Speak with Truth, Kindness & Necessity: Our Words Literally Restructure Our Brain


Path at Park

Say what is true and kind and necessary.

The words we use change us in the moment they are spoken, and, over time, change our brain.

Positive words engage the brain region responsible for understanding the big picture, active listening, respect, problem solving and empathy. Negative words engage the fear center. After many years of working with clients in high conflict situations on how to communicate without escalating, I agree the researchers have a point.

Recently, a client called with a typical communication challenge many experience. This woman was challenged by how to decline an invite from her mother-in-law. She was stuck in how to explain her decline; how the marital difficulties were in the way of accepting the invitation. Nothing felt quite right.

‘Explaining why’ is generally not recommended. It often compels the receiver to take offense, or to defend against the ‘why’. Marital difficulties, especially involving a personality-disordered partner, often present conflicted feelings about interacting with in-laws. Many want to preserve the connection and relationship, yet face interference from their spouse, or ex-spouse.

Instead of creating explanations, I asked this woman to listen to ‘What her heart wanted to say?’ What is True? Kind? Necessary?

Freed up from old thinking patterns, she formed this response: “At another time and under other circumstances, I would love to join you, but it is not possible at this time. You are dear to me.” By setting aside her fear, and the need to explain, she could speak from the heart. The task was easy, heartfelt, kind.

There is no kind way to tell a mother-in-law her child/your spouse is narcissistic, borderline, sociopathic, or using again, and is unsafe to be around. The obstacle: “I can’t think of what to say and nothing feels right,” was replaced with feelings of ease, warmth, and “this is lovely”.

The brain forms strong neuropathways in patterns where our thoughts most often go. A useful analogy for neuropathways in the brain would be our roads, highways and super highways. Most traffic uses the biggest highways and relatively little traffic uses the dirt and grass driveway to the cabin. A person in relationship with a personality-disordered individual is very accustomed to defending themselves by explaining why. Over time and with much practice, the brain is very wired to automatically transport via this Explain Why superhighway.

Driving 500 miles on gravel back roads is more challenging than doing so on an interstate highway. We generally take the easier, and efficient, way. Human nature chooses what is familiar, even if it is not in our best interest. Superhighways have their place, as does strong brain wiring. Mastering any skill automatically wires in superhighways. Mastering the art of defensiveness and explaining why is also a superhighway. Sometimes our journey calls for a slower pace to enjoy the natural beauty along the way to the same destination. The end result is that no matter how kind your intentions, explanations come from the fear region of the brain and do you little good. The habit forms when trying to defend your self over and over. Explanations do not work with a personality-disordered partner with narcissism (NPD) or borderline (BPD). Contrary to what you intend, your explanation backfires. It gives your partner more information to use against you in the future. It tells them their tactics (blame you, derail the focus away from them) are working. If explanations were truly effective, they would have worked a long time ago.

Releasing the destructive need to explain why, the brain needs to rewire new pathways. A new traveler of the back roads may not realize such beauty exists. Once traveled, the ease and joy brings motivation to repeat the behavior. Over time, different parts of the brain engage where attitudes and beliefs are reshaped to be more positive, and life affirming. Leading with a higher vibration from the heart, repeating until it is habit, the brain re-wires to suit a more empowered, centered, and balanced better self.

The bottom line is that we want to listen carefully to what we are thinking. Some negative and self-limiting thoughts formed pathways fraught with potholes, which will throw our ‘wheels’ out of alignment.

What do the researchers say? Here is an excerpt from the research noted in Spirit Science, “Speak with Kindness: How Your Words Literally Restructure Your Brain”. The article explains the merits of positive word choice and the downfall of negative words from the perspective of brain research.

“Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, and Mark Robert Waldman, a communications expert, collaborated on the book, “Words Can Change Your Brain.” In it, they write, “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.

When we use words filled with positivity, like “love” and “peace”, we can alter how our brain functions by increasing cognitive reasoning and strengthening areas in our frontal lobes. Using positive words more often than negative ones can kick-start the motivational centers of the brain, propelling them into action.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, when we use negative words, we are preventing certain neuro-chemicals from being produced, which contribute to stress management. Each and every one of us is initially hardwired to worry; it’s how our primal brain protects us from dangerous situations for survival.

So, when we allow negative words and concepts into our thoughts, we are increasing the activity in our brain’s fear center (the amygdala), and causing stress-producing hormones to flood our system. These hormones and neurotransmitters interrupt the logic and reasoning processes in the brain and inhibit normal functionality. Newberg and Waldman write, “Angry words send alarm messages through the brain, and they partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.” 1

1 Spirit Science. http://thespiritscience.net/2016/05/18/your-words-can-change-your-brain/


If you read to this point, bravo! You are already on a path to communication ease and freedom. You are already on a new thinking pathway. Give yourself permission to learn more effective ways to communicate, while also realistically seeing your partner for who he/she is, not who you want him/her to be. Difficult personality disorders cannot empathize. They only know how to attack and blame and derail focus away from themselves. If you are partnered in such an environment, you have rehearsed how to defend yourself. When attacked, it is natural to defend. You have wasted countless hours second-guessing yourself, doubting your decisions. There are more effective ways to navigate difficult conflicts. Your fully alive life awaits you.


