As the Saying Goes
“Stick and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”
That's what my mother would say, whenever, as a very young girl, I was hurt by my friends when they suddenly turned into short-term enemies and called me nasty, horrible names.
At a sophisticated level, that favorite expression of my mother's is very true. Listening to negative language does not improve your life.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,”
a famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, is in the same vein.
Develop your Perceptual Repertoire
Yet, words do hurt us, and shape us, and inform our self-image and shape our beliefs. It's not until we're grown up that we can begin to develop our perceptual repertoire to begin to improve our life. We learn that we can shift our perceptions of ourselves and our world and even eliminate hurt and negativity, and at the same time rewire our brain for good, and potentially improve our life.
Let me share a very personal story. It’s about my oldest and dearest friend, whom I’ll call Jenny, for confidentiality purposes. Jenny’s a nurse, a wife, an animal lover. I love her deeply and even though we’ve had some challenges over the years, particularly the earlier years, now, as maturing adults, we are here for each other. However, for around 15 years, I equated my best friend with gloom and doom!
The amount of distrust, insecurity, negativity and self-dislike was partly due to her fear of disappointing people and anxiety that she’d be criticized. Feelings of not being good enough all added up to self-sabotage. For a long time, changing her self-belief and behaviors was not even a consideration. It’s just who she was and she was okay with the self-inflicted pain and misery. She was not open to recognize there were other options.
That fear and anxiety were real for her, yet they were of own creation, and what she co-created in relationship with others. The neurons in her brain were not open to connect with others who were trying to extend the love and understanding they were wanting to communicate. She was not open to listening to others or feeling heard.
We See the World just as We Describe it
I tell her story, not because I like it, and she’s long since moved on with help and support, but that’s the story she lived at the time and she believed her, she had me believe her, and the world performed just as she described and expected it would. And that’s the truth!
It’s just how we talk about stuff, what we believe and the words we use to talk about ourselves, our families and friends and colleagues, bosses, companies, industry, politicians and countries that reveal how we see the world. It’s how we show up in the world and how the world shows up to and for us.
You know, it’s not: we describe the world we see. It’s we SEE the world we describe.
I’m not saying that tragedies don’t befall us, financial crises don’t happen, natural disasters don’t happen, illnesses and death don’t occur – we don’t chose them, and they change us. What I am saying is: It’s how we chose to respond that counts and you know that. Be careful of what you focus on, because what we focus on grows. You know they say, be careful what you wish for.
Improve Your Life
So a lesson here, when you want to create positive changes to improve your life, a great start point is to pay attention to how you talk to yourself, and ask yourself where those words come from? Who are the narrators in your head that highjack your better intentions.
Think back to my friend, Jenny. Is life a battle to be fought or a mystery to be embraced? How deeply programmed are you to focus on the problem side of life Vs the developmental side of life? Those of you with children – do you see them as problem children or developing children? How do their teachers see them? In your workplaces, how do you see your co-workers and leaders? It is all embedded in the beliefs you have that are reinforced through your language.
It’s helpful to reflect on how your mind is shaped by the descriptions you use about yourself and others. I invite you to reflect on the words that describe you. Where did those words came from? Was it from your caregivers, your friends, your teachers? And also, what positive language are you intentionally using to improve your life?