As adults, we create meaning by the words we put onto experiences. “This was the worst day of my life” or “at least you have other children” are just examples of what we either say to ourselves, to others, either out loud or in our thoughts. The more we think about something, the more we believe it, the more it affects us emotionally, the more it creates our emotional, physical and mental state.
Listen to yourself
Once you start to listen to yourself and become sensitized to the verbal flow, you start to wonder whether what you hear is actually what you want to listen to. “This won’t get any better” and “I’m such a loser” often go unnoticed as part of our mind chatter.
Listen to others
When however we hear others speak to us in less than favourable terms, we notice it often more quickly and feel it stronger. Derogatory statement hurt. Comments delivered without grace, even though they are meant well, leave their painful scar. When others continuously speak to us in a way that leaves us feeling unsatisfied, we question or leave the relationship.
The relationship to yourself
You’ve got no choice: you’re stuck in relationship with yourself. The upside: if you decide to change, you only need to negotiate with yourself.
During the writing of my forthcoming book, I have been thoroughly thinking about the words bereaved parents use and the impact it has on their healing. This applies to all of us. What you think and say to yourself is responsible for your state, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
The tendency of human beings to favour information that confirms their beliefs is referred to as confirmation bias. This effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. We habitually interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting our existing beliefs.
In the example of the parental bereavement community, you may hear statements like “He lost his battle with cancer” or “My daughter was taken from me”. Looking at the first statement, it presumes that a) dealing with cancer is a battle (sounds a bit like war) and b) death equals losing the battle and c) the situation was him against cancer. To soften or question the words chosen, ask yourself: What else could it be, rather than a battle? What other word would make you feel better, or less defeated? What if the situation was him and the condition side by side, what would that be like? What else could death equate to?
For the second statement, it presumes that a) my daughter is mine and b) death equals taken away. To change the sentiment around those words you can ask yourself: Are my children really mine or just lent to me? Does her death mean that I cannot have a relationship with her, not even in my thoughts?
Let me be clear: All those questions only need to be asked if you want to change something and it feels better afterwards. If this is not the case, simply stay with the thought patterns that serve you.
Something needs to change
That is usually the time my clients start counselling and coaching. They have made the decision that something needs to change. Sometimes it is because something in the outside world leaves them unhappy. For some (or most) it’s easier to see the ‘fault’ in someone else than finding what they can change within themselves that creates change. The truth is, we can only ever work on ourselves.