When Words Lose Meaning

The other day, I saw a repeat of a fallacy I’ve seen many times before. At least it’s a fallacy in my personal life. So I thought I’d write about it.

It basically goes like this…
“If I tell you you’re beautiful/handsome/amazing/good/smart/my favorite…if I say I love you…if I give you praise *too often,* the words will lose their meaning.”

This hasn’t ever been true for me. Whether words are positive or negative…whether they are compliments or criticism…they don’t lose any potency or significance with repetition. J or my son or my best friend could all tell me they love me and say nice things about me nonstop all day every day and all of those words will still be meaningful. I wish criticism and insults lost their meaning with repetition. But they don’t.
I feel like most of the time when this is said (it’s always said about repeating affirmations…good things about or to or inspired by a person)…that words lose meaning with regular repetition…it’s really an excuse for the person offering this logic to dismiss someone’s need for reassurance or words of affirmation. Because they either just don’t want to offer these things regularly (or at all), or they don’t feel those things are truthful. I think that’s the reality of the situation almost every time. At least in my experience. I hear and feel the words people say to me every time. Repetition, if anything, makes words MORE meaningful and more internalized and believed. That’s why we drill the ABC’s and math facts into young children. That’s why we go over fundamentals and conditioning in baseball or soccer or basketball over and over and over. That’s why we practice musical instruments to improve our play. Repetition doesn’t make things lose meaning. It reinforces them. It embeds them into your brain until they are nearly involuntary.

I mean, I get the thought process behind this assertion. That if you hear something over and over you want to tune it out.


But that’s really not due to the repetition; it’s due to what’s being repeated. If we find something annoying or uninteresting or unvalued, we tune out. I can hear a song I love over and over again and it never gets old. I can see a movie I’ve seen dozens of times over again, and I still enjoy it…because I love it…I’m interested in it. I’ve assigned it value and meaning. And that’s the same with other people’s words.

If J tells me he thinks I’m smart often (and he does) that doesn’t somehow dilute the meaning of the word ‘smart’ to me.


It doesn’t make the word obsolete. It doesn’t make it less valuable because he says it a lot. Same with, “I love you.” Or any other kind thing he says or does for me. Because I’ve assigned his words significance. I choose if the words he says to me are meaningful, and also? I get the feeling HE values and has assigned significance to the words he says to me. He means, “I love you,” every time. He’s not just saying it because he has nothing else to say, or because he thinks it’s what I want to hear. The same with if he tells me, “Dinner was good,” or, “I like your hair,” or, “That’s great that you finished that story/got that project done,” or whatever. He means it. I know he means it. He’s valuable to me. I know I’m valuable to him. Therefore, his words have meaning, no matter how many times he says the same words. He says words that aren’t even really affirmations, but just reassurance over and over for me too. They’re also meaningful every time. Their power isn’t lessened by their frequency. “I’m right here.” “I’m not going anywhere.” Those words are always important and always prized. Even if he says them every day or more (and sometimes he does).

To ME, words lose their meaning only when I don’t assign them value. I choose when words are meaningless. And for me, that’s usually when there’s an air of insincerity about them. There are people in my life who could say the same words J says…”You’re so smart, Jen…I love you…I’m right here…I’m not going anywhere…Count on me…that’s great that you <did whatever>…<something I made> is great!…”
And their words don’t mean shit to me. It’s not because they say them all the time. And it’s not because they DON’T say them all the time. It’s because I don’t trust their motives or intentions. Maybe they have something to gain by soliciting my faith or good graces. Or (usually, actually) it’s because they have a history of saying things they don’t mean. I’m actually pretty blown away by how many people lie and how often they do. When a person tells me, “I’m here for you,” and then they repeatedly AREN’T…or when a person tells me, “I love you,” but then treats me with indifference (which, as Elie Wiesel said, is the opposite of love)…those words are meaningless.

So yeah…to people who do that, “I won’t/don’t/can’t give <my child/my partner/my employees/my spouse/my friends/whomever> praise or positive affirmations or reassurance of some kind often, because then those words will become meaningless…”
I’ve found that at least for me, that’s not so. If someone in your life values you, they value your words, no matter how often you repeat them. And I obviously can’t speak for all of humanity when I say this, and I admit I’m a weirdo, but I don’t think I’m SO weird I’m totally wrong about this for at least a significant percentage of humans other than me–but I actually think it would be greatly appreciated and perhaps even MORE believable and real and meaningful if you repeated the positive things you think and feel for and about those people in your life who you think and feel positive things about to them. I think it would actually mean a lot to them.

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