Your words shape your destiny. So how healthy is your verbal diet?
Your words become your destiny. Your words become your future and your future shapes your destiny. So use them wisely. It is not simply a truism of positive thinking: How you talk is who you are (and who you will be). In many ways, our language determines our reality.
Dr. Lera Brooditsky, Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science, UCSD makes her living by studying language and in an article she asked the question: “Are languages merely tools for expressing our thoughts, or do they actually shape our thoughts?”
She has studied languages from around the world and has found that our language is like a window through which we view the world:
Language is how we gauge the world
Our language is literally one of our senses. The word “language” comes from the word “tongue.” We taste our world and we talk about our world. It is through our tongue that we understand the world around us, and the world within us. To put it literally, our language is how we gauge the world.
The words that you use in your life will determine a great deal about how you think about yourself, your future and your recovery.
If you want to make it practical, try this on: Take an hour to pay attention to those closest to you, to the dominant words they use. What patterns do you notice? What tones do they gravitate towards? How does their speaking make you feel afterwards? Are you enlivened or defeated? Inspired or downcast? More open or more fearful?
Recovery is a language, a set of words, that carry an implicit messages about ourselves and how we face our difficult habits and painful experiences. Our recovery language shapes what we expect of ourselves and others, our view of the future and ultimately, our reality.
Do our recovery words tell the whole story?
Examining our language of recovery says a great deal about what dominates our minds. Listen to these words and ask yourself the same questions: What patterns do you notice? What tones do they gravitate towards? How do the words make you feel afterwards? Are you enlivened or defeated? Inspired or downcast? More open or more fearful?
- In recovery – What kind of recovery are we talking about? Environmental recovery? Business or financial recovery? Recovery of our Health? Recovery of our memories?
- I am dysfunctional – Dys-functional… as in Non-functioning. Think about it: “Is everything about your life a train-wreck, or just certain parts?” Dysfunctional communicates that the totality of your life is non-functional. For most of us, this is just not true.
- I am codependent – Different than being a co-defendant… and not as fun. Codependent means that we enable other people to continue in their unhealthy behaviors because we somehow need them to be unhealthy. Not only are you sick, but I’m sick too. This is an unhealthy pattern but when we use the term, it can become a little like a psychological diagnosis that we throw around. Our words can become our weapons with bullets made of assumption, bias and judgment.
- I am an enabler – Enabler means to give someone authority to do something, but in recovery Enable means something quite different. It means that we do something for someone that they could do for themselves. The problem is that most parents enable their kids every day… it’s called parenting. Enabling is very similar to empowering, but enabling tries to solve problems for a person dealing with an addiction, whereas, empowerment will give choices and support the development of strengths and skills in the other person. For an excellent article by Karen Khaleghi Ph.D. that supports you to evaluate whether you enable, click this link.
- I am clean – Before becoming clean were we dirty? This may highlight a sense of moralism: When we were using, we were dirty, sinful and unclean. But now, we are cleaned up and pure. What does it mean if a person has a lapse? Are they unclean again or just dirty?
- I am getting sober – Is sobriety something we are getting, something we earn, something we find, or something we work towards? It is just one word, but “getting” connotes that we we just haven’t quiet “got” it yet… it’s (always) just out of reach.
- I have depression… Depression hovers over me like a cloud and it has me. There is not much I can do about it.
- I suffer from anxiety… My life is suffering and painful. Nothing more.
- I live with PTSD… And it’s a partner that I never asked for and won’t leave me alone for even a moment.
Our language and our mental health
Our language also shapes how we view our mental health. How we think about ourselves, and talk about ourselves is a window that can reinforce a healthy mindset or an unhealthy one.
I have described how languages shape the way we think about space, time, colors, and objects. Other studies have found effects of language on how people construe events, reason about causality, keep track of numbers, understand material substance, perceive and experience emotion, reason about other people’s minds, choose to take risks, and even in the way they choose professions and spouses. Lena Boroditsky
Our language is how we sense the world (how we taste it, experience it, talk to it, and about it). Language is not only the words that we speak, but the words (the stories, the images and the emotional tone) that we use to talk about our world and ourselves. Our language determines how we interpret what happens to us, the choices that we have and the influence that we have over our minds and our emotions.
In a report for mental health professionals titled Recovery Oriented Language, the language of recovery can create judgment, bias and even hopelessness.
Our language conveys thoughts, feelings, facts and information, but beyond that, we need to ask ourselves questions like (Recovery Oriented Language, page 2):
- What else am I saying? (ie: If I refer to a person as an “enabler,” is this an adequate description of them? Does it acknowledge that most times they do not “enable” but that they are more or less healthy in their relationships? Does the term acknowledge that to some degree, all of us enable each other at times? And does the term recognize that at times, it is healthy to enable someone else – for example if they have cancer, we make meals for them that they probably could make themselves. It is just one way to show support).
- How will someone else read/hear this? What assumptions will they (or we) make when we use some of the words listed in the section above?
- Do I give a sense of commitment, hope and present opportunity or a sense of pessimism? Does our language convey hope, or an unchangeable and unmanageable condition?
- Do I convey an awareness and expectation of recovery? Do our words communicate that recovery is possible, and even probable, with hard work?
In recovery, your words become your destiny. Your words are your gauge to evaluate and measure the world inside and outside of you. And your words create your sense of the world. How do you use your words to create a positive future for yourself? I would love to hear from you in the comments.
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Keep it Real
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