If you are a long-term reader, you know that my weekly blog posts are often inspired by my week of therapy. If I find myself saying the same things to different clients throughout the week, I tend to take that as my theme of the week. This week, I have been talking with folks all week long about the words that we use.
Because despite what the childhood rhyme about sticks and stones says, words can hurt. And the hurt from words can last long beyond the initial moment of pain. Words can sink into our memories, shade our experiences, color our self-perceptions, and become instruments of torture. Words matter.
Words matter. I talk all the time about the importance of choosing to focus on what is under your own control, so it makes sense that we talk today about the words you use when you talk to yourself. Self-talk is a big topic, and there are lots of great resources about self-talk, self-compassion, and more. So I really want to explore one specific of using words.
I want to talk today about absolute language. Absolute language crops up especially when you are feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed. Not sure what absolute language is? Absolute language is the use of words that suggest that every single person or experience has the same response or outcome. Here are a few words that fall into the absolute language category:
- no one
- every time
Are you shaking your head at me right now? Wondering if maybe my (not-so-hidden) language nerd side has taken over this post? Wondering what on earth absolute language has to do with how you feel and how you cope?
Well, here’s the reason we’re talking absolute language. Statements that use absolute language are almost never true. We live in a world of infinite variety. We live with people who have free will and the ability to grow and change (including you).
And absolute language doesn’t acknowledge that variety and capacity to grow. Absolute language implies that the way things are is a constant, unchanging truth. Absolute language obscures our ability to see the chances for change, growth, and progress. Absolute language feeds that part of depression and anxiety that worries about things being this painful forever.
So, for this week, I am inviting you to participate in an exercise with me. Pick one part of a day, and notice your language for a few hours. How often does absolute language sneak in, either to your thoughts or to your conversation with others? How often are you using words that suggest that the way things are today is permanent? You can just keep a tally sheet. If you want to do the advanced version of the exercise, then try challenging that absolute language. When you hear an absolute, ask yourself a gentle question: “Can I think of a single exception to this statement? Is it possible that this is more about sometimes, some people, some experiences than it is every time, everyone, and all experiences?
If you’d like to share your experiences with this experiment in the comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you need some help challenging those absolute thoughts, feel free to hit that schedule button and connect with me.