I have an unusual education, in so far as I have higher qualifications in both English and Psychology. What this has given me, is some insight into how our use of language can affect our psychology, and vice versa.
I would like to, briefly, offer you a view of psychological self-development that relates our language use to our minds and moods. I have noticed it work with clients, as long as it is handled integratively with a strongly empathetic person-centred approach.
THE LANGUAGE OF ANXIETY
Frequently, those who suffer persistent mental distress develop particular languages. I don’t know which comes first – it depends on the person. But the sources of such languages seem to be, in summary:
- Languages learned from childhood carers (perhaps internalising what is said, or implied, to us by parents). Examples include ‘I’m so stupid’, maybe inherited from repeatedly being told so.
- Languages developed in reaction to environmental control (perhaps resisting what is said to us by those who control us). Examples include ‘Get off my back’, maybe developed to fight back against over-invasiveness by parents or carers.
- Languages developed to justify one’s persistent self (perhaps protecting personal identity against criticism). Examples include ‘I’m [include attribute] – get used to it’, maybe developed as part of establishing a discrete individual identity in early adulthood.
- Languages developed for self-comfort (perhaps gaining very direct self-soothing). Examples include ‘Never mind’.
Without being exhaustive, here are a few ways in which new languages can help.
- A person who has learned ‘I am stupid’ from parental talk, can deliberately establish a balancing language of personal wisdom.
- A person who has learned ‘Get off my back’ from parental invasion, can establish a balancing language of welcome.
- A person who has learned ‘I’m [attribute] – get used to it’ from sensitivity to criticism, can develop a language of other-focus
- A person who has learned ‘Never mind’ for self-comfort, can develop a language of action and assertion
What phrases do I persistently use? Are some of them unnecessarily self-deprecating, or pugnacious, or self-justifying, or defeatist?
By listening to the words I use, I wonder if I can help myself. Maybe I can develop languages of personal wisdom, or of welcome, or of other-focus, or of action and assertion.
The languages I choose to develop are like medicine. Used appropriately, they can help me to develop balanced attitudes to life.
The world is wide, and so is the richness of language. Why limit myself to the things I always say?