In a Crisis? Let Your Words Create Your World!
I can relate on a personal level. I've been through some highly challenging times—some of which led me to research everything there was to know about the psychology of resilience. I found it so powerful that I shared what I learned and how it benefited me in The Bounce Back Book. What was one of the easiest, yet most powerful, strategies for bouncing back buoyantly from adversity? Remembering the mantra, "I must watch the words I use—because they create the world I see!"
I learned the importance of surrounding myself with people who I knew would verbally reinforce my identity as a strong person. I knew on an intuitive level that positive words of encouraging faith from others would help to reinspire my own inner strength, but I didn't know that studies support this positive ripple affect on one's psyche.
Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) is a therapy that attempts to influence the subconscious mind and affect positive change by consciously using positive words to refocus on the things within one's control. For example, Cyrulnik warns that after a trauma, you need to make sure you don't talk with people who accidentally keep you in the victim mode by using depression-inducing language such as:
- You must be suffering so greatly right now!
- How very hurt and in pain you must be!
- I bet you're exhausted and depressed after all you've been through!
Knowing the subliminal power of words, Morrie and Arleah Shectman, psychotherapists who specialize in bereavement counseling, purposefully use empowering language when helping people through a trauma. Morrie says he never talks "sympathetically" with his patients because it's disempowering and keeps patients coddled in victim mode. "Too much 'sympathy talk' can keep patients stuck, reliving and examining their feelings rather than moving on," Morrie says.
Here's how neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) can help you
NLP is a pretty amazing phenomenon. In 2000, researcher John Bargh set up the now-famous study that showed how our linguistic context strongly affects our behavior. Bargh gave two different groups of people two different lists of words to unjumble, telling them they were being tested on simple problem solving.
The first list contained words suggesting impatience, rudeness and aggressiveness; the second list had words suggesting patience, politeness and calm. After the test was completed, the participants were asked to bring their lists to an administrator who was deep in conversation with a colleague—setting up the true experiment.
All the participants given the list of words suggesting rudeness and aggressiveness became those exact words—angrily interrupting the administrator. However, of the participants primed with language suggesting patience and calm 82 percent never interrupted the administrator at all. The lesson to be learned? The words we use and hear are powerful!
If you're bouncing back from a challenging time, it's essential to become aware to not dwell on the pain of what you are going through. Instead, consciously pepper your conversations, therapy sessions and journal writing with strong, uplifting, optimistic words that will keep you aimed in a strong, positive, healing direction!
"After you've been through a trauma or a large loss, assume people won't be good listeners," warns Dr. Al Siebert, director of Portland, Oregon's Resiliency Center and author of The Resiliency Advantage. According to Siebert, the average person will listen to you talk about your ordeal for one to two minutes tops, before they want to get away or they interrupt you with their opinion. This can be really hurtful and emotionally stressful when you're feeling vulnerable.
Siebert suggests you protect your spirit by constructing some boundaries and an "elevator pitch" of your story—a quick, one-minute answer. With this in mind, it's helpful to take some time to consciously jot down what you want your elevator pitch to include so you're prepared when people ask. Try to use neutral or positive language so you don't keep reliving your pain. Be sure to put a positive "kicker" at the end. For example: "Yes, I've been through a horrible time, but I'm handling it okay. How about you? Have you ever been through anything like this?" Requesting empathy makes it less likely that your listener's response will hurt or disappoint you.
How to handle sharing your traumatic story
Siebert also reminds that it's okay to decide not to share anything at all. You can simply tell people, "Thanks for asking, but I don't care to talk about it right now."
Another helpful NLP technique is to dilute strongly negative words. Try to stop saying things like:
- I'm furious!
- I'm devastated!
- I'm completely crushed.
- I'm a bit miffed.
- I'm disappointed.
- I'm surprised.
I'm also a big believer that who you think you are actually manifests who you will be. Your beliefs will create the actions and habits you choose. During a challenging time, it's essential to view yourself as a strong person—capable of bouncing back stronger than ever! With this in mind, I recommend during tough times, you enter what I humorously call the "Identity Protection Program!" Own one of the following identities as yours:
- I'm the type of person who makes the world say yes to me.
- I'm an indomitable spirit, a phoenix rising from the ashes. Nothing keeps me down!
- A lesser person would crumble right now. Not moi!
- When life throws me curveballs, I hit 'em outta the park!
Karen Salmansohn is a best-selling author known for creating self-help for people who wouldn't be caught dead reading self-help. Get more information on finding a loving happier-ever-after relationship in her book Prince Harming Syndrome.
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