Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Overcoming language barriers, such as they are.

     Becoming a person who reacts to emotions with thought instead of blame takes work.  It takes introspection, the ability to be honest with oneself, the desire to confront fears instead of catering to them, and the belief that it is possible to change oneself.  When I first started on this path, I failed more often than I succeeded... it's a process, and one that will likely never be completed, but I would rather keep trying and take control of my own emotional health and happiness than give it to anyone/anything else. 

     Part of taking responsibility for my own feelings, actions and reactions, and emotional growth was moving away from the blame-focused language that most of us are taught.  One of the biggest offenders, of course, is the "____ makes me feel ___" phrasing that is so common in even most healthy people's vocabulary.  Now, I have heard, read, and talked about this many times in my life, usually with the suggestion of changing to "I feel ___ when ___ happens."  Which is alright... it's certainly an improvement, but it still means that the actions must necessarily trigger the emotion.  The language itself assumes that a feeling is a static and necessary reaction when ___ happens.  It's no wonder that most of us struggle with learning that challenging feelings neither necessarily follow from certain actions, or are things that we can't take the power out of.

     When I decided that I wanted to stop telling people that they were "making" me do anything, I started with mentally replacing "making" with "forcing."  Almost no one would ever say "You're forcing me to feel guilty" or "It forces me to feel angry when you buy things we don't need."  And yet, that is exactly what "making" means in these situations: your action forces me to feel something I don't want to feel (so you must change, because you are causing this, and my feelings will not change).  So when I would start slipping into blame-heavy, powerless language, and imagined myself saying "Oh man, this ice cream is so good, it forces me to want more even though I'm full" which would then lead to me imagining the ice cream holding me at knife-point, which would then lead to my recognition at how ridiculous the language was... which led to my recognition of how ridiculous the concept of giving power over my emotional state to everyone and everything but myself was.

     So I try phrasing like "___ action has been causing ___ reaction from me, and I'm trying to figure out why so I can have a healthier reaction."  Or "___ event from my past trained my emotions to do ___ when ___ happens, so I'm trying to retrain my emotions.  Don't excuse my behavior, but try to be kind while I work on this."  It takes more words, but the language takes responsibility for my emotions off of my friends/partners/ice cream and places the responsibility squarely on myself.  Which also means it places the power to change those reactions squarely on myself. 

     And, at least in my case, when I changed my language, the actual content and action that I wished to achieve in myself followed a little easier.  It's sort of a version of faking it until I started making it, I suppose.

     I've managed to trick my brain in a similar fashion when it comes to changing the word "negative" to the word "challenging" in my vocabulary.  I first ran across the idea in Opening Up*  (most helpful book ever, by the way) where author Tristan Taormino refers to the "benefits and challenges" rather than "positives and negatives" of various relationship styles.  I really decided that I liked considering what had heretofore been concrete negatives to be challenges that might take more work, but were entirely possible to overcome.  I've had a little more practice with this technique, as I have been consciously working at it for nearly two years, but I still struggle with the application sometimes.

     I do, however, manage to nearly always phrase things as "positives and challenges" or "benefits and challenges."  I would like to extend the sentiment to feelings; "You seem to have some negative feelings about this, and that has affected my mood" can become "Your feelings are challenging for me right now" as well.  Like above, changing my phrasing has helped change my perspective, or at least given me some practice at becoming ever closer to who I want to be.  Perhaps someday I will automatically see challenges rather than negatives, but for now it takes a conscious nudge at least part of the time. 

   Work in progress, as always.


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