• Martha Engeman

The Power of Words


Lately my two year old granddaughter repeats almost everything I say. If that’s not an invitation to be aware of what you say, I don’t know what is. The other day I decided to put her in her Mom and Dad’s bed for a nap because she just wasn’t going to sleep in her crib. A few minutes later, she came out, spread her arms wide and said “Uh Oh, Sgetti Os”. I had been joking with her saying, “Uh Oh, Spaghetti Os” that morning and the words had stuck (thank you 80’s advertising jingle). It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.


In the 80's, Louise Hay recognized the power of words and introduced us to affirmations. Affirmations are words or phrases we can use to bring more of what we would like into our lives. They often start with “I” and use the present tense so the mind starts to believe that the affirmation is happening now and not in the future or past. An example of an affirmation focused on physical health is “I have a healthy, vibrant body.” Affirmations are a powerful tool to shift our thinking from negative to more positive thinking. As we repeat affirmations, we start to believe them.


Along with planting positive affirmations in our psyches, we can also be aware of the language of our minds. Do we look at ourselves in the mirror and have positive thoughts or are we always judging areas of our bodies we don’t like? When we get recognition, do we allow ourselves to absorb and appreciate it or do we play small? When we do something we wish we didn’t do, are we able to recognize it and move on or do we keep castigating ourselves for it? Actively noticing our thoughts and working with the words that we use is a powerful and ultimately freeing practice.


Language has the power to unify and the power to destroy. One way to determine if the words we are about to speak are appropriate is to ask ourselves three questions:

1. Is it true?

2. Is it kind?

3. Is it necessary?


When we stop and ask ourselves these questions, we become more responsible stewards of our words.


One phrase that always causes me to pause is “I should”. I have never met a should that I wanted to do as noted in the humorous poem below.


My Shoulds and Coulds

By Martha Engeman


I have a box of shoulds

That started when I was young

Filled with all the things Adults

Told me must be done

The shoulds are mixed with coulds

All jumbled in the sea.

I ate them all for breakfast

Now the shoulds are inside me

It’s so much harder now

To tell what’s should and could

And so I have to ask if they would

Reveal themselves to me

“Ah but we are for your best,

you do want to fit in,

What would people think of you

If you walked everywhere with a fin?”

“You must not be ridiculous,

You must obey it’s true,

You must be an upstanding citizen

Nothing less will do”

And so they show themselves to me

As they come to their defense.

I burp them up one by one

And tell them they’re nonsense.



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