Friday Feb 03, 2023

The Power of What You Say to Yourself

I received a letter from J yesterday. For those new to this site, J is our 18 year old son. He is away at Army boot camp. While he is said that, overall, he enjoys the experience, he expressed (a normal amount of) concern about certain things.

As I composed my response last night, it made me think of something I’ve discussed before. I’ve discussed it in length in my book. I’ve discussed it online. I wrote about it on a couple of blogs (both of which are down, but one of which I still own the domain).

Most of us are not raised with a true understanding of speaking life to ourselves. Some of us were raised in environments where we were verbally abused (and often in correlation with other forms of abuse). Some of us were (and some are still) in abusive relationships. Some of us were (and some still are) in daily or “jump and run” contact with mean, nasty people. And when we get away from the people who constantly berate us, we may feel happy about it…but our brain takes over and repeats what we’ve always heard.

You Are What You Think

Let me write that again for those of you that missed it: you are what you think. As humans, we primarily run off of patterns. We prefer the known to the unknown…and sometimes we still prefer the known even when it sucks because the unknown is, well, unknown. It’s one reason why domestic violence victims return to their abusers: they may not like the rut they were in, but they knew the routine. The unknown is scary.

Our brains become the world’s most annoying song on repeat. We don’t have to be physically present with the person (or persons) who continually beat us down (physically and / or psychologically and / or verbally) to continue to hear those things. Our brains pick up where they left off. It’s a pattern.

Life and Death Are Within Our Words

Please understand that I am not talking about that one time each and every one of us said something really fucking stupid or hurtful. No one is always perfect with what we say to others or to ourselves. Sometimes we say stupid shit. And we know it is dumb and we apologize. We make amends. We do our best to never say hurtful things to the person we hurt.

And just as we work to no longer say hurtful things to those we love, that should also include ourselves. Because what you hear in your head about not being capable, good enough, smart, beautiful, successful, normal (OMG you’re so WEIRD – what the hell is wrong with you?!), able to control ourselves better, etc., is a lie. It is the song on the repeat. You’re hearing what everyone else said.

Every major religion has some sort of teaching on the power of words. In Buddhism, one teaching is that of right speech. Right speech isn’t about lying to not hurt someone’s feelings. It’s about the fact that we can talk about whatever is true (and all those things you hear in your head are lies, by the way) in such a way that we aren’t going out of our way to be hurtful. Compassion isn’t just for others it is for ourselves, too. You are just as worthy of your own compassion and kind words as anyone else. There are other teachings on the power of what we say, too.

In Christianity, there are several teachings on the tongue: its difficulty in being controlled…and the power of life and death in the tongue. What we say impacts others. It also impacts ourselves.

You Must Build a Habit of Speaking Life to Yourself

You cannot depend on anyone else to speak life to you. Others may do it, but the crux is that you won’t believe it…because that’s not what you were told for all that time and it’s not what your brain says to you now.

Learning to speak life to yourself takes a lot of work. It is daily work. It is work that for many (including myself when I started) feels silly and like a lie. You don’t have to say anything outrageous. You must make the effort to immediately counter every negative thought you have about yourself with the exact opposite. You must create a neutral state in your brain so that you can learn to move forward speaking life. And it is easier said than done, I know. I did it. I started that journey in late 2012. It wasn’t until probably the spring of 2014 where I wasn’t constantly assaulted with thoughts of how worthless I was (past tense). I still make it a habit every day to speak life to myself.

This isn’t about hiding or not accepting limitations. I still have CPTSD. I still have some insomnia. I still have moments of complete and total overwhelm. But I am not broken. I am not stupid. I am not worthless. I am not crazy. I am not undeserving of peace and love.

And neither are you. Speak life to yourself. Look up simple affirmations. Immediately counter the “I am so stupid – why am I doing that?!” with “I am smart and I will figure this out.” Even if you don’t believe it at first, you will eventually rewire your brain. You’ll become smarter. You’ll become more confident. You’ll have less war within yourself.


One thought on “The Power of What You Say to Yourself

  1. Yes, I totally believe in the power of words and thoughts. It’s great that you are teaching your son this at an early age. Just image if we all learned this early on, the world would be so much better. You are right though, it is a struggle at times. When I find myself struggling the most, I try to focus on things to be grateful for and it seems to lift me out of that negative mood. Great post!

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