Language creates reality. The words we hear influence how we feel about ourselves and others. Researchers at the University of Chicago (Williams et al, 2018) examined this by investigating how listening to loving-kindness-based language affected participants’ perception of distress.
Participants listened to recordings of statements designed to cultivate positive, compassionate feelings (such as “May you be truly happy; May you love yourself completely just the way you are”). Those in the control group listened to statements about health and security (e.g., “May you live your life in safety; May you be truly well and free of illness”). Both groups then viewed images of painful stimuli and rated how much pain might be experienced.
The study examined whether the statements affected participants’ sensitivity to their own imagined pain and the pain of others. The results showed that those who listened to the loving-kindness statements perceived greater pain for others (demonstrating higher interpersonal sensitivity). Interestingly, those in the control group who listened to the security-based language rated imagined self-pain higher.
Exposing ourselves to loving-kindness statements may result in decreased sensitivity to our own pain. It may also help us better attune to the distress of others. The words we choose on the inside can really help us experience compassion and connection with those on the outside.
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