Listen to Yourself

We should all be careful of the way we phrase things, when talking about ourselves or others. Why? To be nice? No, that’s not the real reason. The real reason is that the way we phrase things has an impact on how we view them. Sometimes this impact is unhealthy.

For example: “I think I’m addicted to cigarettes.” The minute you say “addicted” you’re implying helplessness, even hopelessness. I know everybody tells you that you’re supposed to think of things like this as addiction, but they’re not doing you any favors. The better way to phrase it? “I shouldn’t smoke, but I do. I like the effect I get from it. But it’s more important that I stop. I’m going to commit to stopping.”

The second way of phrasing is more honest, and closer to the truth.

Another example: “Johnny is rude, hostile and insulting. He should work through his issues.” What does this mean, exactly? The implication is that he cannot help his rude, hostile and insulting behavior and attitude. If so, then what does “work” have to do with it? The better, and more accurate thing to say: “Johnny is rude, hostile and insulting. He had better stop, or he’s going to drive away people who are important to him.” In other words: It’s up to Johnny to change his behavior, or else face the consequences.

Another example: “Please be supportive.” In plain English, this usually if not always means: “Please agree with me.” If you want me to agree with you, then just say so. Don’t wrap the request in guilt by implying that not agreeing with you is failing to be supportive. Of course, if you ask me to agree with you and I cannot comply, because I see logical or factual errors in what you’re saying or doing, I have to be honest and say so. It would be insulting to both of us for me to pretend otherwise, wouldn’t it?

Another of my favorites: “I’m not motivated.” This doesn’t really say anything. Basically, it means: “I’m not doing this because I don’t feel like it.” This begs the question: WHY don’t you feel like it? I guess that saying, “I’m not motivated” serves as a bypass around having to give a reason. Examples of giving a reason: “I don’t see the point of doing this. It’s more for you than for me. Nobody has convinced me that I should do this for myself.” This is a perfectly valid concern. If it’s your concern, then say so. If somebody says, or implies, “How selfish of you not to do what I want you to do!” then whoever says it must be on the hot seat for defending his or her own selfishness. Consistency requires this, does it not? You can’t tell someone they’re selfish, and therefore bad, for not doing what THEY want you to do. “Do this for ME — and don’t be selfish.” It’s a big fat contradiction!

Another way to handle not being motivated is to say, “I have weighed the pros and cons and I don’t see doing this as important enough to warrant the effort.” OK, at least you’re being honest with yourself. That’s better than passing it off with the vaguely worded, “I’m not motivated.”

How we talk — not just to others, but to ourselves — is both a reflection of, and a cause of, the way we end up acting, feeling and thinking. It’s really important to listen to yourself, and to make sure you’re being clear and consistent in all that you say, think and do. Examine the words of others the same way.

People often ask, “What in the world does a cognitive psychotherapist do?” They ask me that, because cognitive therapy is what I do. This is one of the things a cognitive therapist does: He invites you to look objectively, not only at what you’re doing, but at what you’re saying and thinking. He helps you help yourself, by subjecting your thoughts and statements to the honesty test.

People are always telling others to “get help.” That’s another phrase without any real clear meaning. Often, when someone claims that somebody else needs “help,” what they’re really saying is that, “This other person should do what I want him or her to do.” Well, maybe or maybe not. Control is not the same thing as help. Help is something you do for yourself. The most someone else can do is guide you, or act as a sounding board. A psychotherapist is a trained professional who helps you help yourself, in this way. When you leave the therapy office, it’s all up to you. Contrary to popular myth, therapists don’t “treat” you as if you’re a medical specimen, or “operate” on you so as to mold you into something you’re not. You mold your own soul, therapist or not.

There are so many misunderstandings about what therapy is. That’s probably why it has a reputation — generally with those who never have and never will try it — as doing nothing. Sometimes the therapist isn’t properly trained, either.  Hate to break the news, but government licenses don’t guarantee very much. You have to look deeper than that, when finding a therapist.

Therapy or not, you owe it to yourself to pay attention to what you say. If you’re not getting the results you want out of your life, then it probably goes back to the erroneous way you think. It all starts with the words.