Can Words Hurt Your Brain?

by Allen Gil March 18, 2015

Can Words Hurt Your Brain?

“Your words and thoughts have physical power.” --Will Smith

Does this sound familiar?

You’re in the gym, training, but you just can’t seem to pick up a move the right way, so your trainer, or your coach, tells you to “picture yourself going through the motions correctly.”

Or how about this:

You’re studying for that upcoming exam and it just doesn’t seem possible that you could be capable of learning everything you need to know for it. Your teacher tells you to “have confidence in yourself, and think positively,” because you’re more likely to do well if you believe you can, versus giving up before the exam even starts.

Does that strike up any memories? It may have seemed miniscule and ineffective at the time, but a study done by psychology researcher Barbara L. Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina, has shown that thinking positively affects the way we perform, and actually improves our lives on the whole over a long period of time.

And when you stop to think about it, going through the correct motions of a move in your head and having confidence in your own knowledge aren’t going to negatively affect your physical and mental capabilities.

Thinking Negatively

If thinking positively can affect change in our lives, what about thinking negatively? Our bodies are biologically wired to respond negatively to certain impulses, such as stress when we’re scared and illness with prolonged anxiety.




Does the phrase, “Don’t make yourself sick,” seem a little more relevant now? Think about it: if you tell yourself negative things and have a negative outlook, how are you going to perceive the world? Yep, negatively.

Will that make you happy? No. And if you’re not happy, how will that affect you? Chances are your mind and body won’t be doing well.

Physical Words

It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to say that if our thoughts can influence our bodies and the world around us, then our words should, too. After all, our words are only a physical manifestation of the thoughts in our heads.

So if that’s true, are there certain words that can hurt our brains?


Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman wrote a book entitled, Words Can Change Your Brain, discussing just this topic. In the book, they write that words with positive connotations can actually change our genetic expression, motivating us and improving our cognitive function.

Alternatively, language perceived negatively can halt the production of chemicals in our brain that off-put stress. And when you think about the way you feel after conversations with your best friends versus people you don’t like, this makes sense, doesn’t it?

Still this leaves one question: Are there specific words that can cause your brain harm? Chances are the answer to this question is different for every person, but there are certainly some words that probably don’t help your brain no matter who you are.

I can think of a few examples right now: no, can’t, and impossible. While these words probably aren’t killing off brain cells, they are playing a part in the amount of stress you might have. If you approach your life and the tasks you must do with these three words at the tip of your tongue, you’re probably hurting your brain more than you realize.

Maybe it’s time to rethink your life with a positive outlook.

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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