I wasn’t the best student in college, honestly. However, I remember one concept from my freshman sociology course: self-fulfilling prophecy.
The whole idea is that the things you believe about yourself, even things that are initially untrue, become true. There is such a strong connection between belief and behavior that we are able essentially to will our certain behaviors into reality.
Let’s say, for example, a sibling repeatedly tells me, “You are so dumb,” and that statement becomes fixed to the front of my mind. All of the sudden, now I fear exerting too much effort in school because I’m afraid I’ll be exposed for what I believe I am. Naturally, learning becomes impossible because it’s linked to stress, and I consequently fall behind academically.
What was once a false statement become a prophecy that I fulfilled myself.
Words Are Powerful.
Our words form beliefs. And beliefs form behaviors.
My four-year-old daughter feels with a far greater depth than I understand. The best word to describe her is sensitive. She experiences the world differently than me because she experiences it emotionally, rather than pragmatically. It’s both beautiful and terrifying, her greatest asset and her greatest struggle.
For me, on the other hand, sensitivity doesn’t come naturally to me. In the past, when something upset her deeply, I just didn’t get it. All I could think was, “This is not a big deal; why are you acting like this.” That attitude showed.
You see, my daughter is able to read people incredibly well, so through my reactions to her, I was subtly, consistently, sending her this message: You’re too much to handle; you are so dramatic.
It didn’t take long for me to realize this dangerous dynamic. I was speaking both about her and to her in ways that shape her, ways that would surely negatively influence her self-image and because of that, her future self.
The words we speak over our family members and friends matter because they help determine who they become. And when you really think about wielding that kind of power, it becomes clear that one of the most important things we need is for the people around us to take care with their words.
But while we can’t control others, we can control ourselves. And so to be the kind of friend to others that we need for ourselves, we have to take great care with our words.
How Are Your Words Affecting Those Around You?
Are we causing others to question the uniqueness God handcrafted in them, causing them to doubt his goodness and purposefulness in that? What does that say about the state of our hearts if “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”?
If you’re not sure of the answer—just like I wasn’t—here are four diagnostic questions to make sure you’re speaking life over your family and friends instead of junk:
1. Is there any person in your life that you often complain about to others?
2. In the name of “authenticity” and “being real,” are you sacrificing the dignity of your friend, spouse, or leaders?
3. When we leave from being with a friend or family member, are they wracked with negativity or encouraged?
4. Do people feel insecure in relationships with you or do they know you love them?
The way we speak about others influences our behavior toward them—and that in turn influences their behavior toward us. Seeking wise counsel is one thing but complaining and ranting is another. Even in relationships that are challenging, bullet pointing all the ways that person drives you up the wall is not going to improve that relationship.
I can’t speak negatively about others and not expect that to affect the way I treat them. Inevitably, the things we say mold the way others feel and act. And that’s a powerful thing.
We, who dismissively mumble words out of weariness and exhaustion, or words of encouragement and affirmation, are actually doing an extremely powerful thing: We are piecing souls together, one irritated word at a time, creating a mosaic of phrases, remarks and feelings.
We need those around us not to use this power haphazardously. And to the kind of friend to others that we need ourselves, we have to be intentional, too.
Choose your words wisely.