Our words affect our feelings, and create our lives….
Words have power
The words we speak create the context and template for our lives. Our words have a lot of power, so it is important to use them with care. When we are precise with our words and avoid dramatic emotional language, our emotions calm down and life becomes smoother.
I am a therapist, so I have plenty of opportunities to hear how people talk to themselves, and talk about themselves. I also am a human being, and therefore I have plenty of opportunities to talk to myself, about myself! And I know, from both perspectives, that words matter.
The words we speak matter. They create the context and template for our lives. They drive our emotions, for better and for worse.
As you read these phrases, try to feel into them:
- This is awful.
- I can’t handle it.
- You make me furious.
- This is unbearable.
- I will never get over this.
- I’m sick of it.
- I’m tired of it.
- I can’t take it anymore.
- There’s something wrong with you.
- There’s something wrong with me.
All of these common phrases carry a lot of emotional weight. So much weight that they can trap us. Using words and phrases like these can pin us under our emotions.
We all experience all of the emotions, the comfortable ones and the uncomfortable ones. They are part of being human. We all experience challenging situations, heartache, and loss. These are part of the human condition.
Acceptance and grace come when we are able to strip away the emotional language. When we do this, we are left with a situation ― whatever the situation is ― that we are better able to handle.
Words work magic
The magic comes when we can identify that we are experiencing a certain uncomfortable feeling, and that the feeling is ours. This allows us to move toward a state of grace with what is.
Using simple, clear, precise language to describe our situation helps us to get into a state of acceptance, a state of grace, with what is. It is more common to resist uncomfortable situations. Our cultural myth holds that when we suffer there is something wrong. We rail against the injustices we experience and the unfairness of it all; we want things to be the way we want them to be. And that leads to emotional discomfort.
We feel better when we recognize that all this suffering is normal, and everything is changing all the time. We learn to accept that things don’t go our way. People die. Couples divorce. Children leave. Lovers break up. Companies fail. Everything is temporary. We all experience loss.
Words in action
I recently talked with a client about her breakup. She said, “I was such a mess, I drove away the one person I loved most; now he is repulsed by me.”
I had heard about the breakup. I had heard that theirs was his first real relationship. I also had heard that he wanted things to be “as they had been before.” They were still talking on the phone twice a day. It was a complicated situation.
I had never heard that he was “repulsed” by her.
“Let’s try some different language,” I suggested.
I much prefer the narrative that the pressures of a long-distance relationship took their toll on this couple. They had loved; she had grown anxious about his love (an anxious attachment style is pretty common). He had grown more detached (a avoidant attachment style is also pretty common). He valued her very much and did not want her to hurt. He was new at the whole romantic relationship thing, and maybe didn’t realize that feelings wax and wane, problems arise and resolve, and people are perfectly imperfect. They both learned and grew together. They parted with kindness and compassion, and on friendly terms.
And it hurts. Of course it hurts. How could it not hurt? And it passes. Everything is temporary.
Words in practice
She tried my suggestion. She re-stated the case. She did not say “he is repulsed by me.” She said, “he broke up with me.” She didn’t say “I was such a mess.” She said, “the pressure of the distant relationship took a toll on me, and on him.” She felt a little better. She even smiled.
When we use big emotional language to describe our situation, we can’t find our way out from under it. Yet when we use precise language to describe our situation, we get some of our power back. It does not change the situation, but it helps us feel better about the situation. And that is usually the only thing we can do anything about, anyway.