Words Matter: To You and to Others

Brunette, AnneThere are some words that people say in my office that make my ears perk up. They perk up because they are powerful when said to ourselves as well as to others. Let me give you a few examples.


Starting a sentence with “You”, especially when talking to someone else in an angry tone, almost always guarantees that the interaction is NOT going to go well. The other person will hear this as an accusation and will quickly get into “defense” mode. They may try to explain why they did or did not do what they think you will accuse them of. They probably will not hear much after the “you”. Try using an “I statement” instead. For example, instead of, “You always leave your dirty socks on the floor!” try, “I feel frustrated when you do not pick up your dirty socks, because it seems like I’m expected to pick up after you.” There is no guarantee about how they will respond but it’s likely to go better than starting with “you”.

Always and never

These two words are ALMOST NEVER true. Whether you say this to yourself, “I’m always messing things up!” or you say this to someone else, “You never do what you say you are going to do!” there are, most likely, exceptions to these statements. When you say it to yourself, you are beating yourself down and it is hard to get back up, and you are not giving yourself an option to make positive change. When you say it to someone else, you are setting up and argument that will most likely not go anywhere good. Setting up extremes like these is a set-up for arguing and is not leaving room for exceptions or forward progress.


This seems to be the number one question people come to therapy with. They want to know why someone did this or why they tend to do that, or why they feel a certain way. Much of the time in human situations, the answer to the question why is only a guess. Many questions of relationships and human reactions are not ever answered with certainty. It is difficult to correctly guess the intentions and thoughts of others or even of ourselves. We can develop some helpful hypotheses sometimes but at some point we end up spending a lot of time and energy guessing and not making things better. At some point, we need to make our guess, stop talking about the why, and start making changes.

What If

“What if” is a question many people ask themselves especially when they are nervous about something. If you have a moment, think about an event coming up that you are a little nervous about. Does some dire, “what if” statement come to mind like, “What if I go to this social event and someone thinks I’m stupid and doesn’t like me”? Most often, “what if” statements focus on potential negative outcomes, not positive ones. If this is something you tend toward, try saying at least two potential positive outcomes for every one negative you think of. For example, ask yourself, “what if I go to this party and I meet someone really nice and we start a friendship?” The reality is that the positive outcomes are often just as likely to happen (if not more) than the negative ones.

The bottom line is, pay attention to the words you say to yourself and others. Words matter!

About Anne Brunette, MSW

Anne provides therapy for individuals, couples, families and groups that struggle with a variety of mental health issues. Her specialties include depression, anxiety, grief and loss, marital therapy and education, and family therapy. Her approach is practical and compassionate while focusing on strengths, relationships, and solutions. She believes it takes courage to seek help and respects those who come to her. Anne has a special interest in working with boundary and life-balance issues. She works to help people improve in all areas of life: emotionally, relationally, physically and spiritually. Works at Doll & Associates.

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