The Power of Words: How Inner Dialogue Can Protect or Damage You

How do you talk to yourself about the goals you'd like to achieve? How do you record them in your mental agenda? In this article, you'll see how the answers you give to these questions can either help or harm you in real life.
The Power of Words: How Inner Dialogue Can Protect or Damage You
Sharon Laura Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Laura Capeluto.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

Your everyday life is full of external demands, but also self-imposed ones. In fact, if you were to count the number of times you think in terms of what you ‘must’ do during the day, you’d be surprised at how many there are. “I  must get up early, I must exercise, I must eat healthily, I must have a good job and earn money,”…the list goes on.

As a rule, you’re not fully aware that you’re imposing a good number of obligations on yourself that exceed what you can actually achieve with your resources and ability.

These orders that you give yourself end up in a great deal of tension. So, what if you decided to be more careful about the words you allow in your internal dialogue?

Worried woman thinking
The ‘musts’ are loaded with obligations and demands that can stress you out.

The power of words

Literally speaking, words can save your life. Shouting “Help!” can make a stranger help you in a dangerous situation. By saying “Careful!” you can prevent an accident.

Words are important. We all remember certain phrases that remain engraved in our memories forever. An I don’t love you anymore” can break your heart, while an I’m here with you” can make your worries disappear or, certainly make them seem lighter. It’s like finding a mountain shelter in the midst of a storm.

Words are so powerful that they represent the most effective tool in any psychotherapeutic process. Indeed, words are valuable means that help to produce positive changes in mental health, either by improving assertive communication or reinforcing self-esteem. They also give you the freedom to express your most intimate revelations.

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly- they’ll go through anything.”

-Aldous Huxley-

It’s a long way from the must to the want

It turns out that “I must” and “I have to” are some of the most dangerous frequently used words. That’s because hidden behind them is a hyper-demand from which it seems impossible to escape.

The Korean philosopher, Byung-Chul Han states that people today pressure themselves to be excessively productive in order to have more money and thus be happier. He also explains why burnout syndrome is no longer a novelty in today’s society.

People who overload themselves with tasks that they label as mandatory, who follow the maxim that any task must be delivered well before the deadline, exhibit a perfectionism that they can hardly bear.

Those of us around them may not see it or understand where their self-demand comes from. Unsurprisingly, they eventually break because they just can’t take anymore. Their inner voice is like the eroding drops of water on a rock that eventually produce a deep hole, the kind that a single strong impact could never have caused.

“Today, everyone is an auto-exploiting labourer in his or her own enterprise. People are now master and slave in one.”

-Byung-Chul Han-

Stressed woman at work
A hyper-demanding internal dialogue at the work level can affect performance and productivity.

Choose words that act in your favor

As you can see, words have the power to destroy or protect you. They can empower or limit you. Saying ‘I must’ is an imperative that doesn’t allow any exceptions and doesn’t fit into an ecosystem that’s full of variables beyond your control.

Therefore, how about replacing the “I have to” with the “I’d like to”? Move from rigidity to flexibility. From imposition to volition. Here are some examples:

  • “I must have a healthy diet.” ➜ “I’d like to have a healthy diet.”
  • “I have to get a job that gives me a lot of money.” ➜ “I’d like to get a job that gives me a lot of money.”
  • “I have to graduate as soon as possible.” ➜ “I’d like to graduate as soon as possible.”
  • “I must travel.” ➜ “I’d love to travel.”

Your situation changes when you include more open and less demanding constructions in your vocabulary. Thus, what happens in your life course stops being translated into self-imposed punishments. For this reason, it’s important to consciously choose the words and tone of the sentences that you allow your inner voice to use. In short, to recognize the power of words.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Antony, Martin M. Swinson, Richard P. (2004) Cuando lo perfecto no es suficiente. Estrategias para hacer frente al perfeccionismo. 
  • Han, B. C. (2017). La sociedad del cansancio: Segunda edición ampliada. Herder Editorial.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.