My Least Favorite Word to Hear in Therapy ;-)

Words are powerful. Whether we are aware of it or not, the words we choose can actually shape your mood and even your behavior. For example, if you consistently use negative or catastrophic terms, pretty soon that colors your view of the world. If you say “I can’t take it” long enough, guess what – you will believe you can’t. It’s not always that simple, but becoming aware of the words you choose is a fairly reliable way to begin to strengthen your emotional state, your self esteem, and even disorders like depression and anxiety.

On my Facebook page, which I hope you are following and if not, here’s the link: http://facebook.com/sandiegotherapy , I asked people what word they thought I meant based on the title of this video. I got some great answers, and some really funny ones as well. I heard ones like “Doritos” and some that were pretty close, like always, can’t, and never. Those last three get my attention and will usually get me asking for more information.

 The one that I tend to notice a lot, though, is “should.” We all use it, maybe more than we realize. “I should earn more.” “I should not call him first.” “I should be happier.” On and on. When you really stop and hear it, this seemingly innocent word carries with it a degree of self judgment and maybe even shame. It’s like we are programmed to blame ourselves when things are not according to plan. We are all human beings with flaws and sometimes we make mistakes. “Should” is a flag we wave saying “Yeah, I’m not doing this well enough. I should do better.”

When I hear this word in session, especially if it comes along with depression, anxiety, and low self esteem, I ask about it. I want to know whose voice it is. “Who is telling you you should be thinner?” Often this gives the client a chance to stop and think. I have heard “Wow. I never thought of that. It sounds like my mom. She used to always tell me I should do better. It’s like I was never enough.”  So we notice that –that’s all. It’s a good start just to hear our own words. We increase awareness of language choices and how what we say affects our view of the world and ourselves in it. We don’t only apply “shoulds” to ourselves. It can be a way of indicating judgment of others, and is often met with resistance or defensiveness.

 By changing the “shoulds” and choosing more empowering language – like I will or I can, you may see some positive changes in your life and your outlook. It may help you to see where any negativity comes from. For what it’s worth, it will help you expand your vocabulary and say more precisely what you mean.


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