There’s something kind of magical about words. The reason I say that words are magical is because the words we use a very big impact on how we experience the world around us. For better, or for not so better.
Think about the last time things didn’t go the way you wanted them to go. You know, one of those times that seem to come along all too often when you have been diagnosed with a chronic condition. A side effect, a test result, a symptom.
Now, think back to the words you used to describe what happened. On one hand, you might have talked in a way that implied that, while it was disappointing, it was at least something you could figure out a way to cope with, or even live with. Or you might have instead talked about it as if was the worst thing that could possibly happen, soon to result in misery and despair.
Now, think about how the way you talked about the situation made you feel. Most likely, if you talked about it terms of possibilities, you felt disappointed/frustrated/annoyed, but not without options. But if you talked about it in with words like “worst” and “awful,” you may have felt hopeless and defeated.
Now, take it a step further. The language you use when you talk about the challenges that come your way also affects the actions you take, or don’t take. If you tell yourself that a situation is the absolute worst thing imaginable, you are setting yourself up to view it as so insurmountable that you may as well not even try to expect anything better. And so you stay miserable and stuck.
Words are powerful. The words we say to ourselves and the words we say to others. When you are first diagnosed with a chronic condition, and every experience is new, those words of desperation and defeat are more likely to be top of mind. But now is also the time to be aware of the words you are using, and try to use words that encourage you to stay optimistic. In other words, watch your language.
Here are some of my favorite words to watch out for:
The “hate” word. There’s not much to love or even like about the symptoms of a chronic condition or the medication regimen you may be learning to live with, along with the lifestyle changes. But do you hate it? Hate opens up the door to negativity, making everything a punishment when, if you look at it objectively, it doesn’t have to be. Look at it this way: How can you hate something that is helping to make you feel better?
“Living with” or “suffering from?” This is a big one. If you’re living with your chronic condition, you’re facing life on life’s terms, doing what you need to take the best possible care of yourself. Empowered. When you are suffering from your chronic condition, you place yourself in the role of victim, with things being done to you that you have no control over. You have a choice.
“Awful.” Using the word awful serves to put a situation in such a negative light that a set-back can feel like the world is crashing around you. That’s called “awful-izing.” Ask yourself: Is it really awful? Or is it just inconvenient? Or disappointing? Or frustrating? How you answer those questions will make a big difference in terms of the potential solutions you are able to identify.
“The worst.” This word goes hand-in-hand with “awful.” With the same impact on your outlook.
“Impossible” or “never.” Now, here’s a way to stress yourself out. Allow your mind to jump to the worst (there’s that word again) possible scenario and follow it down the rabbit hole. One of the best ways to conjure up this scenario is through the use of “impossible” or “never.” Because if a situation truly is impossible, if things will never get any better, why even try? Both of these words leave you backed into a corner with no way out. Again, as the victim. And you don’t have to be.
Sure, chronic conditions bring surprises and responsibilities that you didn’t plan for. And yes, you’re not in control of everything that comes your way. But the words you use can create optimism or defeat – in your mind and in your actions. So, as your mom used to warn you: Watch your language!