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Sticks and Stones - What Words do You Use?

By Jan Dannenburg

How do we speak and communicate with people? Some of us use little language preferring to be economical with words while others use vast quantities of words as well as physical movements to emphasis our ideas and to ensure that we get our point across.

So what language do we use and hear in our everyday lives? I am not talking about the way it "sounds" but the building components and instructions we hear around us. My childhood and early adulthood was spent in New Zealand. I still call my self a Kiwi even though I have lived in the UK for over 20 years now. When I first arrived in the UK some phrases and terminology were strange. I found sometimes I simply wasn't understood or words I thought meant one thing meant something completely different over here. This has resulted in my having an interest in words and phases and how they are used. My training as a Clinical Hypnotherapist has only increased my interest in not just what we say but how we hear what is said.

If we expect people to listen to us and to believe us when we tell them we love them and that they are beautiful and special, then we perhaps need to accept the possibility that negative words we use will have the same response as the positive. Interestingly enough some people assume that saying "I'm sorry" or "I didn't mean it" heals, but over time these phrases lose their power to heal if they are over used - and may no longer work or be accepted - whilst the power of the negativity of the words continues to cause the hurt.

Language as a whole is extremely powerful and I have always found a fascination with how little attention some people pay to the language they use in everyday lives. Repeated phrases from a bygone era are still heard and used on a daily basis. My mother's voice - and that of many other mothers out there I suspect - ring out at times... "There are starving children in the world who would love to have the food you're leaving on your plate," results in hoards of people eating everything that is there regardless of feeling full and not wanting any more. Clean plate syndrome and a mental image of a starving African child seem to go hand in hand in some people's minds eye and may subconsciously reinforce the overeating habit that they have.

I always remember that saying, "Sticks and Stones may break your bones but names can never harm me," and I ponder on how anyone can expect that someone calling you fat or ugly, stupid or an idiot can bounce off you and not cause you any hurt. Telling a child to "Shut up" may seem harmless but why are they going to talk to you over a major issue when you have trained them to shut up? "My teenager never talks to me" - well maybe they are programmed to think they need to shut up? A search undertaken on the Internet for "name calling" resulted in 123,000,000 possible results - it seems that a lot of people write about name calling and related issues.

Language and the beauty of it seem to be diminishing. Is it because of the loss of subjects such as Latin and Greek in our schools? Those languages that seemed to be the domain of the exclusive public school boy have been dismissed and ignored. Where a word comes from and how it is built up and evolved is now not part of the general awareness around us in everyday life. The word "gay" has morphed from meaning joyful, to being homosexual, to now shifting on again into a different meaning altogether of lazy or rubbish. Sadly no one has made the teenagers in my son's playground aware of this morphing and it is still used as an insult and a derogatory term in the context of being a homosexual as opposed to lazy. Or maybe the kids are morphing it again into a double insult - who knows? As our language gets lazier, both in its written form and oral, we are starting to lose the ability to truly communicate.

In the language that we use we need to be aware of what we say. Learning to listen is an extremely hard thing to do and counsellors and people within caring professions often train hard to ensure they only listen. Sometimes though, the result of this training means that this is all they do - listen. They may hear the words and constantly analyse the impact and meaning of those words but not look at the overall feeling attached to what is being said. Body language is important but some of us are not fully animated in our body language just as we are not in our verbal language. A patient who has shut down emotionally can also have shut down physically and trying to read them physically could cause false readings - just like false memory syndrome. I myself spent the first couple of years saying to my patients on their return visit, "Hi, how are you?" before realizing that in fact people automatically responded "Oh, fine" when in fact they clearly weren't. We use automatic responses all the time but it wasn't helpful when I genuinely was trying to elicit an accurate response from my patients to ascertain how we were progressing. I now ask the question, "How has the week been?" which means they don't use an automatic response but actually have to think about their response.

It is important in all that we do and say to be aware of the spirit of our intention. Is it our intention to convey annoyance? Then frustrating language can be used both verbally as well as physically. If love is intended then words of kindness and comfort can be forthcoming even if we are weary of hugging to support the words with a physical act of imprinting our emotions to people. A lot of people hate that touchy feely type stuff but briefly touching someone on the arm while telling them you care reinforces the words with a physical response making it a deeper connection in a lot of cases.

So what do we do with the dirty language we use every day? I don't mean the swearing, which are simply angry words supporting our feelings, but the language that may inadvertently lead our conscious and our subconscious mind or that of others to do or act in a way they do not necessarily want to.

My idea is to talk less. For people who know me they may well find this to be an extraordinary thing to recommend as I could "talk the leg off a hind donkey." What may I ask is a hind donkey and why do I want its leg? I don't know but it's a historical metaphor that seems to get the message across that I talk a lot better than the simple statement of fact itself. I talk a lot. Maybe the metaphor is a twisty phraseology I can use to hide from my subconscious the concept that I feel I talk too much while still ensuring I let people know I talk too much - and who can define what too much is anyway? See, I am off at a tangent simply by not listening to the language I was writing let alone the language I speak!