Call to Action

  1. On your own, pay attention to your thoughts when you are afraid, or feeling the need to defend.
  2. I urge you to seek the help of a professional, trained specifically to understand the nuances of a relationship involving a personality-disordered partner. Those Explain and Defend superhighways are compellingly deceptive. Years of habituation can be undone in relatively short time with a guide to coach you to freedom from doubt, guilt, and second guessing your self.


© 2016 Maren Beckman & Associates. All rights reserved.

The Path of Anger

A couple divorcing is a couple experiencing anger. Generally, the role it plays is not positive. It’s worth a closer look because few will escape this feeling and many are at the mercy of the unexamined presence of anger. It takes significant tolls and leads to unnecessary suffering. The costs of anger range from the personal and emotional, to the work place in diminished job performance, and to the legal arena, where it is single handedly responsible for unnecessarily driving up legal costs.

Faces of Anger

The forms anger might take ranges from rage and violence, to mild resentment, and includes revenge, outrage, fury, jealousy, impatience, frustration, meanness, sarcasm, aggression, revulsion, agitation, smoldering, sullenness, pouting, and stubbornness.

Anger covers for fear of loss, for fear of emotions, response to betrayal, suppression of feelings, right/wrongness, belief in entitlement and more.

 Upside of Anger 

Anger, when used positively, enables a person drowning in sadness to light an internal fire and take action, thus drying up their watery sadness. Anger rallies to action the apathetic person who has reached the end of the rope of denial, or tolerance, of a difficult and unhealthy relationship. Used positively, anger fires up the ambitions for betterment. It can inspire us to improve communication skills, to renewed life goals, and to 20/20 clarity on a life of lived values. Anger can inspire us to be better and be more alive.

 Downside of Anger

Anger has many sources, often connected with fears. We are reluctant to admit to being afraid. Whether or not we admit to fear, if fear drives your anger, then fear drives your life. Who or what is driving your life?

Over the years, countless fears have paraded through the lives of divorcing individuals, ranging from fear of what others will say, fear of judgment at being a divorced and single mother, fear of judgment by society and the ongoing stigma of divorce, the fears stemming from a trounced on pride, betrayal and the fear of loss of ability to read people, to trust people, fear of lost confidence, fear of years of life wasted, fear of nothing to show for years of self-sacrifice, and the list goes on.

To complicate matters, often we force ourselves out of binding agreements by making someone wrong. Divorcing couples often succumb to right and wrong perspectives to extract themselves from unsatisfactory relationships. If the other person is to blame, we are sanctioned by the church and God to break unbreakable vows, to hold our heads high in superiority, to gain the attention of sympathizers, to gain family, friend, and community approval, and to have a substantial following on “our side.”  While this shortcuts some of the painful emotional terrain, and “lets us off the hook”, it also complicates the process of letting go of fear and anger. It even cements in those negative emotions so they become chronic manifestations, disrupting peace of mind, healthy new relationships, and robust physical health. They have an undercurrent of hostility, negativism, and chronic resentments, and prevent full experience of joy, peace and happiness.

 “The price we pay for chronic anger and resentment is sickness and premature death. Anger is binding, not freeing. Is this worth the small satisfaction of being right?” -Dr. David Hawkins

Anger robs us of clear thinking and efficient problem solving. While hostility and intimidation may quickly get the issue off the table, or stalemate the process, it does nothing to satisfy the issue in the best possible manner for both sides. And it shuts down the whole brain thinking for both parties in the negotiation. Only the reptilian brain is engaged during anger. Few good results can be expected from divorce negotiations when either party is caught up in anger.

Post divorce anger costs emotionally as well. Take chronic resentments, for example, where emotional baggage is brought to the next relationship. Chronic resentments take many forms, including lack of trust, distorted clarity in assessing a potential partner, hesitant commitment, mild paranoia towards new partners, poor health and dissatisfaction with life. The many forms chronic resentment can take would fill a book and are beyond the scope of this article.

Relinquishing Anger

We cannot look to media, or to the masses, for support on relinquishing anger. Media churns out right and wrong judgments on a daily basis, often within every story. We are habituated to thinking in right and wrong concepts from our earliest academic experiences to the boardroom and to the newsroom. Countries are wrong, politicians are wrong, and anyone who disagrees with our opinions is wrong. Anger! Fear!

To release the grip of anger is an inside job. What is required of us is dogged determination to observe and dissipate each negative emotion or thought. With each observable, we notice the emotion and the feeling it creates in our bodies, and allow it to run its course. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. Simply allow the feeling to spend itself. It will pass just as the ocean tides go out, just as the sun rises and sets.

 Benefits of Relinquishing Anger

Relinquishing anger brings many benefits. It opens us to greater compassion, to an appreciation for the gifts in our lives, to gratitude, to well being, to reduced stress, to improved health, and to an overall life satisfaction. Knowledge is the first step in releasing the grip on your life. Taking positive action is the next.  Your happiness and joy await.