Effects of Negative Words: Common Expressions and Their Power

Words are powerful. While positive words can boost your self-esteem and self-image, the impact of negative words can have long-lasting detrimental effects. Whether you're talking to a child, a sibling, a friend, a colleague, or a stranger, it's important to consider how negative words can affect a person. Keep reading to see the impact that negative words can have and learn how to better choose your words.

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Power of Negative Words

The English language contains thousands of words, many of which have positive or negative connotations. Sometimes people are unaware of the effects that their negative words, which they perceive as neutral or even helpful, can have on others. These effects include:

  • Childhood trauma - Children who were brought up in a household where sharp criticism and cruel taunts were normal can tell you that words can hurt even more than body blows.
  • Poor self-esteem - Negative words imbed themselves in young minds, along with the pain that someone who should love you and cherish you, such as a parent or a teacher, apparently doesn’t think very much of you at all.
  • Repercussive results - As they grow up, kids will repeat these negative things to themselves and never learn to trust themselves.
  • Anxiety - Studies have shown that children with negative self-talk, handed down from adults in their lives, often experience long-term anxiety in their lives.
  • Self-defeating behavior - Many teenagers with poor self-images engage in bad behaviors that hurt them even worse, creating an even more negative environment for themselves.
  • A cycle of verbal abuse - Cruelty breeds cruelty. A child who knows nothing else but negativity may become a negative person, even to those who never knew them as a child.

While most of these results are seen from the perspective of a child, it's important to analyze them in all social contexts. A negative attitude from a manager may lead to poor communication in the workplace, for example, or insulting words from a stranger may reinforce someone's poor self-perception. That's why working negative words out of your daily vocabulary can lead to a chain reaction of positivity.

Common Negative Words and Expressions

It's easy to think that negative words reflect a negative mindset, but that's not always the case. While negative words such as bad, horrible, ugly, hate, and stupid are often intended to hurt someone's feelings, other negative language may just be the result of choosing the wrong pronoun, verb or adverb.

Grammatically negative words include:

  • negative pronouns (no one, nobody, none, nothing, neither, nowhere)
  • negative verbs (aren't, can't, couldn't, doesn't, don't, isn't, shouldn't, wasn't, weren't, won't, wouldn't)
  • negative adverbs (barely, hardly, no, not, never, scarcely)

Strictly speaking, these words are only negative because they mean the opposite of their affirmative forms. They're not insulting or degrading by themselves. It's only when you put them into conversation or common expressions that they become hurtful.

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Negative Words in Common Expressions

Many people use language that may be more negative than they mean it to be. For example, if a teenager says "No one cares about me," they're not trying to insult the parent who does care quite a lot. They're trying to express their own feeling.

Read these examples of negative words in common conversational expressions, as well as their affirmative replacements. You may find that using "I" statements, which put yourself as the subject of the sentence, make these expressions more about you and your needs.

Negative ExpressionWhat the Listener HearsAffirmative Replacement
You never help around the house.You're lazy.I need more help around the house.
Neither of those options looks good to me.I hate your choices.I'd like to see more options, please.
You can't do this.You're bad at this.Let me help you do this.
Hardly anyone came to my party.I'm not popular.I have a few really good friends.
I wouldn't do that if I were you.I make better choices than you do.Maybe you should rethink that decision.
You don't want me to be happy.You don't care about my happiness.I need to you listen to how I feel.
There's nothing to do.The activities you've provided for me aren't good enough.Let's think of something to do together.
You shouldn't feel that way.Your feelings aren't real or important.I'm sorry you were offended.

The next time you use these words in conversation, try to use these replacements to avoid the impact of negative words. Even if you're not feeling very positive about a situation, an affirmative statement can make you sound more neutral — and it may get your point across without hurting anyone's feelings.

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Accentuate the Positive

The impact of negative words can be more powerful than you think. Taking negative words out of your everyday conversation is an important step to making your life more positive. If everyone worked on the same skill, the world would be a much more pleasant place! Work these words out of your academic and business writing as well with these negative words to avoid in writing. You can also work on emphasizing positive traits with a list of over 100 positive adjectives.