Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

How To Avoid Language That Tears You Down

Love, Self

Words we use that hurt and hold us back and how to cut it out and stand up for yourself!

As a therapist one of the first things I say to people in a first session is that they can talk however they want with me including swearing (just not at me, please). The words that I want them to get rid of are not those dirty words that their mothers told them never to say. Mine are words and phrases that cut a person down or give messages that hold them back. Language is more powerful than we often give it credit for.

If you use words like “strong,” “powerful,” “permission” or “validation” you may start to feel like a strong, powerful woman who has permission to validate herself for who she is. If you use some of the language that I talk about below you will feel pressured and anxious and like a person who just isn’t ever good enough.

Always/Never. How often are things truly always or never? I could say that I will never eat liver (I truly hate the stuff), but do I really know the circumstances of every meal I will have for the rest of my life? I could also say that I always wear a certain color, but even Elle Woods managed to wear colors other than pink. So is it really truthful to say I always wear that color? No. We have to leave room for the unknown factors of life.

When you use those words with other people it can leave them feeling boxed into a corner or judged, which can close them off to hearing the message you want them to hear. Be willing to give them wiggle-room so that they can be less defensive and truly listen to you.

Should (Supposed to, Ought to). When you say you should be a certain way you put an expectation on yourself that is not based in fact. Who says I should eat that liver? Sure it may be chock full of vitamins or a hostess may have made it for me, but I still get to make my own decisions. It’s like saying that if you do not do this thing then you are a failure.

Do not let arbitrary expectations dictate your life. Do things because they are beneficial to you, they will really help someone else out or they will help you to feel good. Try saying “it would be good for me to…” or “I would like to…” instead of should. This small change will lift unimaginable weight off your shoulders.

I wish. Once we are too old to be wishing on stars we need to let wishes go. While they are fun when used whimsically, they are devastating when used seriously. When you wish that you were thinner, didn’t have anxiety or had a more loving spouse, you are saying that you do not accept the reality of what your life currently is.

So long as you are wishing things were different you will be stalled out in trying to change them. Once you acknowledge and accept the way that things are, you can begin to take charge and change what doesn’t benefit you.

Stupid (and other negative labels). Even if you have clinical proof that you are less intelligent than anyone else on the planet, I still can't accept this kind of label. It doesn’t help you or motivate you or encourage you to strive for more. All it does is tell you that you are useless, worthless and that there is no sense in trying because you will fail anyways.

Give yourself a fighting chance by leaving off the negative labels and try to find something more motivating to see in yourself.

Lazy. This one is a strange one. It’s negative and very unclear in its meaning. What is lazy? Is it a person who is unmotivated? What if that person has a very good emotional reason for feeling unmotivated? Is it a person who does not get around to doing the things on their to-do list? A child who doesn’t want to do their homework?

Each of these people has causes to their behavior. It’s something inside of them, a fear, an anxiety, an unknown, overwhelm… Whatever it is, it’s valid and it needs to be addressed before they will be able to get to that to do list. If you call yourself or anyone else lazy you are guaranteed to create a negative feeling and not to increase motivation for change.

What if? Such a dangerous question. When you’re anxious this is often the number one sentence starter that you will have running through your head. My solution is to answer them. What ifs are emotion-based questions so use logical/rational thinking to counter them.

“What if I catch a terrible disease?” “Then I will seek medical attention, I will do what I need to in order to take care of myself.” “What if my husband leaves me?” “Then I will get a job to pay the bills, I will reach out to my friends for support, I will go through a difficult time and I will find a way to come out the other side.”

There are always answers to what if’s. They are not always ideal answers, but they are answers nonetheless and they take away the unknown, which can let you feel in control of your experiences.

Yes, but. When we really don’t want other people’s input or advice we ‘yes, but’ them. We use ‘yes, but’ to block us from the possibilities. This happens when people give unsolicited advice as well as when we ask for it. You may have asked your mother how she thinks you should decorate your living room, but the clue that you really don’t want her advice is when every suggestions she presents is met with “Yes, but, that would make the couch look funny” (or something along those lines).

If you hear this phrase coming out of your mouth take a moment to figure out what you are reacting to and decide whether the advice being given is something potentially useful or is it better to change the subject.

Take a week and notice how often you use any of these words or phrases. Start paying attention to the words you use when talking to others as well as when talking to yourself. It takes work to change our habits and if you keep trying to be aware, keep trying to change the words you use, you will find that your view of your world and of yourself will begin to change for the better. You have a choice in how to express yourself, make that choice be to limit the negative so that you can make room for the positive.


Explore YourTango