Causes Of Stress: The Role Of Language In Human Stress

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Was the 17th century mathematician/philosopher Rene Descartes wrong when he uttered the phrase  “I think, therefore I am”?

For the past 300 years, we’ve accepted this idea as “the truth” about what makes us human.  But more recently, Descartes’ famous conclusion has been challenged, and a growing number of people today are beginning to recognize that it may not have been correct.

Language Is What Makes Us Human

A new model for understanding the nature of being human has emerged in the past few decades.  This new model, known as Biolinguistics, highlights the central role of language in our lives.

According to this view, all qualities that distinguish us as being human arise from our unique and complex biological capacities for language.  This includes our ability to think, to have conscious awareness, to reason, to imagine, and even our capacities for perception and creativity.  And the type of language we have is unique among all other living creatures.  For example, we are the only animals that can make promises and requests.  We are also the only animals that can imagine a future world and intentionally organize our actions to translate our plans into reality.

We Don’t Use Language—Language Uses Us!

In the Biolinguistic view, language is not seen as a tool that human beings use.  Rather, to be human means that language “uses us.”  We do not voluntarily choose to make use of language (although we can choose to use, or not use, certain words), but rather our ability to think, observe, reason, communicate, or choose anything in our lives requires that language (in the broadest sense) be present first, or these other things would not be possible.

Conversations And Action Patterns

Another way that language “uses us” is by “programming” our bodies with certain conversations (or thoughts) that are passed on to us from others, as we grow and mature within our social networks and societies.  These internal conversations turn into beliefs, attitudes, values, and personal philosophies, all of which can give rise to tremendous amounts of stress in our lives, especially when they are not well-connected to reality.

This central role of language in human life, and especially in the origin of our stress, is far too broad a topic to adequately address in a brief introductory article like this.  But language clearly does play a major role in the amount of stress we each experience, and this role is often unrecognized, thereby causing us to misunderstand what is really causing our stress to occur.

Language, in the form of thoughts, beliefs, theories, and other ideas, also plays a key role in determining our behaviors (action patterns), and our behaviors, in turn, can also lead to our stress.

Thus, by directly giving rise to our thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and behavior tendencies, language plays a central, but often hidden role, in the origins of human stress.

What Should Descartes Have Concluded?

Descartes would have been more accurate had he said “I speak, therefore I am.”  Thinking is just another by-product of our biologic capacities for language.  Thus, it is human language, not thinking, that fundamentally differentiates us from all other living species.

This is why there are a growing number of people today, myself included, who are beginning to accept that Descartes was actually wrong when he said, “I think therefore I am,”  and that Biolinguistics is a more precise way to understand ourselves as human beings. I also believe that Biolinguistics is a much better model for understanding the root causes of our stress.

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