Listen to your language and hear what you are saying. I recommend that for one day you listen to hear when the words "should" and "could" are used. "Should" puts a huge onus on us to do things without actually instructing us to do them. "I really should lose weight!" is the one I hear often and that statement in itself is a double negative to the subconscious. Should does not instruct "will do" - just that you should do it. It may well not result in you doing so. And "lose weight" - well nearly everything I have lost I have wanted to find again, so when the 50lbs has come off very soon 75lbs goes back on again.

If your subconscious is constantly listening to what we say - and even hear said by others to us - then why doesn't it listen when we tell it, it should do things? Because we are not clear and clean in the language we speak to it. Name calling of ourselves, such as "Gosh I'm so silly sometimes," or of others like "You idiot, look what you've done," results in our subconscious hearing the major bites of the statement only, so you have labelled yourself "Silly" or an "Idiot." Likewise, the subconscious will hear you calling or referring to someone else as an idiot so it therefore thinks of them always as an idiot when you see them. A dear friend of mine used to use negative statements regarding her partner such as "He's an idiot" or "He's useless" and so he became over a period of time a useless idiot. Luckily she woke up to this and made a concerted effort to refer to him as her "Wonderful man" and so slowly over time he became one. No it didn't result in him ceasing doing things that she may have found frustrating at times, but she did find he did them far less and in fact he did decrease the incidences because his subconscious was no longer being told he was an idiot and responding accordingly.

I feel that we give ourselves conscious and subconscious thoughts, ideas and concepts all day. Self Talk can be negative and based on old outdated concepts layered into our subconscious from the past. You will hear people ask, "Why does no one listen to me?" or "Why can't (another great double word - for "can't" do we hear "can"?) people see I've changed?" Well people may well be able to see you have changed - they just may not be hearing you have changed. Your old language keeps reinforcing to them constantly that you are still the old you. The negative language is still there and heard at a deep level. As it is familiar language people respond in a familiar way - and no they don't see you have changed.

When people do sense or feel a change has occurred is when they may see the changes but also they hear them. Your conscious and subconscious language to them alters and therefore they are no longer hearing the old patterns but hearing new things. The changes may not sit well with some and this is because their subconscious hearing hasn't been altered internally. Your change results in them having to listen and this takes time.

The more positive language you use the more you reprogramme your Self Talk to being the way you feel you are. Undertake a few steps to see if you can move on with your own Self Talk...

  1. Talk a lot less - make space in a few days of your time to consciously shut up more and listen more.
  2. Pay attention to the words and phrases you use. Should/Could/Would/Might are not driving words. Just because you Should/Could/Would/Might like to go to Paris for a break doesn't get you on to the train or plane to go to Paris. "I will go to Paris" puts you in the driving seat.
  3. Keep a language diary especially when you use sayings or standard phrases. Write them down and later take a bit of time for yourself to look at them and figure out what type of message you are giving yourself and your subconscious. You might say "Oh I've always been useless with numbers" - well it maybe that it's not one of your top life skill sets but stop labelling yourself as useless. Instead, saying that "Number skills take a bit more time" will say a similar thing but it allows you an explanation and not an excuse!
  4. Change your dirty language to clean. If you are talking to people be aware of what words you use. I sometimes imagine words as weapons - "Idiot" looks like an arrow to me and "Shut up" looks like a door slamming in my face. I prefer doors not to be slammed in my face and I think an arrow would hurt - so they're out of the language pool.
  5. Listen to others. If someone says something you disagree with, sometimes when you challenge them on it they may say it's not what they meant. It may well be that it isn't what they meant to say - they are using old speech patterns without understanding that the message or idea they are giving across is not the one they want to give. Also it is possible that they said exactly what they meant to say and then you need to deal with it by utilising clean language to do so.
  6. I would love to use this skill all the time but do not. (Note to self: reprogram your language on this one!) It is a learning curve and one that is an interesting journey in life. There are no set rules involved because language usage is always evolving, both culturally and within ourselves.
  7. Once you have looked at your spoken language look at your written language. As an ex-management consultant, one of the phrases I dislike is "Think out of the box," either written or spoken. At the end of the day, if you are out of the box then there is no box - you are out of it so your thinking has nothing to do with a box, unless you're trying to design one of course. If you are still in the box then you are inside and seeing what? Well, probably not much as it must be dark inside a box.
Look at what you write, as I have had to do typing this, and listen to what you say. It takes a shift in your skills but that's good. Shake it up and see what you hear and see. Its all new out there when you look and listen for it.
Copyright © 2007 Jan Dannenburg, D.C.Hyp, MBSCH, GHR Validated Practitioner.
Jan Dannenburg (Ph: 01689 871 943) is a Clinical Hypnotherapist specialising in Parts Therapy work.
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