May 22, 2022
Words are powerful.
Working with the public for many years, I’ve heard thousands of clients’ descriptions of their bodies, of discomforts, and ailments. I also hear and read what holistic and medical practitioners say. My editor-self is constantly jumping up out of my seat, red pencil in hand, to improve wording, to engage the power of words to facilitate health and healing rather than impede it.
Here are a few of my “edits” to support your well-being through words:
The bodymind doesn’t recognize negatives. “I want to feel healthy” is much more likely to bring about health than saying “I don’t want to feel sick anymore.” Those of you who use visualization have already learned that. State your wishes and affirmations in the positive.
Another example includes verbs, such as “remember” and “forget.” There’s an old wooden structure in Northern California that catches my attention each time I drive by. Perhaps painted 50 years ago, in large even lettering it clearly reads, “Don’t forget the magic.” In that case there’s a negative as well as a verb that’s sort of negating. I immediately want to change it to “Remember the magic.” Other verb couples to consider: choose/avoid, pay attention/ignore.
Explore: Try saying any of the above phrases outloud while paying attention to your body and mood/emotional tone. Does your body sense a difference between the positive and negative versions? If so, which feels better to you?
2. Possessive pronouns
How often have you said something like “my headaches,” “my Crohn’s disease,” “my high blood pressure,” or even simply “my pain?” Maybe a health practitioner referred to “your arthritis.”
There’s a much better way to describe your condition! We generally want to keep and take care of things that are ours. Right? Do you really want to own maladies, diseases, or pain?
You might counter me with, “But wait! I was so relieved to finally get a diagnosis for what was going on with me, and therefore, some clarity about avenues to healing.” Yes. True. I’ve been there myself. There is power in naming. When you can name or label a problem, it’s a huge relief: “No, I’m not crazy; I haven’t been hallucinating these symptoms.”
Naming the issue, however, is quite different from owning it. The illness, misalignment, or dysfunction exists as a situation in your body; it doesn’t belong to you.
Saying “my hip,” “my gut,” “my head,” etc. makes perfect sense. Hips, gut, and head are part of you; you want to own all the parts of your body!
But please, don’t own what’s ailing you or your parts. Address the situation without believing that it’s yours.
Explore: Try “the” instead of “my” or “there is” instead of “I have.” For example, “The headaches have been bothering me for a year.” or “My headaches are driving me crazy for a year now,” or even “I’ve had headaches for a year.” Which version feels more detached, making it easier for you to shift the pattern and release the headaches?–or whatever it is you’re living with.
3. Always and never.
A client got off the table at the end of her 1st session. When she walked the length of the room and back, she noted that her hips moved more freely and she felt more grounded. Then she said, “But I’ve had this for years. It will never heal.” She just said she feels better, but almost in the same breath, countered that, saying it will never heal. As she said that, her body noticeably slumped. Something in her personal story didn’t want to consider that she could feel better.
“It’s always been like that,” “It will never heal,” are phrases that aren’t your friends. If you hear yourself saying or thinking along those lines, add a PS: “up until now.” “It’s always been like that–up until now” gives you an out, a possible route to releasing the pattern, to realizing a different way of living in your body.
Explore: If you’ve lived with a long-term misunderstanding in your body, try out that phrase right now. “My ________ has been hurting for such a long time–up until now.” When you say that, notice what happens in your body and/or your mood.
4. Attending to adjectives
More phrases you’ve said or heard commonly: “my bad back” and “stiff neck.” Is your back truly bad? Has it done something wrong? Or does it hurt? Does it not feel as strong as you’d like? While it’s a verbal shortcut to say “my bad back,” it’s also a detour to healing. A different phrase may be preferable, such as, “My back hurts,” or “there’s a stabbing pain right here in my back.” You’re naming the situation, you’re not labeling the body part as wrong in some way.
On the other hand, you can use complimentary adjectives instead of blaming ones: “my blessed back, it keeps hanging in there despite the pain.” –and if you like the term “bad-ass” try enjoying your “bad-ass back” too! and “My heroic hip,* continuing to function the best it can, in spite of arthritis,” and so on. Somehow, finding an adjective that begins with the same letter as the body part helps even more, and it’s fun to say.
Yes, necks and any other joint and muscular areas can feel stiff. Instead of labeling your neck stiff, take the time to use a few more words to say “My neck feels stiff.” So you’re not labeling the neck “stiff.” It simply feels that way now, and maybe has for the past week or longer. But it’s a feeling, not an attribute, and stiffness too can pass. “Nifty neck” anyone?
Explore: Right now, revise some descriptors about your body—from blaming to positive acknowledging, from labels to feelings. What happens? Does changing the adjective change how you feel about that part? Does that part itself feel different?
5. Emotional attributes
“My knee’s angry at me,” said a client when she came in and sat down. When a body part feels “angry” at you, it may be! Or if you think some part hasn’t been listening to you, isn’t “with the program,” it can well be that you haven’t been paying attention to what it needs to come along, to belong, to feel better.
Explore: Take a moment to actually be with an area and hang out with the sensations. Feel the specifics of that “anger.” Perhaps you sense heat or tension. Ask the part, “What’s going on? What do you want? What can I do to help?” Then listen. Often you can hear or know the answer right away, “let me rest,” or “no up-hills for a while” or…You can then proceed to provide its needs and move on to healing.
If no answer arises when you talk with your body, or its response isn’t something you think you can give it, be gentle with that part, even if it seems angry. If you can reach it, hold it like you would a hurt child. That in itself can help.
Please have fun and engage your curiosity as you explore language and words along your healing path. Maybe you’ll even enjoy benefits along the way too!
Should you like a bit of guidance from my editor-self or my knowledgeable hands and practitioner-self, please do get in touch. I’m happy to discuss your situation with you–we can then go from there with what makes sense.
* Deepest gratitude to Cathy Dana for the phrase “heroic hip”