Not Your Ordinary Vocabulary Lesson | Christian Family Solutions

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Jessica Landini

Does this sound familiar?

“I only exercised twice this week.”
“I cleaned only half of the apartment.”
“I didn’t do the other section of that report.”
“I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”

You may be wondering what all of these statements have in common. While on the surface level, these statements don’t seem particularly harmful. In fact, they may be coming from a place of truth and rationality. But if we dig a little deeper into the language and themes used in these statements, we find some common denominators:

  • Only
  • Didn’t do
  • Just
  • A sense of “not enough”

These are common words/phrases that we regularly use in everyday speech. These words are far from profanity, but can unexpectedly have some strong (and even negative) effects depending on how and why we use them in our speech.

Choice of language, while times overlooked and habitual, can be a strong indicator of how we view the world and, even more crucially, how we view ourselves. Simple words such as just and only seem very harmless. In fact, these words are so common that it is likely many of us are unaware just how many times (and in what context) we use them. Word choice and the way in which we construct our language have the ability to set either a positive or negative tone for how we interpret situations, and even how we identify ourselves and our worth.

Take for example the woman on a mission to improve her overall health. The woman steps on the scale for her weekly weigh-in, and says to herself, “I only lost .5 pounds this week.” Notice how the word only is being used in this statement. What does this language structure lead the woman to think, believe, or do? Any of the following might be possible with the choice and use of the word only:

  • The woman may believe that it is not a weight loss to be celebrated, since it is “only”.5 pounds.
  • The woman may then think she is not doing “well” enough, leading her to feel discouraged and disheartened.
  • The woman may lose motivation to continue her health regimen, based on the feeling of not doing “well enough” in her health goals for the previous week.
  • The woman may further lose her sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

While some of these may seem like drastic responses, the language that we use has a profound effect on our thoughts, feelings, and therefore, actions.

What happens when someone employs a simple word switch, changing “I only lost .5 pounds this week” to “I was able to lose .5 pounds this week!” While the situation itself has not changed, the way in which the situation is viewed can be drastically altered with a simple change of language. Now, instead of the responses we saw previously, we might see any of the following:

  • The woman celebrates the .5-pound weight loss, even if it is smaller than she anticipated.
  • The woman feels proud of her accomplishment for the week.
  • The woman is motivated to keep up with her health regimen and even improve into next week.

Language is a powerful tool that influences our thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Language even reflects how we frame our self-identity. Without meaning to, we have the power to belittle ourselves and our efforts based upon the language that we use. But we thankfully also have the capability to empower and acknowledge our God-given gifts and accomplishments by how we choose to structure our speech. This speech can include both verbal communication and our own thoughts. We have more power to influence ourselves than we think!

Recently, a contestant on the Miss America Pageant composed a personal monologue for the talent portion of the competition. She entered the stage in her nursing scrubs, which seemed a bit unconventional to the audience. The contestant then proceeded to perform the monologue based upon her experience as a nurse. The monologue centered on her experience with a particular patient that changed her entire view of her career and, in turn, her personal identity. Numerous times, the patient would ask for changes in his medication and in his treatment plan, and the contestant would reply, “I’m sorry; I’m only a nurse.” While the contestant was merely trying to explain why she could not perform the tasks for the patient, the statement “I’m only a nurse” began to stick with her and became part of her habitual language.

One day, after the contestant stated again, “I’m sorry; I’m only a nurse,” the patient replied: “You’re not only a nurse: You’re MY nurse, and a nurse that cared for me when it was probably most difficult to care. I appreciate you, and all that you do.” The contestant noted that that was a turning point in her career and in her identity. “Only” was holding her back. Her language inhibited her from reaching a sense of full appreciation for what she was able to do each day, seeing the value in her work, and ultimately, in herself.

My challenge for you is to be mindful of the language you use this week. Be aware of what message you are sending to others, and yourself, by the way in which you structure your speech to communicate your views of yourself and others. Utilize language to empower and encourage yourself, as this can have a profound and lasting effect. As God created his people and our mission on earth as “one body with many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12), let us too take pride in the role we play in this life through our accomplishments, characteristics, and strength we find in Him!


Are you finding that you might need a bit more guidance on this? Our counselors are trained in many techniques involving the power of positive self-talk and how the language we use affects our feelings and behaviors. Additionally, Jessica provides an extended explanation of this process in a goal-setting/motivational educational presentation. For more information, call us at 800-438-1772 or e-mail sends e-mail).

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