Many of us will enjoy reading a good book, writing a blogpost or listening to a good story. These activities build our imagination and keep our mind active. However, the most important aspect of communication is speaking. It is our chosen method of expressing ourselves and communicating and language is the fuel that drives this process. Language is powerful and its impact depends entirely on how we wield this power. It has been used across centuries for good and evil. Language sometimes means more to us when spoken by a specific person or group.
Language has become an integral part of our daily lives and most of the time is used as habit on a subconscious level. We treat language lightly and how we use it is often shaped by our social surroundings and obligations. Language can be used for manipulation, vagueness, assertion, love and many more aspects of our lives. We can choose to withdraw language and expression or we can choose to attack with it. If we were really conscious of how we use it and the role it plays in our lives, we could possibly make more conscious, informed decisions and shape our reality even more.
For me, the most powerful aspect of language is how we use it to talk to ourselves. This area of our lives can be decisive in how we see the world and our place in it. This goes back to our early days of our lives and language acquisition and yes, you guessed it, the influence of our caregivers.
We need to realise the power of “I” and how that consolidates our blueprint. “I” is a very important word. When you say, “I am” the words that follow speak volumes – to yourself and others – about how you define yourself.
“I have, I choose, I love, I enjoy, I can, I will” are also words of strong intent. When we feel powerful we naturally employ these kinds of “I” statements. When we feel less powerful or fear that our words will cause conflict we tend to make our language less powerful, either by avoiding “I” by saying “I don’t know” or “I am not sure” or by following “I” with other ambivalent, unclear statements.
“I think I can” for example, doesn’t have much power compared with “I know I can” or “I can” or “I will”. Neither does “I guess so” – a red flag to your listener that even if you agree to something, your heart will not be in it. “I can’t” is a strong statement of victimization, implying that circumstances are outside of your control, and you have no power to change them.
Imagine the effect when we start to using such language against ourselves. Our self-talk is a major aspect of our thinking and while the ability to think things through is essential, we often sabotage ourselves with the words we employ. They keep us in relationships, help us to avoid and stop us moving forward. I have documented this in posts about the Inner Dictator. It is important that this concept is recognised and countered. It is at the heart of our avoidance and protective mindset we use to deal with our fears. Fears that have been with us since childhood.
As we grow and develop, we create relational frameworks around the people and objects around us. This is consolidated by language that we learn and acquire as children and this language goes on to form our blueprint of the world. Part of the process of acquiring language apart from formal learning is picking up words and phrases from caregivers. When those words are aimed at us in the form of shame based parenting or abuse or when language used is not clear or too complex, it can deeply affect the way we see ourselves. It can go towards forming a negative mindset that is unable to see past avoidance. This leads to what is classed as cognitive fusion, where thoughts are automatically turned towards avoidance as a default way of dealing with issues and it produces the language to consolidate it. We can practice cognitive defusion with the following exercise which calls for us to be in the present, conscious moment:
- The first step is to recognise when and how you are engaging in negative self-talk and the language that consolidates it. This is often automatic and part of the way we communicate and see ourselves. Whenever this happens, try to be conscious of the words you use, when and how you engage in negative self-talk and how it makes you feel and behave. Are there phrases and words that frequently come up? What is the tone of your self-talk? Is it cold, angry or critical? Does the voice remind you of anyone you encountered in the past? Did they use the same words and tone?
- With this awareness, make an effort to soften your voice and use more compassionate words and phrases with yourself. If you are dealing with a relationship issue, ask yourself if you really want to handle this, this way or what will be the consequences of saying what you are about to say.
- Take the time to reframe your language in a more positive, compassionate way. An example of this might be if you were going for a job interview where you might say: “You are nowhere near good enough to get this, why try?” could be turned into “While I might be anxious about the interview, I have prepared well and I will give it my best shot. That is all I can do”. This can be consolidated by physical touch like stroking your arm.
- Keep a journal to consolidate the above. The above exercise should be done over several weeks and will eventually form the blueprint for changing how you relate to yourself long-term and introduce new, healthier language. Some people find it useful to work on their self-talk by writing in a journal. Others are more comfortable doing it via internal dialogues. If you are someone who likes to write things down and revisit them later, journaling can be an excellent tool for transformation. If you are someone who never manages to be consistent with a journal, then do whatever works for you. You can speak aloud to yourself, or think silently.