that a single word, positive or negative, can influence our genes that regulate our physical and emotional stress.

Positive words can modify our brain functions by increasing cognitive reasoning and activate the motivational centers of the brain, propelling them into action. Negative words prevent certain neurochemicals from being produced which contribute to stress management.

Determined To Change

In my last post, “Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones…What Will Words Do”, I told you about Kathy, whose mother was very verbally abusive.

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“Just because we can’t see the wounds doesn’t mean they aren’t literally and physically there.” – Peg Streep, Psychology Today.

Vivian, Kathy’s mom began to realize the pain and harm she had inflicted on her daughters when she heard her seven-year-old talking to her doll with the same verbal abuse she used on them. Kathy, now 15 years old, was gone. Vivian had no idea where she was. She cried at night thinking about the damage she had done to Kathy. But, she still had Beth. She was determined to change things around for Beth and herself.

Angry Words

Her counselor gave her an article to read by Newberg and Waldman that said, “Angry words send alarm messages through the brain, and they partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.”

She didn’t know exactly what all of that meant, but she knew she would get so angry that sometimes that she couldn’t think at all, she’d actually see red and her face would turn red. Words would fly out of her mouth without any conscious thought. Thinking back to the few times she could remember getting angry, she was appalled at the language she used on her girls.


Her counselor suggested she join a support group that was working on a project called a “gratitude and appreciation journal.” They had been working on the project for a couple of weeks when Vivian started. She put in extra time on the project focusing and reflecting on positive language, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. She began to feel happier than she had ever felt.

She also kept a separate page for negative thoughts. She would rewrite the negative thoughts and feelings by using positive language. She was amazed at how the new thoughts made her feel.

One night as she worked on her journal, she looked at her negative page. She had written down thoughts and words she had heard herself say to herself and to others about her job, her life, herself, Kathy and Beth. She was surprised when she looked at her words. She had just written them down without much thought. She began rewriting her sentences.

Negative Sentences Rewritten

“I really hate the way I treated Kathy”

“I’m going to make Beth feel very loved.”
“I really hate being a single mom” “Being a single mom is actually fun. Beth and I get to do a lot of things together.”
“You know this job really sucks. I wish I could find a different one” “This job is going to work out great. I’ll more time with Beth and get paid enough to do some fun things.”
“Beth really gets on my nerves sometimes” “I love Beth so much. I’m going to make sure she knows it.”
“I always have bad luck with relationships.” “I’ve always had bad luck with relationships, until now. It’s changing.”
“I’ve had problems keeping a job.” “I’ve had problems keeping a job, until now. This one is going to work out just fine.”

“Positive self-talk makes you feel good about yourself and the things that are going on in your life. It’s like having an optimistic voice in your head that always looks on the bright side.” –

Analyzing Thoughts and Words

Vivian’s support group was instructed to keep track and analyze the thoughts and words they wrote down.  Did they see any themes or patterns in the conversations with themselves? With others? Did the positive words or thoughts outnumber the negative words or thoughts? Were their words positive or were they continually finding fault with themselves and/or others?

The leader of the support group said, “Our words are a powerful creative force. Genesis tells us that God’s words are creative. He spoke the world into existence. In Genesis chapter 1 verse 26, it says that God made mankind in His image. Therefore, man’s words are also creative. The words we say have the power to create life or death.”

“The tongue has the power of life and death,” (Proverbs 18:21b, NIV)

Vivian’s Prayer

As Vivian worked on her journal she thought about the messages she had been sending to Kathy, Beth, herself, and anyone else who listened. Her words were very often judgmental and mean, sentencing herself and the girls to a very hard, negative life void of peace, love, and happiness. Her thoughts gravitated to Beth’s words when she spoke to her doll and smashed the dolls head against the wall.

She had to change her world and Beth’s before it was too late. She wanted Beth to live in a world full of love, not judgment, a world of happiness and laughter, not miserable like she had been most of her life.

Photo by Rohit Guntur on Unsplash

Her thoughts went to Kathy, “Dear God, if there is any way of helping Kathy, please show me how.” She knew she’d probably never see Kathy again. She had no idea what kind of a life she had sentenced her to when she gave that old man permission to marry her. She was only 15.”

Tears ran down Vivian’s face, “Please God.”

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!” ~ Henry Ford

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