Bill Cottringer

As a kid I never bought into the infamous playground chant, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. Just re-look at my last name above. Now let your imagination run wild, empathizing about all the possible hurt and pain that a 9-16 year old could feel from the infinite number of unflattering, rude and vulgar versions the name “Cottringer” could produce, as ammunition to out-power the twigs and pebbles available at most playgrounds. It won’t take long.

Having survived the brutal name-calling into adulthood, I was driven to study the power of words—both productive and destructive. But I was particularly drawn to the latter because I was studying the pathology of mental illness and how miscommunication adversely influences a person’s odd behavior. Now for several decades I have researched, experienced and thought about the destructive power of certain words. The words I have been most concerned about are the ones that lead past the point of no return in relationships—going past the contempt level that is dangerously irreconcilable.

Many relationship researchers have found that the expression of contempt is a relationship destroyer. The question is: Will it do any good to just think it and not express it? Lately I have been focusing more on the things that I am certain are under my control. I haven’t mastered the art of mind control yet, but I certainly can choose what I say or don’t say and stick to it to develop the right habit. Maybe the less contempt we speak and act out, the less we will think and feel until it starts dissolving. Long ago, I read about a little known South American Indian culture that didn’t have any word for “anger.” Now we will never know for sure which came first—the chicken of the egg—but that culture had no counterpart in the way of angry behavior. Hmmm.

I think we should all stop and take inventory of the most destructive words and phrases that have hit home most for us and agree to think these things but not express them, so that we can make a dent in reducing the contempt factor that keeps too much anger alive and destroys lives. At least parents may want to consider doing this with their own kids.

Here are just a few contemptuous words that have been used against me and that I have used against others.

• “I hate you!” You can never really hate another person, but only what they are saying or doing to you at a given time and place. And no one is capable of staying ‘hate-able’ forever. Lighten up and be real. Think it but don’t be compelled to speak it.
• “You are paranoid.” What is wrong with a little distrust and suspicion until the facts are in? Besides true paranoia is a physiological thing with very real biochemistry changes. I can remember a prison inmate that I tested once many years ago on the MMPI. He showed up clinically paranoid. After looking over his answers to the questions that represented that scale and talking to him about them, I could easily see that where there is smoke there is fire. He was one of the few inmates who drew a social security allotment and people were in fact out to get him or at least his money. He also had a very expensive ruby ring on his finger that other inmates tried to chop off.
• “Your nose is ugly.” This is a no-no, because such an affliction is impervious to your ability to do anything about it short of expensive plastic surgery few people can afford these days. Just to unfair to mention.
• “You are a hopelessly crazy, childish, stupid, incompetent moron.” That is entirely just too much negative feedback for any one person to weather. Pick one and define it clearly, beyond your over-interpreted connotations, and prepare to defend your reasoning objectively. Good luck! Just don’t say it.
• “Any non-verbal behavior that conveys the really bad things we all want to avoid.” This is the unfair way we bully others into submitting to our rightness and admitting their wrongness—expressions of smug, self-righteous superiority; over-control of another person’s psychological freedom and space; harsh, snap judgments; strategically manipulated dishonesty; imposed over-certainty; insensitivity of any sort; and not listening. We all want to be treated with equality, freedom, acceptance, honesty, tentativeness and sensitivity and be listened to.

These are just a few examples to get you started. What destructive words or phrases have been thrown at you and you threw back worst versions—words that you thought and expressed and could have stopped at the thought? This subject is in deed worth a whole lot of thought and a whole lot less expression.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA and also a business and personal success coach, sport psychologist, photographer and writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, The Prosperity Zone, Getting More By Doing Less, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Do What Matters Most, “P” Point Management, and Reality Repair Rx coming shortly. He can be contacted with comments or questions at 425 454-5011 or