When dealing with others, it’s important to be careful about the way we phrase things. And “being nice” has nothing to do with it; the way we phrase things has an impact on how we view them, and sometimes it can be unhealthy.
For example, if you say, “I think I’m addicted to cigarettes,” you’re implying helplessness. I know everybody says we’re supposed to think of things like this as addiction, but that doesn’t do you any favors. Why not validate your power over smoking by saying, “I shouldn’t smoke, but I like the effect I get from it. But it’s more important that I commit to stopping.” It’s honest and closer to the truth.
Another example: “Johnny is rude and hostile. He should work through his issues.” The implication is that he can’t help his insulting behavior and attitude. If so, then what does “work” have to do with it? Perhaps it’s more accurate to say, “Johnny is rude and hostile. If he doesn’t stop, he’s going to alienate people who are important to him.” In other words, Johnny changes his behavior or he faces the consequences.
How many times have you heard somebody say, usually in reverent tones, “Please be supportive.” In reality this often means, “Please agree with me.” If you want me to agree with you, just say so. Don’t giftwrap it in guilt by implying that not agreeing with you is failing to be supportive. Nonsense. Of course, if you ask me to agree with you and I can’t comply, I have to be honest with you too. Make-believe doesn’t accomplish anything.
One of my favorite phrases is, “I’m not motivated.” When translated into reality, it means, “I’m not going to do this because I don’t feel like it.” “I’m not motivated” is just a convenient bypass around having to give a reason. In reality-speak, one could say, “I don’t see the point of doing this, and here’s why…” – a perfectly valid reason. 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.” At least you’re being honest with yourself.
How we talk to others and to ourselves is a reflection of the way we end up acting, feeling and thinking. It’s really important to listen to yourself and make sure you’re clear and consistent in everything you say, think and do. And feel free to examine the words of others in the same way.
A lot of this has to do with thinking. People often ask me what a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist does, and I say that he or she invites you to look objectively at what you’re doing, saying and thinking. By subjecting your thoughts and statements to the honesty test, a therapist helps you to help yourself.
Another phrase with no clear meaning is, “Get help.” More often than not, when someone says that, what they’re really saying is, “This person should do what I want him or her to do.” Oops … control is not the same as help. A psychotherapist can help you help yourself, but when you leave the therapy office, it’s all up to you. Therapists don’t “treat” you as if you’re a medical case, or “operate” on you to mold you into something you’re not. You mold yourself.
If you’re not getting the results you want out of life, it most probably goes back to erroneous thinking. Therapy or not, you owe it to yourself to pay attention to what you say and how you say it. Remember: When you speak, you’re also listening to yourself, and it all starts with the words.