As you might know – I write ‘mostly’ about relationships. I’ve been wanting to write a blog about the words we choose to communicate to our partner, especially during conflict. But I worried that it might feel shaming because all of us have communicated with hurtful words and I NEVER want anyone to feel shame for their humanness. If you’ve been reading my blog consistently, you also know that I am passionate about self-compassion. While thinking about how to communicate this blog idea to you, I came across this video that beautifully addresses self-compassion. Then it occurred to me how I wanted to write this blog:
I want to start with the words we choose to communicate to ourselves
Most of us can remember a time when someone said something to us and the impact was powerful, which is why we remember it so clearly. Perhaps it was negative and therefore hurtful, or positive and maybe life changing. I’ve experienced both, as I’m sure many of you have as well.
Words can cause hurtful and lasting emotional injuries. And they can empower us if used wisely. Words tell a story, describe what we go through in life, and express love. Simply put – words are powerful.
And yet, we use words so loosely.
We use them to define who we are as a person, to judge how well we are performing, and to tell ourselves how to respond to what we go through in life, such as in the example you will read below.
But do the words we use really apply to who we are and what we need in life? Let me explain.
The story you tell yourself –
When I am working with someone in therapy – I often hear statements such as “I’m worthless”, “I’m a burden”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a loser”, “I’m weak”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m selfish” and many, many more statements that people make to tear themselves down. However, I am going to ask you to explore the meaning behind your words – whether you say them just to yourself or to others as well.
A short story:
I had a client who was scheduled for surgery. He can sometimes feel like the world is an unsafe place and was terrified about the procedure. We talked a bit about his unsafe experiences in childhood and then we talked about what he needed to feel a bit safer for the surgery. He responded with “I just need to ‘man-up’ and go through it.”
“Hmmmm,” I said. “That sounds like you would be re-traumatizing yourself which would be confirmation that you are unsafe.” He paused as he thought about it. I then asked him “Is there anything that your wife can do to help you?”
He chuckled in what was clearly discomfort and vulnerability and said, “I need her to take care of me – I need her to let me talk about how frightened I am, even if I sound childish.” Then he added “And I know she would do that for me.”
AND THEN he said, “I guess I don’t need to man-up – I need to man-down!”
“YES,” I said, “brilliant!!” He had shifted his use of the harsh words “man-up” to acknowledging his legitimate need.
Reflection on the meaning of words:
When my client told himself that he needed to “man-up” – what was the meaning for him? In reflection – he was telling himself that he should not need anyone. He should cope with his fear by enduring feeling unsafe without having the need of support and loving care from his wife who, by the way, was very happy that he told her what he needed from her! The use of the expression “man-up” is a common societal message; however, when he examined these words, he discovered that he clearly had a legitimate need. Through his unawareness of his need, he was not only being ‘unknowingly’ unfair to himself, but also to his wife who wanted to be helpful to him!
This is why I am asking you to reflect about what it is that you are communicating to yourself when you say certain words to yourself.
For example, women (when they have a need) often describe themselves as selfish. They express guilt for their own needs when compared to the needs and wants of others. In other words, they consider other people to be more deserving than themselves.
But let’s break this down – what do we mean when we use the word “selfish”? Selfishness is when we do something for ourselves that causes harm to another person. Clearly the important phrase here is “causes harm”. And I don’t mean the Mom or Dad who need time to themselves so they go out with friends for the evening and the children are sad and miss you. These are normal feelings – not harm.
In reflection – is it true when you refer to yourself as selfish?
Another phrase often used is “I’m not good enough”. Ask yourself – what exactly are you communicating to you when you use this phrase? Is it that you worry whether or not others will approve of you? Or do you worry that you are not living up to a standard? Are these standards self-imposed, been imposed on you, or a bit of both? What are your standards? Are they reasonable and reachable? Do you further define what you mean when you set certain standards? Do you strive for perfection? What would achieving perfection look like?
After all of this self-reflection – do you still think it is fair to define yourself as “not good enough”?
I worry about the words we use to express how we see ourselves when we might not otherwise have the words to say what we really mean.
This might help:
When you use words to describe yourself, break it down into meaning. Ask yourself – What do I mean when I say that I’m……. (you fill in the blank). Ask yourself – Do I benefit in any way by communicating to myself in the way that I do? What do I mean when I say that about myself? Here’s the truth –
People who communicate to themselves with words such as burden, selfish, weak, loser, unworthy, and unlovable – are never actually this way!
It is often the case that when people break down the meaning behind the words they use to define themselves – it does not even apply! People discover that they are not a loser, they are good enough and lovable and so on. This is what I mean when I say we use words “loosely” and never dig deeper! Go further and do it with self-compassion, it’s just that important.
Stay tuned – In my next blog, I will talk about the words we use in relationships! I will translate some of the hurtful things we say into deeper meaning to hopefully minimize hurt.
Thanks for reading!
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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!
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One more thing… I really would love for you to share your thoughts with me. I know it is not easy to do! I understand because it took me a long time to work up the courage to begin blogging! But I want to get to know you. When you feel ready, please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment section. And, if you would like me to blog about a specific topic – let me know!
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit: TRF_Mr_Hyde@flickr.comShare