Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Power of Words

I recently came across a web site,, where you can create "word clouds" with any text. It takes the words and arranges them randomly in various ways. Common words like prepositions are thrown out, and words repeated often appear larger. I was playing around with it by copying and pasting snippets of text from various websites. It was pretty interesting to see the words thrown together out of context.

I decided to try a snippet from Bill Howdle's Dying Man's Journal. I copied and pasted a paragraph from his post Words Helping Others and added a few other words he uses frequently. The above "wordle" was the result, (click here to see larger size). Makes me feel good just looking at those words. So I'm looking at them a lot.

I have always known that words have great power to help or to hurt, yet I did not fully appreciate the power of words until my exposure to verbal abuse. Perhaps one positive result of this experience will be that I become more mindful of the impact of my words on others, and on myself for that matter.

A woman named Juanita posted this comment on Bill's blog:

"I want to thank you for helping me want to go on living. Your words, on this site, has done more for me than anyone. From your words I have been given hope, encouragement, and love. I had forgotten that there were loving people in the world, but more than anything I had forgotten I was one of them. Thank you for giving me back my life. You will always be one of my hero’s and always in my prayers.”

I can relate to that. Last May I left a comment on Bill's blog about how his post about making changes had helped me. He replied:

"I am proud of you for taking the small steps to improve your life. Way to go, and good for you Jennie, keep that thought process going, it will get you to where you want to be."

At that time, when it had been so long since I had received any encouragement, Bills' words were like rain in the desert to me. I'm getting teary eyed just remembering how it felt when I read those words.
I understand more than ever how much words matter. I am making an effort to speak more lovingly and positively. And that includes what I say to myself, by my thoughts.

I am reminded of a post by Avi at husbandabuse about a time when he was in the hospital for a heart condition.

Although the nurse is paid to do her job I could not help but be touched by the fact that after leaving the room she took the time and made the effort to stop, turnaround, and say “Have a good night”. Oh! How many nights did my wife NOT do that for me. I honestly cannot remember her EVER initiating those final few words one would think would be exchanged by a “loving” couple as they fall asleep for the night. Hmmm, gets me thinking about the tenderness of our hearts both circulatory system wise and perhaps just as importantly, emotionally.

In writing about verbal abuse, one must necessarily write about the negative impact. And the flip side of that is the positive impact of loving words. As Bill said:

How many times have I heard or read that verbal (emotional) abuse can have a must longer and deeper impact on a person than even physical abuse. Physical scars and bruising heal much more quickly than emotional ones.

Emotional bruises and scarring take much longer to heal and can stay with a person for their entire life time. Not always but often this time of long term hurt is caused by words. Depending on where and who these words come from they can cut down inside to our very soul.

I would imagine most of us at one time or another have at least heard of this, the terrible power that can be contained within a few words. We know of how words can be just devastating, we realize that. We know that “mere” words can have such a devastatingly negative impact. I ask then wouldn’t it just stand to reason, if we look at the flip side of the coin, that “mere” words could have a wonderfully healthy healing power to them. If words can tear us down then obviously words can build us up in a healthy positive way.

As usual, Bill's message is simple, true, and powerful.

Language is funny. Take the word 'heart' for example. Medically speaking, Bill has a "bad heart", in layman's terms. Yet in human terms, it is clear that he has a very good heart. His good heart is abundantly clear from his efforts to reach out to others, and the supportive, encouraging, caring words he uses.

Words are powerful, yet sometimes seem so inadequate. How do I say "Thank you Bill" in a way which conveys the gratitude in my heart?

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Bill said...

There is and never has been any need to thank me. I thank you for becoming a cyber friend.
I feel very touched and honored by what you have written and I thank you for your words. If you felt any need to thank me consider it done and done in such a beautiful way. I appreciate it so very much.

jennie said...

I know you didn't need to hear 'thank you', but I wanted to say it anyway. Expressing gratitude feels good and knowing you made a difference in someone's life feels good too.

Having experienced the positive effect of your words in my life, I am making an extra effort to follow your example and pass it on to others.

Laura said...

What a wonderful post to read at the end of the day. It gives a warm glow to my heart, which is surely beneficial for my physical heart and my mental heart. Thanks to you and the people you quoted.


jennie said...

I'm glad it gave you a boost Laura. We so much need, and deserve, to surround ourselves with loving, healing words.

Bill said...

Hi Jennie, I really hope you don't mind but I copied and posted your post here as part of my writing for today. I really should have asked your permission first and I do apologize.
I used it to I hope illustrate the true power of words when used in a positive way and of how far spreading they can be. I hope you approve. If not please let me know and I can amend or even delete it if you wish.

jennie said...

Bill, I am honored that you copied the post for your blog. The more people who read messages about the power of words, the better.

Now, I am really noticing that, even in an online support group I'm in for people in verbally abusive relationships, too often people are subtly shamed, rather than encouraged.

Most people need a period of continuing to work for, and hope for, change in their relationships before calling it quits. Too often, when those people check in feeling bad, they face a chorus of "I told you so"s, which I imagine further increases the shame they feel, making it, harder, IMO, rather than easier, to get out. We've already been shamed more than enough. I know the people mean well, and want to spare others unnecessary pain, but I don't think it is having that effect.

Anyway, I'm making an extra effort to notice and applaud the changes everyone is making and affirm their worth and give them encouragement whatever path they choose. I ask myself WWBS? (What would Bill say?)

Mel said...

Jenni--Thank you.

You've managed to capture the essence of what's been elusive to me. And today I'll print the word cloud and place it at my desk.
Consider the power passed on.

(and I share that awe and gratitude for the wonderful words from the humble man)

jennie said...

I'm so glad those words speak to your heart too Mel.

Anonymous said...


I have been in search of a woman's blog who is on the road to recovery from emotional abuse.

I just found your blog today, and I think it will be helpful.

I broke up with my verbally abusive boyfriend nearly 4.5 years ago.

I still feel hurt, angry, etc from his 2.5 years of abuse.

I'm looking for ways to heal.

Thank you for writing your story.

Anonymous said...

I have a list of blog entries called Cheaper than Therapy

here is the link to them if you are interested

jennie said...

I'm glad I've found your blog now too Amber. It helps to know that others can relate to you experience.

I have heard that healing can be a long process. Be gentle with yourself. It takes as long as it takes.

Emotional Abuse Network said...


Thanks for sharing this, it's a wonderful post!

Please, at your convenience, let me know if I can post a link to your blogs on my new network on Emotional Abuse.


jennie said...

You are welcome to post a link Mariana. It's wonderful that you are reaching out to help others.

Peach Flambée said...

Hi ... HUG!!

Sorry I've taken so long to respond, but I'm sure you know how painful it can be to look at things, especially when you're busy and stressed.

I'd love to link to you, and yes, I'd be honoured if you would link to me.

jennie said...

Thanks for dropping by Peach. Yes indeed, I DO understand. Thanks for sharing some of your experience with us.

BTW, I had wondered if that was your ex who commented on your May 3 post so I appreciate your comments clarifying it and using it as an example of the abusive mindset.

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