Let’s Talk

No Sticky-Note Words

Q. Some words people say to encourage just seem empty – almost fake. Could you talk about that?

A. Let’s Talk! Yes. You are so discerning! Words are meant to carry meaningful messages. We hope we are giving reflective and non-hurtful messages, but in that effort we can also be guilty of giving seemingly positive but empty messages. Our messages must be tethered to substance and truth, or they are in the category of a sticky note or temporary patch. These messages can be hurtful too if they are artificial, give unasked-for advice, or wound.

I have seen this occur most often when someone is in a difficulty, and friends don’t want them to hurt, so the friends offer common positive phrases that actually wound. Examples are: “I know just how you feel and things will get better.” Or, “Time will take care of this.” Or, “Just think about this (or memorize this).” Slam dunk, hit and run. Hurting people need empathy, not a “get it together” message—no matter how positive it may sound. Positive is not always helpful! In fact, sometimes it feels like the one with the “positive” words is actually talking down to the one who is hurting. The subliminal message is, “I know what to do next and you don’t!” Think about it! Words sure matter…

I hope that you have been chewing on or thinking about your words this week! Thanks to several of you who sent in some Rs to add to my list last week. I have listed them below:

From Martha : Refire. Remain (until you are endued with power from on high.). Relate. Redirect. Refurbish. Reevaluate.

From Jesse: Respect Yourself. Self-Realization. God-Realization. Personal Responsibility. Retreat when in Reaction. Renaissance. Revitalize. Hit the Refresh button often. Return Home (Heart). Respond. Rejuvenation. Relax. Relaxation. Reorganize.

For Deeper Reflection

Proverbs 12: 18 “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Proverbs 15: 2 “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.”

Proverbs 18:13 “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”

Proverbs 25: 11 “Like apples of gold in settings of silver Is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”

James 3:5 “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com.



  1. Good word, Helen. Why are we so quick to attempt to “fix” situations when what often is needed is a kind and listening ear? Where did we learn that anyway?

    • Morning, Jan! Good word yourself! I agree that it is a good thing to be wired to want to help or fix – yea for First Responders and other lifesavers in physical emergencies. But, we misuse that gift when we get ahead of the timing of helping in other realms! A wounded one needs to have their heart listened to and validated first. They may even know themselves what the fix is, and it honors them to give them the first shot at it! It’s a form of respect, isn’t it, to ask them what they think needs to happen next. After that – I love the practice of asking if I may share input. It’s my antidote to trying to be a fixer!! Where did it come from to rush in, you ask. Lots of thoughts there. A love of truth and wanting to share it. False pride. A compulsion to have all the answers. Ooooh, the list goes on! LOVE U, Helen