Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break your heart and your mind. Well placed words can create lifelong mental and sometimes even physical struggles when handed over in anger, misunderstanding or just an attempt to project or express internal pain. Let's stop pretending words don't hurt us. Let's work on changing how we speak to each other and to ourselves so that we can elevate the conversation to place of mutual benefit and understanding.
I hope this article can begin a conversation that will assist myself and others to work on eliminating these words, as used here, from your internal monolog and external dialog. Or, if it is impossible to eliminate use of these words, then let's change the tone of our words. It would make the world a better place. Truly.
The word "no" is often one of our very first words as a child in our English language. This is because "no" is taught to us to keep us safe as we learn to master our physical world as a toddler, around the same time we begin speaking. Our parents/caregivers, are often saying "No!" in an attempt to protect us from things like hot stoves, cars in streets, or other dangers. It may also be used to stop unwanted behaviors like temper tantrums and public displays of extreme emotion.
As we move in adulthood, the "No", used to keep us safe in childhood and adolescence, can become a barrier. In our interpersonal relationships, we often use it to "short cut" an unwanted conversation, stopping any communication. Or to keep ourselves from having to "face" or "deal with" something that may not be exactly what we want.
Although "no" can be used in certain circumstances as something to keep us safe too. But - when we use it to stop something before we know what we are stopping, we close doors that may be better left open for you and those you love.
Think of "no" this way: When you say no, are you making your world smaller? Because saying no does make our lives smaller. Do you want your life to be smaller? Do you feel you need to eliminate areas? No deletes conversation and opportunity. It is nearly impossible to move forward from "No", you have to start over. As I tell my children, "Every no closes a door." Make sure that door is a good one to close.
Maybe, if you hold on to the next "no", you can decide to wait and see. Pause that impulse to stop whatever it is and gather more information. You may find a better way to allow for more in your own life. Even when something is truly "wrong" for you, try saying "Let's try this instead." You may find that allowing is better than stopping whatever it is.
This is a very pervasive word in our culture. However, it carries a heavy weight with its' use and an immediate judgement. Think about this sentence: "Why would you do something like that?" It may appear to be a simple question, but the recipient, whether consciously or unconsciously, can feel the judgment in the question. While the questioner may be asking for clarity around the reasons for a past action, the questioned hears the judgement.
When asking yourself or others "why", try reframing the question to state more precisely what you are actually asking.
Why did you do that? Why are you being this way?
Why did this happen to me?
Why do you care?
What compelled you to act in that way? What were you hoping to achieve with this action? What are you feeling right now? Can you explain what you need or want with that action?
Can you feel the difference? Try it. Even with yourself. It carries judgment on you, when you use it on yourself. What are you trying to achieve when you ask yourself why? Do you believe that judgement will keep you from doing it again? Often, judging yourself can create a circular trap of doing the same thing over and over and getting more and more angry with yourself.
When you use the word "can't", your mind and body immediately pick it up and decide it is true. Saying this word can change your ability and your thought process without your conscious mind ever noticing. Suddenly you are prophetic and you are deciding your ability in the future and the ability of whomever you use the word in relation to.
Think about the ways this word may have come up in your head or in conversation.
"I can't do it"
"I can't forgive."
Just like the word "no" it makes your world much smaller, limiting your abilities and possibilities, "can't" can also make your world much smaller and stop things that may be important for you or those you love from happening. Again, try reframing your thoughts or words.
"I am having a hard time with this today. Maybe I will try again later"
"I tried and I did not do it. I can try again."
"I am unable to see that in that way, but maybe there is another way to see it."
Saying "can't" does make it very hard to overcome it. Put it down. The word "can't", as Yoda (never) said; "Can't or Can, your ability, by one word, determined." Wow! I love my made up Yoda saying!
Should can kill you. It is used to express what we think is required of us or has been missed by us, but it carries a heavy weight. Should puts ownership on us that carries guilt. And guilt, while it may spur us to act when we otherwise would not chose to, is not really a healthy emotion for our bodies to carry. It carries as much judgment as "why" when we use it on ourselves or others.
I should have called him/her that day.
I should have been there more.
I should have worked out yesterday and the day before.
I should have said "I love you."
All of these things are in the past. And until we create an ability to change the past, there is nothing you can do. When you tell yourself or someone else they "should have", you are wasting your breath and energy because it is done. Fix it, if you can, forgive yourself and let the rest go. Make it better next time.
