Over the years since I first studied mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy it's become more and more apparent that it's good to be careful of what I say. Let me hastily add that I don't always get it right. For I am human and rather good at erring. Here's some of my ever evolving rules for myself around the use of language that I try to adhere to. I wince a bit when I discover myself straying from them.
- Generalisation: e.g. All men are bastards; All immigrants are criminals. Teenagers are useless. They're not.
- Defining people or myself by an action. People who cut me up on a roundabout are not devil spawn because of this one act. They might have been having a bad day and be pre-occupied. I'm not out and out stupid if I put stuff in a cupboard and it's inevitably going to fall out (like I did with the Pyrex dish the other day!). I was 'being stupid' at the time. There is a big difference.
- I should have/ought to have: These phrases seem to foster negative thoughts about what might have been. It seems more helpful to use terms such as 'It would have been better if...' That helps me to reflect positively in order to change future actions rather than unconstructively ruminate.
- He/she should have: This seems to fuel unnecessary anger and confers an outright judgement on the acts of another.
- 'No such thing as can't': Yes there is if you're already overwhelmed. Stipulating what you are and aren't able to do in a situation can be jolly helpful.
- 'I'll never forgive them'. Tricky; This week I heard Marietta Jaeger Lane who campaigns against the death penalty in the US and whose seven year old daughter was accidentally killed by her kidnapper whilst he was raping her. I am convinced from listening to this remarkable woman that she has been able to forgive her child's killer outright. I can't imagine how I'd be able to do this in the same situation. Believe me if anyone hurt my son I'd want to hang their privates to a tree, preferably with them still attached! All that love, peace and hippy shit would go right out of the window! However this story provides hope that forgiveness, and the release of the resultant self consuming hatred, is possible even in the most horrific circumstances.
- I try to outward label emotions so that others are given permission to do the same. Not very British I agree but bottling up stuff causes all sorts of problems. Best tell a person you're angry or upset with them rather than festering. More commonly I'll share my positive feelings for in general I am a happy soul.
- 'A leopard doesn't change its spots'. Yes they do but it's unlikely that you'll be able to force them to. They've got to decide to do it themselves.
- 'They made me do it'. No they didn't. Taking responsibility for our own actions, good or bad, confers strength and denies victimhood.
- I need [a material object]. Food, clothes to stand up in, a bed, spectacles, water, shelter, transport to work, warmth; Yes! Most other stuff comes under the category of wants. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'll deny myself all the time. It just puts my accumulation of stuff into proper perspective.
This isn't a comprehensive list by any means. After all I normally rustle up blog posts in the time it takes to have a tea break. This isn't an exception to that rule. I hope it provides food for thought.