September 12, 2022 by Sarah Earles, Clinical Supervisor/Child & Family Therapist
Words. We say a lot of them every single day. They matter. We might realize that as a whole, but do we ever think about individual words and ways we talk about things? Sometimes the minutiae matters, as it does with words. There are probably an infinite number of examples, but here are some that pertain to adoption, family, and relationships, some of our specialties at Arizona Family Counseling, a ministry of Christian Family Care.
Adoption (Placed versus put): Parents make an active choice when they decide on adoption. They are making a conscious choice about what is best for themselves and their child. Often, they play an active role in deciding on the adoptive family for their child, too. When we say that parents place their child for adoption, we dignify them and their child. Words matter. (Galloway, n.d.)
Guilt and Shame (You did something bad versus you are something bad): Guilt is a correct response to transgressing moral law. It provides the opportunity for accountability and apology. Shame, however, says that a person is something bad. This connotes the idea that the person has some character flaw, a flaw that may or may not be able to be corrected. Shame tends to keep people stuck, where appropriate helps people move on and move forward. Words matter. (Kealey, as cited in Kelly, 2021; TED, 2012)
I and You: “I” statements tend connote awareness of your role in a matter. “You” statements typically deny accountability and place blame on the other person. Words matter. (Johnson, 2012)
Regulation (Crazy versus dysregulated): When someone is having a meltdown or a tantrum, mean words may come out of their mouth. Their arms, legs, and appendages may flail. They may truly seem out of control or “crazy.” Likely, however, they are experiencing dysregulated. Their fight/flight/freeze response has overcome their cognitive abilities. Calling them crazy denigrates the appropriate response their brain is having to feeling out of control. Calling them crazy may further make them feel unsafe. Choosing to describe the behavior with a more values-neutral word allows a more objective look at the situation and what the person may need to regulate and get back to baseline. Words matter. (Gobbel, 2020)
Word choice in general: Kids learn from adults. They copy what they see and hear. Did they hear the doctor diagnose them? That word may now become part of their vocabulary. Did you swear at the driver who veered in front of you with no blinker? They may learn that one, too. Did you call your spouse a pet name? Well, they may try it on for size. Others may copy your words, or decide on what is appropriate based on your words, too. Words influence the tone of a situation. Words matter. (Namratha, 2017).
Researchers debate how many words people say per day. Whatever figure you choose, it is in the multiple thousands. That’s a lot of words! The Bible says that these words show what is in a person, too: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (New International Version, 2011, Luke 6:45). Words matter. Consider that as you speak, and as you listen. If you can, try to improve the words you use, and perhaps, with the right words, address how others use their words. Words matter because people matter. Because people matter, we should words choose wisely.
Galloway, E. (n.d.) Positive adoption language. [Staff presentation]. Christian Family Care, Phoenix, AZ., United States.
Gobbel, R. (2020, December 15). What’s regulation got to do with it. RobynGobbel.com. https://robyngobbel.com/regulationandbehavior/
Johnson, J.A. (2012, November 30). Are ‘I’ statements better than ‘you’ statements? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cui-bono/201211/are-i-statements-better-you-statements
Kelley, A. [Host]. (2021, December 22). Managing intense feelings for kids and grownups with Lindsey
Kealey. (No. 165). In Therapist Uncensored. https://therapistuncensored.com/episodes/managing-intense-feelings-for-kids-and-grownups-with-lindsey-kealey-165-social-emotional-learning/
Namratha. (2017, February 9). Why do kids imitate what they see or hear? Hello Parent: Caring for Your Child. https://helloparent.in/blogs/Why-do-the-kids-imitate-what-they-see-or-hear-589c29d9a8b3491ef4811f24
New International Version. (2011). Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-International-Version-NIV-Bible/
TED. (2012, March 16). Listening to shame | Brene Brown. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0&t=1s