I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about language and the power of words. Words to conjure, words to curse.
Abracadabra and amen.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis argues that language defines our thoughts, and by extension our realities. It is partly for this reason we hear self-help coaches laud the power of affirmations, because through repetition we form beliefs.
Spiritual and political leaders recognize the power in repeated words and phrases. Christians are likely familiar with “amen,” or the biblical Hebrew “so be it,” and through both folklore and popular culture, many of us have heard “abracadabra,” a derivation of the Aramaic phrase “avra kehdabra,” meaning “I create as I speak.”
For those who follow US news, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines this week in denouncing the hateful and misogynistic speech directed at her by a conservative male colleague. Her response was heartfelt, articulate, and well-reasoned, as per usual, and if you haven’t yet caught it, I highly recommend listening. It felt to me like the response I wish I’d been able to conjure when I’ve been called “bitch” before.
Because I’ve certainly been called “bitch,” as have, I’m sure, a majority of womxn and femmes in our culture. Bitch. Cunt. Slut. Prude. Bossy. Strident. Fussy. Crazy. Emotional. I can easily call to mind a half-dozen scenarios when former colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and lovers used gendered language to cut me down. Like AOC, I find myself more or less unaffected when I think of them. They were the words of scared men and boys—they don’t pierce my armor.
But I am so very tired of this armor, the weight of bearing it. Even under the most supportive and loving of circumstances, it feels almost impossible to not internalize at least some of the patriarchy’s toxicity, and lately I find myself caught in loops of negative self-talk. I know I’ll struggle with ABC, it’s too embarrassing to even try, or my other go-to, I always mess up XYZ, I’m such a failure.
And quite frankly, I’d be furious with a man if I heard him say the things about me that I think about me.
So what makes it different when I say it about myself? What magic am I casting when I berate myself?
As the moon waxes, I invite you to spend some time meditating on the language that you use to describe yourself. Are they words of fear or words of power? Are they your own words, or words that you inherited from another? Write them all down, then set fire to any that don’t serve you. Save the rest, and make sure you say them to yourself every day. Write yourself love letters, and keep doing so until you believe every word.
Because you are magic.