I’m sure you’re all well aware of the impact words can have on others. Most of us probably grew up being taught not to make fun of others, not to gossip, and to use kind words, not mean ones. This isn’t new information to us.
However, something I’ve become increasingly aware of is how I use my words when I’m sharing things about ME…. And how my words impact ME.
One thing my counselor has been pointing out to me as I’ve been expressing my feelings or sharing experiences I’ve had with her, is that sometimes I don’t use the right kind of language, and how that could be having a negative impact on my healing process. The very first time she brought this up to me, I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant. I felt like I do a pretty good job expressing myself. In fact, I’ve had people compliment on my ability to express things…. So it’s even been reinforced in my mind that I’m at least mildly gifted in speaking.
Pretty much immediately, she started calling me out when she felt like I was using language that was misrepresenting what I was trying to say… Or was perhaps damaging language that was sending me messages that were not healthy. She would literally stop me in the middle of a sentence and say, “Now, is that how you really felt? Let’s think about the language you’re using to describe this.” Sometimes I’d look at her confused, and she would start to describe for me what she’s hearing me say, but that her gut instinct is telling her that it’s not what I am meaning to say… or perhaps that she needs to help me unlearn some harmful language in my vocabulary. Now that she’s gotten very comfortable calling me out on these moments (hah), I’m starting to get better at recognizing for myself why she’s stopping me.
For example, there is a pretty significant situation from my past that continues to be something I have to work through and process. As I recount the story to my counselor and share feelings I have related to it, she has pointed out that I tend to use words that indicate that I was somehow a part of the problem… that I am partially to blame for this other person’s actions towards me. I’d use phrases like “I should have known better” or “if I had known how to handle the situation maybe it wouldn’t have continued” or explain how “I changed the way I dressed and the way I lived to try and avoid this from continuing to happen.”
Now, for the longest time, I didn’t see anything wrong with these phrases. To me, they were just facts… my regrets and my wishing that things had been different. But the implications, no matter how subtle they are, were that I feel somewhat guilty for what happened. Let’s unpack this a bit:
“I should have known better”…. First off, this phrase is probably, and unfortunately, rooted in the fact that I think of myself as a smart person, and so I feel pretty ticked off that I wasn’t smart enough to react differently as things unfolded in a particular situation that could have maybe prevented additional trauma. However, no matter how smart I am, I should not have to take responsibility for someone else’s choice to hurt me. I shouldn’t be implying that I share the blame with someone who was clearly in the wrong.
“if I had known how to handle the situation, maybe it wouldn’t have continued”…. My counselor pointed out to me that how am I supposed to know how to handle a situation I’ve never been in before? And even beyond that, how am I supposed to know how to handle a situation that most people don’t encounter, and therefore I had never been taught how to handle? Add on top of this that I grew up pretty much feeling like I couldn’t speak badly about someone, EVER, even if what they were doing was very much wrong. So when a situation presented itself that was obviously wrong, I felt like I COULDN’T say anything…. Because it’s “wrong” to speak poorly about others. THIS IS NOT TRUE. If someone is hurting you, abusing you, traumatizing you….. it is 100% valid to speak up. And here’s where I started to feel guilty. I started to feel like, “Wow, I should have done something differently.” And that’s where I start to share the blame. Yes, looking back, I’ve learned a lot from a horrible experience…. But that DOES NOT mean that I need to share the blame. Wrong is wrong, hurt is hurt, and abuse is abuse. I shouldn’t be trying to “take the hit” because of my lack of experience. THANK GOODNESS I had a lack of experience…. Some people aren’t so lucky.
“I changed the way I dressed and the way I lived to try and avoid this from continuing to happen.”…. This one is much, much more than just a mindset, or a few words that imply sharing the blame. At that time of my life, I actually changed physical things about me to try and change the situation. I thought that maybe my physical appearance was the problem, and so therefore I needed to find a way to hide my physical appearance. This is probably one of the results of my past trauma that has felt the most difficult to overcome… one of the parts of my story that I am still figuring out how to heal from. That year of living in fear did a number on me. I completely stopped working out. I stopped eating healthy foods. I changed what I wore to try and limit what was seen and what would make me be noticed. I hid. I avoided. I lied to find ways around encounters that would cause more fear. In other words, I felt like I played a part in what was happening, so I changed myself to try and change the situation.
As you can see, these seemingly innocent things actually have implications that go much deeper. I never realized that I was allowing myself to share the blame. Had you asked me if I felt like I was partially at fault, I would have never in a million years said “yes.” The logical side of me understands that I was a victim, and that the actions that happened towards me were not my fault. The deeper and deeper I dig into the emotional side of me, however, the more I realize just how much I’ve attached myself to being a part of the problem and have used my words to support that mindset over and over again.
Honestly, this recent realization has been fairly difficult to wrap my head around. I feel like I’m trying to learn an entirely new language! If I’m not even partially to blame for these things, what does that mean? Yes, even I still have a lot of unpacking to do.
So let’s get back to the topic at hand. Your words matter.
What you say about yourself, or how you verbalize your thoughts and feelings, is actually very important. Without even knowing it, the language you use can dictate how you see yourself. It may be subtle, or it may be very obvious…. But how we care for ourselves can include the language we use about ourselves.
Do you choose your words carefully? Do you care for yourself in the way you speak? What are phrases you use often to describe yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, or your life circumstances that may be implying something that is not true? Are you using statements that decrease your value? Do you believe that you have value…. Enough value to speak wisely towards yourself and others?
I’m learning to choose my words more carefully…. And if I make a statement that isn’t the best fit, that I stop myself and correct it. It’s been pretty amazing to realize how often I throw words out there carelessly without thinking them through first! They are rarely obviously wrong at a first glance, but when I take a beat to think about it, perhaps there’s a better word to be used. It’s a relatively small change… but I’m learning that even little words can imply big things. Right now I’m learning to correct myself, but my goal is to get to a point where the things I say have aready been “handled with care” and a correction is rarely needed.
Until then, I will do my best to remember that yes, my words matter.