The "shoulds" of past actions hold plenty of judgement. They tell you that you made a poor choice. However, at the time, you were doing the very best you could. We are all always doing the very best we can at any given moment. It is easy to look back and say we were not, but at that moment, strung together with all of the moments before it and following it, you were doing your very best. That is part of our survival coded into our DNA. Allow yourself to accept that you did your best. As did someone else if you are thinking they "should" do or have done something different according to your perspective.
I love the motto "I would rather regret the things I do, than the things I don't do" and I have not been living it as much lately. I have needed lots of healing time by myself and have retreated from the world quite a bit. But I chose not use the word "should." l prefer to tell myself "when I am ready, I will be able to handle (fill in activity) and it will happen. Until I am ready, I am okay with not handling it right now."
"Should" can often feel so heavy with self judgement or judgement of others, it can block future action. Think about that one. Another way to make our world smaller.
5. What If or If Only (yes, it is two words, but the base word "if" is the only constant)
We have all used this one for dealing with times of great stress or life destruction. This one word can create a circular cycle of grief that never stops or slows down and keeps you living in the past instead of living your life today.
This is a word that can show up quite often when dealing with the end of something that was valued greatly. The end of a job, a relationship or the death of another person, a business, another type of failure. When things end in way that we do not like, "if" likes to play in our thoughts and memories.
While reflection is important with catastrophic endings and life events, once it is used to create alternate realities, it can become a prison. Our healthiest option is to reflect and feel the sadness and devastation around the event to its fullest extent, so we can let it go. However, that type of reflection is very different than telling your story over and over and over and not learning anything new, or digging in deeper to get to the core of your grief and feeling it completely.
When we use the word, "if" we are just skirting around the true nature of our pain. To move on, we have to dive deeply into the pain, or else our bodies will never let it go. We are afraid of truly feeling things completely. There is a fear of collapsing or not being able to handle it. When we tell the same story over and over and just feel the surface of the grief, it will never go away. And using the word "if" is a version of never letting go.
If only I had called him and stalled him getting in the car.
If only I had told her that I loved her just once.
These are better serving us when we accept that we did not do those things. We can change "if" into something that teaches us and allows us to grow from the darkest days of our lives, and we all have dark days. We can chose to look at them with the eyes of a child and be curious about what we feel and what we can do to change it.
So turning the above example statements into action could look like this:
I wanted to call him when he was walking out the door and I was delayed. I did not save him and it devastates me. I will learn to make the most of my time with my other loved ones and forgive myself.
I did not get the chance to tell her I loved her. I regret that deeply. I will change my behavior around those words.
Don't regret it. Use the pain to change your future.
While these 5 words may not always be used in devastating ways, I hope you can see how they can hurt. They can hurt you or anyone you meet. I would venture to guess, however, that if you use them on everyone else, you are using them more on yourself.
When we use words that allow us to hold on to pain, eventually it becomes disease in our bodies. Science is catching up with what spiritualists around the world already know, our emotional issues cause all of our physical pain. Heal your emotional pain before it becomes an ailment. If it has become physical, heal it anyway. It is never to late to start living your life to the fullest.
Remember, you can't (yes, I used it here) change the past. You can change your future while using your past to inform you. Change the way you talk to yourself and others. Elevate the conversation. We all need more love, respect and compassion and it all starts inside your own head.
I am continually working on forgiving myself for my very human behaviors. I hope you will forgive yourself too.
About the Artwork
This piece began as an experiment into a new type of painting for myself. I love layers of paint of various areas of interest on my painting, so i can't say any of the work I truly love is simple. I prefer complex. And this is called "Layers" because I enjoy digging through the layers of our lives and my own. We are so complex, yet so simple and this, of me, is exemplified by this piece. It took me over a month of pouring and moving and splatting paint onto this canvas to get the look I desired. My daughter told me it was ugly during many stages of the process. And I agreed often times. But the end result was beautiful in my eyes. And she loved it too. Like all of us, we have times when we are not our "best" selves and what we feel is ugly came be our most obvious trait at any given time, but we all carry a beauty of completion within ourselves. The overall picture of us is beautiful, even if there are parts we do not like. The good and the bad make up who we are and create the whole picture.
Although I am having a hard time placing the song, the one I chose to put with this article is called "Shuffle" by Bombay Bicycle Club. And there is a line in there which I think is so important for all of us. The song is basically about not allowing someone in until they are gone. Saying "no", "can't", "why" looking to the past for current happiness through "if" or allowing "should" to decide for you. All of these things allow people to slip past us and not "being" with them when they are in our lives. Fortunately the singer sees this and decides he is staying no matter what. But the other person he sings about is struggling. The shuffle is often what we do in our relationships. It is easier to say "no" and move on than fix issues that exist.