By Rob Maroney
In speaking at workshops over the past several years I have asked audiences the question, “Who remembers a time in your past when an important person in your life said something positive or affirming about something they saw in you as a person?” Most people raise their hands. For many, it brings up a memory of when they were a young child or teenager, and those words went down deep. Now, as an adult, they can remember it like it happened yesterday. Maybe it was a teacher, a coach, a close relative, an important friend, or a parent. Regardless, someone important said something positive and uplifting.
I also ask the same audiences “Who remembers a time when someone spoke words of criticism, judgment, failure, or unbelief?” It’s not surprising, but our memories retain those experiences as well, and sometimes even more deeply.
I grew up as the only boy in my family (I had 2 sisters). Most of my memories of interactions with my dad are either his silence and absence, or his comments of displeasure and sarcasm. My dad would often give me a look of shame, or ask me “what in the heck were you thinking?” It reinforced that I must not measure up or that I was flawed in some way. The message to the heart of a little boy was, “don’t embarrass the family” and “don’t make me look bad.” I grew up believing that I had to earn love and acceptance. As a little boy, his words of criticism, sarcasm, and judgment sank in deeply. It rarely occurs to little boys that maybe dad just doesn’t know how to cultivate meaningful relationships, not to mention heathy parenting. Most of this due to his own childhood wounds.
Regardless where it comes from, the fact that we recall the impact of both positive and negative experiences many, many years (sometimes decades) later speaks to the power of our words.
- Our words have the power to build up or tear down.
- Our words have the power to encourage or discourage.
- Our words have the power to inspire faith or fear.
- Our words have the power to breathe life or death.
My words reveal the condition of my heart
- “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
- “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
- “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
If my words have the power of life and death, how do I use my words? How do my words reveal what’s really in my heart? When my words hurt or tear down, it reveals my attempt to control or manipulate the behavior of others, or my efforts to defend and protect myself from being hurt.
Ask yourself …
- Do I say things that are critical and judgmental, or use words that lift up and encourage others?
- Am I self-focused and talk about myself, or am I curious and interested in the other person in ways that say, “tell me about you?”
- Do I talk about worldly, earthly things, or do I ask others about deeper feelings and explore what’s going on inside them?
- Do my words breathe life, or are they words that bring death?
One thing I know for sure…when things go wrong in relationships, I’m often using my words in hurtful ways. I can be judgmental, critical, and sarcastic. Relationship researcher, John Gottman, states he is able to predict divorce with startling accuracy. He uses what he calls the “magic 5:1 ratio” of 5 positive comments to every 1 negative comment.
Why do we need so much positivity? One reason is that negative experiences and interactions are shown to have much more impact than positive ones. Florida State University Social Psychology professor Roy F. Baumeister wrote about this phenomenon in an article called “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.” He writes, “Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.” He and his colleagues wrote. “…people actually get more upset about losing $50 than they get happy about finding $50.” Their conclusions – the negative outweighs the positive.
Whatever the impact has been from your past experiences, you have the power today to choose words of life. You can choose to make emotional withdrawals or emotional deposits into the hearts of those around you. The wounds inflicted by careless words can take years to heal, and for some it can take a lifetime. I know … I’m still working on mine.
When a man chooses words that are healing rather than destructive, he becomes a source of strength and safety to friends and his loved ones. By using your words to strengthen and affirm others, you encourage intimacy and deepen relationships. As a man who is becoming a more connected friend, learning to be a more vulnerable leader, and a safe intimate partner, this is one area of growth you cannot ignore. So, think about it – how are you doing at building your relationships on a foundation of trust, honor, love and respect with the words you use?
More on this topic and the power of a man’s words in The Power of a Man’s Words – Part 2 (Feel, Heal, Deal and Reveal).
Meet Rob Maroney
Rob Maroney and his wife, Roxanne, live in Orange County, CA and have been married 44 years. They have 3 grown children and 11 grandchildren. They are in private practice and coach regularly on marriage and healthy relationships. After over 4 decades marriage, Rob and Roxanne know how common it is for relationships to get stuck. They have a passion for helping men and women learn how to break free of the destructive patterns that keep people stuck, and how to apply new habits of the heart. Rob has an M.S. degree in Psychology, advanced diplomas in Biblical Counseling, Christian life Coaching, and Gottman Therapist Training.
Heartfelt gratitude to Rob Maroney for contributing this week’s blogs. Rob is a vital part of the leadership team who brings you Unbreakable Bond resources and Rescuing the Rogue program. Look for more from Rob in 2020.
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