Word Power

Words matter… Not only is this true of the words others might use towards us, but further it is true of the words which we also use about ourselves. Sometimes people do not need external critics or bullies because one of their key adversaries is in fact their own selves. At times we take the role of our greatest bully.

Sashi Sehgal

3/15/20246 min read

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!’ If that were true, what a different world we would be living in. Consider for example how words shape the lives of children and young people in classrooms all around the world. How many people even in their latter years, can return to things said to them in their childhood? Words can be the stuff which lead people into ruminating upon their life experience, they ‘muddy waters’ and lead so many to poor mental health. Neurological research has found that negative words can have anxiety provoking affect on the brain(1). Words shape human experience and they have an incredible impact upon the people we become.

Words matter… Not only is this true of the words others might use towards us, but further it is true of the words which we also use about ourselves. Sometimes people do not need external critics or bullies because one of their key adversaries is in fact their own selves. At times we take the role of our greatest bully.

When you think about your own self-talk, what language do you use toward yourself?

Growing up through school from a very young age, I became aware of the impact of words. ‘Paki’ was one which came at me regularly, particularly during my primary years and I lacked a wall of protection to defend myself. Looking at the word now, I can see it lacked any kind of definition. Yet, I was not hearing the word as a man who could make sense of things. I was hearing both language and tone, both of which placed threat and fear into me. Like a sponge, I absorbed that fear and it ingrained itself into my being. The outcome was a depressive feeling and an anger, yet my peers would have known little of that, as if it even mattered to them. Instead that rage was poured into the lap of my parents as I poured my hate upon them. In fact, they didn’t know a thing about my experience until I was in my thirties.

King Solomon under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote insightfully about the significance of words. In the book of wisdom called Proverbs, Solomon wrote(2),

‘Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or they’re fruit. You choose’ (Proverbs 18:21)

Words have the power to shape and give power to life. My early experience of words had a poisoning effect upon my own experience. Further, those words sought to destroy my family as they emptied themselves through my being. For a long period of time, those words had an effect of locking me back up into a prison.

Poison can have the effect of shutting down elements of one’s being. It can lead to a mutation, becoming something you were never intended to be. How saddening that at times people become the very thing that they hate the most! I am aware of choices that I made as both a young person and adult that I disliked at the time, and today live mindful of the poisoned fruit that not only I digested, but which I ‘affected’ others through too.

Adverse circumstances are so often life defining.

The Bible’s pages are filled with people that endured challenging ordeals. Indeed, it does not shy away from the damage done as time went on either. Whether community rejection, war, famine, Mafia-like intimidation, death threats, the Bible does not stop us from hearing some horrific stories. Many of the Bible’s stories are in simple terms, anything but ‘PG’.

In 1 Samuel chapter 1, we read the story of Hannah, who became the mother of the Prophet Samuel. Her journey to motherhood was steeped in pain, indeed for a number of years she lived under the cultural taboo of being childless, an experience which her husband’s other wife did not hesitate to taunt her with. In contemporary terms, she experienced gaslighting and toxic abuse. These experiences led to hopelessness, despair and withdrawal, signs of health problems which we would commonly label as an anxiety or a depression(3). Thankfully, a point came when her mourning turned to joy. Solace was discovered through both prayer and in conversation with the Priest Eli, which though initiated following a misunderstanding, led to the formation of hope.

Hannah’s experience has much to offer us. Words once had destroyed her, yet words went on to release the realisation of her heart’s longing(2).

Whilst words had poisoned, they also awakened her.

Hannah had learned to survive by bottling up her emotions, protecting herself from the ridicule that she was tormented by. Amazingly something profound happened in her. Whilst at Shiloh, which in ancient Israel was a major religious centre where the Israelites would journey to and carry out their religious sacrifices, Hannah appears to begin her escape from her soul’s captivity. It was like her husband’s gentle and loving words were used to generate a fight against the onslaughts of her tormentor’s victimisation. In verse 9, the NIV Bible records that she ‘stood up’(4), and left the meal. The root of the Hebrew for this phrase is ‘קוּם ’ (anglicised ‘qum’), and it’s usage in the Bible is frequently used to signify the emerging response of the Lord’s presence into a situation where trouble was being experienced(5). Her prayer which followed, demonstrated something of an uprising up of faith and the decision to ‘be done’ with hiding away. Her outpouring of tears was captured in scripture alongside her resolute request that God would give her a son. In that moment, it was like she fought a battle with a giant which had separated her from sanity, security and safety. Hannah poured out her pain into the lap of her Father, and in doing so, she was able to embrace her purpose and calling.

She broke out of isolation, finding as she did so that God was closer than she could ever imagine.

In the midst of overwhelming challenges that we face, God has promised He will be present. Choosing to cry out in prayer is repeatedly associated with uplift throughout the Psalms as song writer-worshippers encountered God. Wonderfully, the power of prayer is not merely religious ritual, it’s power has been demonstrated through multiple scientific research studies too(6). Studies which reveal that prayer does something powerful on the inside of us. What these studies cannot capture necessarily is what it does in Heaven too. Our prayers are welcomed by our Father and held, along with all the emotions that pain us (Psalm 56 verse 8).

Engaging in prayer invites Jesus, who is also known as The Word, to come and re-shape the words which have been placed into our lives. When The Word is invited into situations that have for a long time been tormenting, He brings with Him transformative power, power which can generate and awaken the lives we live (Romans 12:1-2). Would you consider letting Him re-form and re-shape who you are? The One who created life by speaking into it in Genesis is the one would be delighted to re-write your story too.

Root this now

1. If your natural narrative involves you saying, ‘I failed’ often, and you are inclined toward being self-critical, why don’t you try a technique known as what went well (WWW) and even better if (EBI).

The aim of these two complimentary ideas is to approach reflection in a healthy manner, focusing particularly upon one’s assessment of things that they are engaging in.

By asking what went well (WWW?) immediately after an event, we are oriented towards the positive, albeit small or often discarded as unimportant. Nothing is wasted. Reflecting then upon what could be improved (EBI?), one can then critique with some desire to improve rather than simply criticise which is just destructive. This can be applied to a range of areas, if your tendency is towards unhealthy thinking.

2. Can I pray for you:

Our Father, as your precious child of Yours chooses to draw near to You, I thank You that You promise to let them know Your presence. Thank You that You are reliable, You will not fail them, You will not discard them, mock them or let them down. Thank You that Your plans for them are good. Today, may Your Word penetrate the hard to reach areas of their soul. Lord, would You arise on their behalf! In turn, may they find their heart arising. May they come to know that You still are the God that pulls down giants! Father, reveal Your incredible life transforming love to Your child both now and in the coming days as they continue to wait on You. May it be that The Word shapes the words which have been so painful. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

If you have prayed this, can I encourage you to focus your attention on Him, inviting Him to come close and reveal who He is afresh to you.


1. https://brm.institute/neuroscience-behind-words/

2. Proverbs 18, The Message

3. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.591120/full

4. 1 Samuel 1, New International Version

5. https://hebrewwordlessons.com/2022/03/06/qum-rise-up/

6. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Dr-Aru-Narayanasamy/publication/5438983_The_healing_power_of_prayer_and_its_implications_for_nursing/links/54d8b9b30cf2970e4e789d14/The-healing-power-of-prayer-and-its-implications-for-nursing.pdf