The words we use shape our perceptions and our interactions with the world. Through words we are taught to label the countless stimuli that enter our sensory portals. Our parents, schools, and society at large shape our concepts of who we are, how we experience others, and how we express ourselves – often without their awareness or ours that this shaping is occurring. The words and labels we learn to use come to identify who we are, what we do, how we do it, and how we relate to each other individually and collectively, and how we interact with the environment.

We take our perceptions of the world for granted because our family, friends, and nation validate our perceptions by consensual agreement. It rarely occurs to us that there are many other ways to perceive the very same world we inhabit, and even more ways to interpret the perceptions and to act on them.

Here are some contrasts from other languages that highlight issues we take for granted.

Having lived in Israel for four years as a child and for six as an adult, in England for nearly ten years, and in many parts of the US for the rest of my several decades on this planet, I have a keen sense of particular words that indicate differences in ways of relating to the world. I have often wondered why some of the rich, warm and juicy expressions in other languages have not enriched my native tongue of American English.

For instance, I'm surprised we have no equivalent of "Bon appetite" (French) or "B'tay-avon" (Hebrew) – friendly acknowledgements of shared repasts. "Happy appetite," "Good appetite" or "Have a good meal" just don't seem to ring as warmly. Perhaps it's because we're largely a nation of fast food dining and don't really care about the quality of what we're eating, as long as it's cheap and served without too long a wait.

Chutzpah (ch = gutteral sound, as in clearing the throat prior to spitting) is a juicy term from Hebrew that has no adequate equivalent in English. It's somewhere in the range between spunk and gall, perhaps better explained by example than by other terms, as in this apocryphal story: A man who killed his parents had the chutzpah to plead for mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.

British English can be a foreign language to an American. Living for close to ten years in England, I never found explanations for why they chose 'torch' for flashlight; 'bonnet' for the hood of a car, 'boot' for the car's trunk; 'spanner' for the tool we identify as a wrench; 'nappies' for diapers; and 'keep your pecker up' for 'cheer up' or 'be of good cheer.'

Of greater import, in Britain and the rest of Europe, a summer holiday isn't just an elective trip to the shore or to a foreign destination, as it would be in the US. A holiday is a sacred annual ritual, never to be ignored or neglected. There is almost nothing that will have a higher priority in planning and budgeting than the summer holiday. This is a time for the family to be together, to have spirits refreshed and regenerated. It is an excellent form of relaxation therapy.

Politicians, promoters of products and services, and the media deliberately shape our beliefs – for their own purposes and benefits. The people who hijacked four planes on 9-11 are terrorists in America, but are martyrs in parts of the Muslim world. The Bush government put spins on its policies, often labeling them with positive terms while pursuing very negative goals under such patriotic flag labels as: “No child left behind,” which is leaving many children behind – without the training needed in critical thinking that goes beyond the 3 R’s. The ‘War on Terrorism” has justified invading two countries that had little if anything to do with the terrorism used as justification for these invasions.

Our everyday language can also trap us into limiting beliefs. How often do you hear someone say, “I’ll try to behave better” (or “I’ll try harder to diet”; “I’ll try to listen next time you’re telling me something important”; or “I’ll try to say I’m upset rather than barking at you”). Have you ever tried to pick up a pencil? Tried to scratch your left ear? Did you try or did you actually do it? When we say we’re trying to do something, we’re really hedging, giving ourselves permission to not put out our full effort or even to not actually do it.

Many of the words – along with the ideas and feelings we habitually repeat in our head – are programmed into our mental concepts libraries in our childhood. Often, it is our feelings that lock us into loops of repeating the same thoughts and behaviors. We are anxious or afraid to change these because this is how we’ve been trained and how we’ve behaved all of our lives.

Many people come to me for help with physical and psychological pains. They may have suffered these for years or even for decades. Often, their pains appear to be held in with mental locks that make it difficult to release them. Part of this is habit, and part is a collection of limiting beliefs and feelings that inhibit them from addressing and letting go of their issues surrounding the pains.

'Donna' suffered from terrible migraines that were incapacitating, particularly during her menstrual period. She came for help because these were getting steadily worse and she was losing several days of work each month. Donna's mother had suffered similar headaches and menstrual pains, and had told Donna that these were simply burdens that women had to bear.

Donna believed her mother, and had had little benefits from a variety of medications. She was astounded at how rapidly she was able to release her pains – but only after she had addressed her beliefs about having to suffer these pains because she was a woman.

WHEE is a potent self-healing method that can allow us to reprogram our hard drive, deleting unwanted and troublesome beliefs and feelings, and then installing healing replacements for what we've released. Angers, fears, hurts, depression and other experiences that plague us can be quickly released with WHEE.

So I hope you won’t just try to pay attention to your words in the future!

An expanded version of this article appears in Benor, DJ, Healing potentials in our words, at International Journal of Healing and Caring - Online, January, 2001, 1-8, and at

Your feedback on this article is welcomed.

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Author's Bio: 

My bio summarizes my ongoing search for ever more ways to peel the onion of life's resistances, to reach the knowing (with the inner knowing of truth which has the feel of rightness) that we are all cells in the body of the Infinite Source.

While my unique area of expertise is spiritual awareness and healing, my principal work is through wholistic healing – addressing spirit, relationships (with other people and the environment), mind, emotions and body. I am using WHEE, a potent self-healing method, with children and adults who are dealing with PTSD and other forms of stress, psychological and physical pain, low self-esteem, cravings and other issues.

Daniel J. Benor, MD, ABIHM, is a wholistic psychiatric psychotherapist who blends in his therapy elements from intuitive and spiritual awareness, spiritual healing (as in Reiki and Therapeutic Touch), WHEE - Wholistic Hybrid derived from Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), transactional analysis, gestalt therapy, hypnotherapy, meditation, imagery and relaxation (psychoneuroimmunology), dream analysis, and other approaches. Dr. Benor has taught this spectrum of methods internationally for 35 years to people involved in wholistic, intuitive, and spiritual approaches to caring, health and personal development.

Dr. Benor founded The Doctor-Healer Network in England and North America. He is the author of Healing Research, Volumes I-III and many articles on wholistic, spiritual healing. He is the editor and publisher of the peer-reviewed International Journal of Healing and Caring - Online and moderator of, a major informational website on spiritual awareness, healing and CAM research.

He appears internationally on radio and TV. He is a Founding Diplomate of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, Founder and Immediate Past Coordinator for the Council for Healing, a non-profit organization that promotes awareness of spiritual healing, and for many years on the advisory boards of the journals, Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Subtle Energies (ISSSEEM), Frontier Sciences, the Advisory Council of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychotherapy (ACEP), Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and the Advisory Board of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine (UK), Core reviewer for BioMed Central, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Online.

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