What You Were Told As A Kid Doesn’t Work: The Art & Science of Word Use

Remember the ditty, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”? Totally ridiculous, wasn’t it?

The phrase would supposedly protect us from verbal attacks on the playground at school.

If you think about the flip-side of the phrase, it means it’s OK for the bully to use verbal attacks. After all, the words can’t do any damage, can they?

I used that phrase. Did you?

As an obese kid, it didn’t matter how much I said that phrase to myself, sarcastic and cutting words directed at me hurt – they really hurt. They would slash deeply into me, leaving wounds that festered and oozed for months, maybe years. I can remember lashing out with equally nasty words and phrases against others. I’m not proud of it, but I did it.

My kid-dom lasted a long time. I was in my late 40’s before I finally began to understand my own neurosis – enough to know how my words affect my relationships with others. As an example, I remember saying things to Carol that were nasty, disrespectful, and unloving. My words seemed to slip out of me, out of my control. I couldn’t take them back and I found it really tough to suck-it-up and apologise. It was easier to blame her and continue on my high and mighty self-righteous way.

But now, I go to great length to choose my words carefully.  I understand the consequences.

In the work Carol and I do with couples, and in corporate boardrooms, it seems that many people hang on the right to slash others with their words. The unconscious intention may be safety, power, or control, yet attack often leads to counter-attack. When that happens, “ladies and gentlemen let the games begin!”

If you’ve been there, you know the results aren’t pretty, especially in your relationship with your life-partner.

I’m not asking you to dig up nasty experiences from the past – that serves no valuable purpose. However, the awareness that it has happened allows you to consciously plan forward with solutions, so it doesn’t happen again… at least not often.

The question is, “How can you always speak to your life-partner in a way that builds strength in your relationship?”

The answer is…(drum roll please) make a conscious choice to come from love NOW.

Love or Not-Love – You get to choose

The How

When I set my ego aside, with all of the BS stories, excuses, and justifications, there is really only one choice that I get to make in every moment – to come from love; or to come from not-love.

How do I know which choice is right for me?

I trust my feelings, because every experience in life is internalized as feelings.

If you question this, think of a specific time when your relationship was not in a good space. Hold out your left hand, palm up, and imagine that experience is on your left hand, as if you can see it. What was going on for you there? What were you seeing, what words did you say and hear, how did you feel?

How does that feel on your left hand? If you’re honest with yourself, it didn’t feel good and you may notice yourself frowning or feeling heavy. The not-good feelings are: resistance, resentment, anger, guilt, shame, blame, fear, caution, dissatisfaction, hatred, overwhelmed, uncertainty, confusion, etc. These feelings are not-love.

Love or Not-Love – You get to choose

Now, think about a specific time in the past when your relationship was going really, really well. Hold out your right hand, palm up, and imagine that experience is on your right hand. See yourself being kind and caring. Hear yourself using thoughtful and respectful words to yourself and your partner. Feel your relationship as fun, easy, and enjoyable. Imagine and remember that time now. It probably felt good.

How does it feel on your right hand? You may describe good as: fun, happiness, lightness, kindness, respect, caring, compassion, connection, inspiration, fulfillment, satisfaction, abundance, or a whole range of other emotions. These feelings are love. As you think about that experience, you may notice that you are smiling and feeling lighter.
The cool thing is that you know the difference between good and not-good, love and not-love.

Love or Not-Love – You get to choose

So now, any time you feel those not-good feelings, even if it’s just a wee bit “ticked”, I invite you to put out your hands in front of you and consciously make a choice. When you choose the right hand, the love, you know the kind of feelings you’ll experience. When you choose the left hand, you’ll know the kind of feelings you’ll experience.

I’m not saying that you always have to choose love. There may be a time when you choose the left hand, the not-love. The key is that you’ll know you are making the choice for yourself. And the feelings you get will also be your pre-determined choice. And the results in your relationship will be your choice too.

Love or Not-Love – You get to choose

Freeing, isn’t it? It’s an art and a science.

It’s art, because it allows you to mold the clay, paint the canvas, and create a symphony of your life – to create a wondrous legacy of a life well lived – or not. It’s your choice.

And it’s science. The brain-training by doing the right-hand, left-hand process, is that it enables you to step back from the situation and remove some of the in-the-moment emotional attachment. It allows the cognitive part of your brain to do it’s logical, rational work. It allows synapses to create new neural pathways which in time become new thinking and speaking habits.

For me, as I choose the right hand, it makes life fun. But shucks, you wouldn’t want any fun, would you?

I’m curious. Which hand are you going to choose to operate from today, the left or the right? And which feelings do you choose to experience today, regardless of whether you are on the delivering or receiving end of words?

Love or Not-Love – You get to choose

Happy choosing!!

I’d love to know your thoughts and comments.  I invite you to send me a note.



Thanks for the comment, Michelle. Yes, we do have a choice – yet it if we are not aware, it can be too easy to get into the blame-game. The left-right hand method helps me remember it is always mine to choose, regardless of where others are coming from.

Emil Ohler

Hey Danno,
Here’s something cool; in my time off I’ve been learning about hypnosis. Alot of hypnosis is exactly what you are talking about. Creating new neural pathways, thinking differently about past events, basically, being positive. I’m starting to get it!


Hi Emil,
Thanks for the comment. You are exactly correct about how this all works. Life is a mind-game. The more we become aware (and even use some self-hypnosis) the easier and more fun it becomes. I think I’m starting to get it too.


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