Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Can words promote healing?

To answer that question, first think about how you feel when a loved one makes an offhand negative comment to you, or when you have an argument and the words go flying in the heat of the moment.

Or even on those days when you seem to be avoiding each other as if you each existed in a different universe. Brrrr…it’s cold in here.

Upset? Stressed? Sad? Resentful? Alone?

Now, think about how you feel when you hear words of kindness. Most likely, a whole lot better.

Accepted? Cared for? Loved? Respected?

And what about when you are the one saying those kind words?

Words can heal. They help you relax. They give you a sense of well-being. They even produce those positive hormones that can make you feel warm all over.

And that’s good for you, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

So why don't we use more healing words when we talk to each other?

There are a lot of reasons. We don't always know what to say. We get caught up in the moment and become all about being right and hurting back because we feel hurt. We feel like we are always the one to give in and it’s somebody else’s turn. And on and on.

The reasons are not so important. What’s important is the end result. A missed connection with a loved one. And a missed opportunity to feel better.

So how do you get started in using healing words? I’ll get the ball rolling by telling you my top three:

“I love you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.”

Profound, right? No? What I have learned about these phrases is that the effect can be like magic, both on us as well as the people we say them to. The next time you are having a tense situation with someone you care about, or are just feeling not so connected, use these healing words and watch the results, in yourself and in the other person.

Defensive, self-protective walls are lowered. You stop focusing on making your point because you have forgotten what your point was. And the other person forgot theirs. You feel less hurt and, instead, more vulnerable. You feel okay with that, because you trust each other.

Focus on what it feels like to use healing words. All those negative feelings and stress fade away. You can feel it, and so does the other person. Take a deep breath. Let go. Relax.

So do healing words create miracles? Yes, no, maybe. First, you have to believe what you're saying. It’s not hard to spot insincerity. Even if you are feeling more angry or frustrated than anything else, you still have to believe these words. That also means you have to be willing to blink first. Don't wait for the other person to take what you think is their turn, because you might be sitting for a long time. You have to be willing to take the risk that the other person may react to those healing words with healing words or their own, or they might ignore them, or they might just throw them back in your face. Patience is required. Repeated application may be necessary.

So what if you didn't wait until the heat—or the cold—of the moment? And made the decision to use those healing words every day? And maybe added a few more? What would life be like?

Let’s be more kind to each other. After all, we're all in this together.

More from Dr. Gary:
"Chronic Communication:" Finding Middle Ground
"Chronic Communication:" Accepting Help from Others
"Chronic Communication:" Focusing on Simple Joys