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4 posts from July 2012


Weaving in Other People's Words

At the White Picket Fence Counseling Center we offer informational sessions for the friends and families of people with eating disorders. We teach them about what's helpful to say – and not to say – to their loved one who is in recovery. As much experience as I've had myself in working with clients with these struggles, I know that it's reassuring if I can also provide resources from organizations and agencies. 

Sometimes other people can just say things better. 

If you're someone who tends towards negative, self-harmful thinking, you can practice using other people's words until they become more natural to you. Here are a few ways you can do this: 

  • Word-a-Day – Create a pile of cards or pieces of paper that each contains one positive word or principle, e.g., commitment, acceptance, freedom, comfort, adaptability, abundance, progress, harmony, detachment, non-attachment or security. Each morning, choose a word and strive to weave it into your thoughts, words and actions for the rest of the day. If that seems too long, try it just for an hour. I use this with my clients, and sometimes we'll just try it until the end of the session.
  • Meditation books – There are meditation books based on topics, methods of recovery, types of goals and more. Find one that inspires you and read it every morning or whenever you think of it throughout the day. Take a moment to write one line in your journal about how you personally interpret the reading. Or just write down your favorite word or phrase from the reading.
  • Professional help – One of my most important roles as a therapist is to help people reframe their language as a way of reframing how they see themselves and their situation. For example, you may find it a relief to see your sadness as grief rather than depression. This kind of help can be very valuable and can help you take more initiative for choosing your own experience of life. 

We have many resources that can help you continue this work. Please contact us for more ideas and recommendations.



What Your Language is Really Saying

Changing the words you say to yourself and others is a long process that requires time and practice. It also requires you to be focused on the present moment so that you are choosing your words with intention.

Language can also be a barometer – if you learn how to read it. For example, whenever we use the phrase, "I'll try to . . ." what we're really doing is giving ourselves permission to not do something. In other situations we may slip into polarized thinking and use words such as good/bad, right/wrong, all/nothing, always/never, success/failure, either/or. Noticing these words provides the opportunity to change your perspective and choose thoughts and words that grow your recovery and build your self-esteem.

Body language is another important tool for communicating with others. If you can become more aware of the messages your body is sending, it can help you to ensure that you're delivering what you're intending.

The Center for Nonverbal Studies has an online dictionary where you can look up gestures, postures or body parts to learn what studies have shown about what unintentional language you might be using.

Changing your language requires you to tune in and notice your words and gestures, to make sure they're sending out the right messages.


Choosing the Words to Share

"Oh my gosh, I'm so stupid!" 

Self-deprecating statements like this can harm your self-worth and affirm negative beliefs that may have been planted earlier in life. It's a worthwhile goal to begin a practice of using different words that are more self-loving

The words we choose don't just affect us; they affect the people we're speaking to. Harsh statements such as the one above can have different effects. The other person may feel uncomfortable, or may want to rush in and reassure us. Either way, it creates uncomfortable tension in the conversation and in the relationship as a whole. 

Another phrase that can have a troublesome impact on relationships is, "I'm sorry." Ideally, when we make a mistake we recognize it right away, apologize and then move on. 

The difficulty starts when you don't consciously recognize you've made a mistake, or you recognize it but don't feel willing to apologize. Either of those scenarios can damage relationships and create emotional turmoil that can lead to unhealthy body image and eating behaviors. 

Another challenge is when we apologize for something that's not our fault, such as the fact that else is experiencing a loss or struggle. Or we spend too much time apologizing or explaining something that really wasn't a big deal to begin with. (For more insights on this topic you can read the article, Make Amends to Make Your Guilt Disappear.) 

I experienced being on the other end of this, when someone was apologizing repeatedly for a simple mistake that was already dealt with. I'd been double-booked for a radio interview, but everything turned out perfectly because the other person was late anyway. But the host just couldn't seem to move on. When I spoke up and let him know that he didn't need to keep apologizing, he said he really appreciated it because he had no idea how it sounded to the other person when he was doing that. 

I always encourage people to find a way to speak your truth to others in a kind way that feels honorable to you and aligned with your values.


Words Carry Weight

Words are vital to personal growth, recovery and sense of self-worth. It's not only about the words said out loud, but the messages behind the words. Even having those messages in your mind can affect behavior in many situations, years after the messages were implanted. 

In her book Learning to Love Yourself, Sharon Wegscheider-Cruise teachers her readers to recognize some of the "garbage messages" that may have been heard as children, and what is taught through those messages. For example: 

  • "You can do better than that!" (meaning: "What you are doing is not good enough.")
  • "Family business is private business." (meaning: "Don't trust.")
  • "Don't speak unless you're spoken to." (meaning: "Being spontaneous is wrong.")

If you continue to hear those messages or repeat them, it can make you feel bad and unloved, affecting self-esteem and contributing to unhealthy food behaviors. 

On the other hand, there are positive messages that help people feel good about themselves – phrases such as: 

  • "That is a great idea!"
  • "I like you just the way you are."
  • "I'm proud of you." 

Consciously choose to spend more time with supportive people who say these types of things, and also make a habit of saying them to yourself. 

People in 12-step recovery programs often use slogans as a way of reprogramming hurtful self-talk and unhelpful messages. Slogans are short phrases that are easy to remember and can instantly evoke the principles of healthy recovery. There are sample slogans with explanations on this page: 

You can also create your own slogans or mantras. Start by thinking about the values, principles or phrases that you consider important and sacred. Then try on different wordings until you find the ones that feel good. After you've been using them for a while, you may notice that your enthusiasm has faded, or that you've begun saying or thinking the words by rote. If that happens, switch them for some new words in order to stay fresh. 

Also consider which words you want to let go of. For example, we often use violent terminology for everyday activities without even realizing it, such as:  "I'll shoot you an email later." 

Other words may not be violent, but they de-motivate instead of being motivating, such as telling yourself that you need to exercise (exert) or work out (work), instead of inviting more movement into the day. 

Another example is how marketing experts teach business owners to use only positive language in any materials. Instead of, "Please do not hesitate to call me," you'd want to say, "Please feel free to call me." Can you feel the difference? 

Changing your wording is not an overnight project – it takes time and practice. As a much-loved 12-step slogan reminds us, it's about "progress, not perfection."