Hello dear friends!
Do you ever wonder about the effect your words have on others? What about on yourself? We’re often taught to be cognizant of other people’s feelings when opening our mouths, but seem to never be taught about how our own words can fall back on ourselves. After all, when you speak (or write) something, your brain internalizes that message, forging a neural pathway that deepens with each use of a certain word or phrase. And for many of us struggling with health issues, those words and phrases are often coated in negativity.
How many times have you said, either to yourself or to someone else, “I’ll never get better”? Or snapped “I can’t do that anymore”? I know I have. A lot, to be quite honest.
It’s totally normal to struggle with negative thought patterns- chronic illnesses suck. Like really, really suck. And they often bring with them a whole host of other psychological side effects, usually mixed in a potent cocktail of despair, apathy, self-loathing, and guilt. Everyone got poured a slightly different cocktail, but the point is, we’ve all experienced soaking in it. And if you’ve noticed, it tends to make you feel worse. But the real kicker is that it’s extremely hard to pull out of- the habits we form during the most challenging or traumatic times in our lives have the most sticking power. If you get in the habit of saying bad things about yourself or your circumstances, then those tend to hang around, swirling in your brain and popping up at every opportunity.
But wait- this isn’t one of those fluffy “power of positive thinking” articles! I am not going to say that all you need to do is change your thoughts and only use nice words and you will be healed. That mentality is dangerous and frankly, incredibly insensitive (and will receive it’s own blog post, no doubt) to everyone who is sick and scared and trying their damned best. To simply say that they could heal themselves with positive thinking is ridiculous and places a great deal of blame and guilt on the person who is suffering.
What I am trying to say is that our words are powerful- they frame our life experience and constitute our thoughts, which in turn drive our behaviors. So, let’s try out some examples, shall we friends? I’ll start with the one that has been the most difficult for me:
Wow, even just writing that makes my chest sink in a little bit. What a sad and discouraging thing to say! And with a hefty dose of bitterness, I might add. I know I am prone to spitting this one out whenever I feel left out of something- whether that be my previously enjoyed activities like running or hiking, or simply seeing my friends doing something that I know would push my physical boundaries like going to a festival or staying out late. And after nearly 6 years of practice, it’s still one of the first thoughts to flash in my mind whenever I see someone else having fun while I sit on the sidelines.
But let's just ponder the key word here: “anymore”. It’s a heavy word, right? It feels permanent, locked in, fateful, dense, restrictive- descriptions I’m sure many of us have used to describe our illnesses. But watch what happens when I replace that word with something else:
Suddenly, there’s a feeling of lightness that comes in. The phrase “right now” says to your mind and body that you haven’t given up, that you are still holding out hope for your future self. And that’s the key thing- finding language that instills hope instead of hopelessness. You could also go further and change the word “can’t”, since that’s a heavy and touchy word for many people. But I’ve found that just the swapping out of the word “anymore” is enough for me to feel just a little bit brighter.
Your particular words may be a little different, but it’s the feeling that counts here. Start sending positive messages to your body, and even if all your symptoms don’t magically disappear, I promise that your mind will be more at ease. Start listening to yourself, even your silent private dialogue, and pay attention to defeatist language. The first step here is mindfulness- catching yourself in the act- then making small swaps to forge new neural pathways that are less discouraging and fatalistic.
So let’s tackle another one:
At first glance you may wonder what the problem is with this one. It’s accurate and regularly batted around in daily conversations with no real recourse. But it’s not just me that takes issue with this phrase, particularly with the words “I am.” There are hundreds of people out there who talk about the importance of separating the self from the illness. I’m sure you’ve heard this before: you are not your illness. And while it sounds like something you’d see on a cheesy inspirational Pinterest board, it’s actually very true and very wise.
When you separate who you are from what you experience, it gives you a greater sense of freedom- like energetic wiggle room. It may come off as a bit esoteric to some, but it’s less about those particular words and more about how you view yourself. At the point you start seeing yourself as the beautiful and infinite being that you are, everything you experience during your life takes on a different tone.
While you may never physically utter this phrase to another person, it’s helpful to have it framed in your mind:
Now notice I did not suggest adding a negative in there, i.e. “I am not sick”. Some may try to do this, like we can somehow think ourselves out of our diseases. This is not some kind of “fake it ‘til you make it” situation, and those kinds of mantras can do serious damage over time. They lead to us ignoring our body’s cues, pushing ourselves too hard, and ultimately crashing into an even deeper state of depression and guilt. Don’t lie to yourself or others- just find a way to present your situation in a softer and more compassionate manner.
There are many variations on the theme (as you can see from my three examples), but the important thing is to refrain from pairing the words “I am” with anything that is part of your life experience. These things do not describe who you are. They describe what you feel, what you see, what you suffer.
We’ll pick up the conversation in Part 2, but for now I’d like you to grab a pen and a piece of paper. Make two columns: one that says “I am” and one that says “I have/feel”. List several examples of each, really teasing out what things are inherent to your being and what things are products of your life. Seeing it on paper can sometimes clarify the separation between the two, and help you find new words to describe yourself. And as always, remember to be kind!
I sincerely hope this helps you! Starting today, listen to yourself and start identifying your own negative words or thoughts that you'd like to change. Feel free to share yours in the comment section!
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~